Expansion and augmentation of social marketing theory and practice with systems science and mechanism, action, structure (MAS) theory to explore dynamic complexity and leverage points pertinent to the Galway cycling system
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Social marketing is confronted by serious challenges of both endogenous and exogenous character. If these challenges are not properly addressed, social marketing risks entering into a deep, intrinsic and ontological crisis. The crux of this problem lies in the way social marketing approaches multiple issues by often overlooking complex dynamics of social systems. Social marketing interventions, which are often creative, useful and effective, may turn out to be of very limited expanse and power, so the dynamic complexity of social systems may annul the achieved progress of these interventions. The complex systems have enough resilience and path dependence to confront standard social marketing interventions and often retaliate via mechanisms of emergence and feedback relationships. A reasonable and possible solution in this situation is to expand and augment social marketing with systems science and other relevant approaches. In this case, social marketers may become able to understand the system’s complex dynamics and address all system’s deficiencies in a holistic way, making the rate of change irreversible, while drastic side-effects can be anticipated and harnessed. The systems social marketing can become a tool of such reformatting of the social marketing discipline. To achieve this, one requires: (a) to conceptualize the theoretical streams which make up systems social marketing; (b) integrate these theoretical streams into a common overarching conceptual framework with some basic principles, and (c) to verify the integrated framework in practice. Therefore, three theoretical streams were conceptualized and then integrated into the combined theoretical framework, systems social marketing. These streams included social marketing, systems science and Mechanism, Action, Structure (MAS) theory. The choice of the latter was natural since it is the most systems-oriented theory in the most systemic branch of marketing, which is macromarketing. The resultant theoretical framework was augmented by a special participatory group model building methodology, based on system dynamics. Then this theoretical and empirical mix was applied for a specific case of the Galway Cycling System. Cycling, which is a sustainable transport mode and the sub-system of transportation, as well as a complex behavioural response to mobility and sustainability issues, is currently underdeveloped in Ireland, which poses a serious threat to human prosperity, well-being and health. However, systems social marketing may become a powerful tool of addressing the problem of this system underutilization. The application of systems social marketing, enhanced with group model building, to the domain of the Galway Cycling System resulted in the substantiation of the systems social marketing theoretical platform and origination of the Galway Cycling System Map. This Map acted as a consultation-based, socialized and visualized model of the current cycling system in Galway, accompanied by the narratives telling the “stories” of the separate system fragments and the whole system. The Galway Cycling System model turned out to exhibit complex dynamics, where feedback loops of decision making issues, car-centric design/thinking and conflict of interests were instrumental for the most of the adverse dynamics in the system. The Map facilitated the identification of the Galway Cycling System Leverage Points, which are the system areas where the change to the system could be both feasible and impactful.
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