Volunteers from the Moroccan Red Crescent perform a flashmob at the Development and Climate Days side event at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo courtesy of the Climate Centre
A group of adults run around in New Delhi’s international airport, shouting and waving their arms in the air.
This is not a bomb alert but a flashmob on heatwaves in India, where temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius in June.
Having caught the public’s attention, the volunteers from the Indian Red Cross gather in a circle. “The day is sunny, sunny! Drink water, water! Rest, rest!” they sing while mimicking gestures.
“We wanted to inform people about the top steps they could take to protect themselves from the heat,” explained Rebeka Ryvola, technical adviser at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, during a webinar held as part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme.
The public’s reaction was positive, and the airport authorities asked the group to replicate the flashmob in each terminal, she added.
Ryvola acknowledged that flashmobs – a large public gathering where people perform an unusual or seemingly random act and then disperse – and resilience “may seem like an unlikely pairing”.
“But they can convey complex messages in a simple way.”
According to Aditi Kapoor, climate resilience adviser at the Climate Centre and the IFRC, flashmobs “open up an opportunity for things to change”.
“They get people thinking, and might spark discussions between groups who don’t normally interact with each other, like workers and authorities,” she said.
INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS
While flashmobs may appear as spontaneous to the public, “there is a method to the madness,” said Kapoor.
Planning and practice are key, she said, although the exercise requires very little investment – “just a few volunteers, a couple of props and a dose of creativity” – which makes it ideal to target vulnerable or remote communities.
One webinar participant wondered however if flashmobs might be more relevant in urban rather than rural settings, given the amount of public space in cities and people’s awareness of the exercise.
Another reminded people of the need to remain culturally sensitive, and to ensure public gatherings are authorised in the location chosen for the exercise.
Kapoor said an element of surprise was also crucial in flashmobs, “to catch the audience’s attention and make them feel like they’re doing something out of the ordinary”.
“But there is a time limit to them, so you need to be able to rapidly deliver your message or you’ll lose the public.”
And while flashmobs can be used to deliver serious messages, a dose of entertainment can make them even more powerful, she added.
“Some of the most successful flashmobs use Bollywood songs as background music, because people are familiar with them.”
Ultimately, participants agreed, flashmobs are beneficial not only to the people seeing it but those doing it, “as they give everyone a voice”.