Animation and nudging change: A behavioural insight experiment on river conservation awareness and action

October 11, 2021

An animated start for SDG advocacy

The Accelerator Lab Malaysia set out to explore new ways of socializing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) through a localized narrative and language. In order to achieve the ambitious SDG targets by 2030, we believe that society at large must be aware of and resonate with the SDGs.

Drawing inspiration from UN’s partnership with Marvel Comics in 2007,  the Accelerator Lab joined forces with Animonsta, a local animation studio with over 5 million daily views, in June 2020 to promote SDG14- Life Below Water. The resulting 3-minute animation featured family-favourite characters—Papa and Pipi— on their discovery of the polluted state of our rivers during a camping trip and the direct and indirect effects of our daily activities on these rivers.  

The campaign entitled ‘Sungai, Nadi Kehidupan’ (River, Pulse of Life) emphasized positive behavioural change as the key to protecting rivers, in line with our country office’s riverine management project that focuses on nature-based solution and community engagement. 


The Papa Pipi SDG14 animation was launched at an local community engagement event by jointly organised by UNDP and Department of Irrigation and Drainage on Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Riverine Management



Investigating impact of social media campaigns

 To make full use of this collaboration, a 6-month social media campaign and a behavioural insight experiment in the form of a pledge event were designed to test how to leverage SDG social media campaigns to generate behavioral change. Our team had several questions.

1.       Do successful online campaigns with high level of engagement and views translate into actions and on-the-ground behavioural change?

2.       Are nudging and advocacy messages using social pressure more effective in influencing behaviours than rewards?


The Papa Pipi SDG14 campaign timeline



Insights from social media reach and engagements

The campaign garnered an overwhelming response of 9 million views and 64,280 engagements (Engagement measures the number of times someone took action on your posts) across different Animonsta channels online. The video reached 1 million views within the first week of launch, a new record for Animonsta. We reached these numbers despite being mostly limited to virtual outreach, with only two face-to-face public engagements held due to COVID-19 movement control measures.

 Social media analytics between September 2020 and March 2021 showed that Animonsta’s Youtube and TikTok channels had higher total views than Facebook and Instagram with over one million views. However, Facebook had better reach (unique viewers who see the video) while Instagram had better engagement (clicks, likes, comments, shares). On UNDP front, a total of 16,188 reach, 261 engagements and 9256 impressions (potential number of times someone could have seen the posts shared with the analysed Instagram hashtag) were achieved on Facebook and Instagram, with Instagram showing slightly higher reach and impressions overall.  The analytics offered us good insights on how different channels and mediums can cater to different audiences as reference for our future communication strategy. 


The Papa Pipi SDG14 social media assets shared on various channels to share information on river conservation more interactively.



Insights from surveys: Weak signals and perception change

To capture changes in perceptions and self-reported behaviour, we carried out pre- and post-surveys. These surveys received 708 and 367 responses respectively, with majority of respondents between the ages of 13 and 18. Although the animation was targeted at children, we faced limits in reaching children aged 12 and below through virtual surveys, as most do not own mobile devices and require parental permission in accessing online content. Furthermore, virtual survey responses from this age group may actually represent the perceptions of their parents and guardians.

It is unsurprising that respondents are mainly located in Selangor, KL, and Johor, densely populated urban centres with high rates of digitisation. However, Kedah, a state with a low urbanization and digitalisation rate had the second most respondents in the post-survey after Selangor. In fact, Kedah is the state with the widest reach after accounting for reach per population density, demonstrating the value of socializing the SDGs in Bahasa Malaysia. The survey drew more female than male responses, which is also consistent with observations of higher female participation rate in all the public surveys we have carried out since the COVID-19 pandemic began.  

The survey also picked up weak signals of other social development challenges that certain groups faced at the time of survey. Following prolonged periods of movement restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increased interest in animations addressing mental health and peer pressure issues in the post survey responses, compared to the pre-survey responses which prioritised education and social values.

Another perception change observed in the responses was in suggested factors that could make a difference for river or lake cleanliness. The pre-survey responses emphasised the role of city planning and government policy, whereas the post-survey responses highlighted community efforts. This suggests that the campaign may have sparked thoughts about actions at the grassroot level. Personal habits and education were the top two factors in both surveys.

One of our partners, Iskandar Region Development Authority (IRDA) was able to carry out a physical event with school children and reported increased level of engagement from them. This was evidenced by testimonies from parents of changed behaviours, such as children picking up roadside litter immediately after the event. This shows the value of physical engagements for young participants.

Insight from the pledge event: Self- reported behaviours shifts

We wanted to know how to effectively leverage campaigns for sustained behavioural change. Many such campaigns rely on some combination of messaging and incentives; however, our civil society partners reported that these are unsustainable, with most behaviours reverting to the status quo when the campaign and associated incentives end. We wanted to know if social networks and social pressure could be a more cost-effective and sustainable approach toward shifting behaviours. One famous example from the UK government showed a dramatic increase in tax payment by 120,000 delinquents when messaging took a social pressure angle. In our attempt to test out if the social nudge method would work for environmental campaigns targeted at Malaysian youth, a total of 1000 respondents in private social media groups (eg. Facebook and WhatsApp groups) from 16 participating partners were divided into two groups with different messaging and incentive approaches. The two groups had similar demographic profiles in terms of age, gender, and types of partner institution, and participants were not aware of the two approaches. Participants were invited to make a pledge and were expected to report on their actions taken through pictures, videos, or reflection pieces.



A total of 94 respondents participated and completed the pledge (incentive = 13, social nudge = 81). The results, albeit from a small sample, showed an outcome consistent with previous social nudge experiments. 78% of participants from the social nudge group completed the pledge form compared with 69% from the control group; 21% of the respondents from the social nudge group provided proof of the action taken compared with 8% of respondents from the incentive group. Additionally, respondents from the social nudge group also pledged to execute their action more frequently (everyday) compared to the incentive group (weekly, biweekly, once a month).

There are several limitations to these results. The change in behaviour was self-reported, and the actions taken were only reported over a period 30 days. Social nudge groups received more frequent contact, which may have influenced results. The incentive provided was not large. And findings are limited to a particular demographic. Nonetheless, the experiment was a successful exploration of the social nudge approach, informing future approaches to public engagement for behavioural change. 


The Papa Pipi SDG14 social media assets for pledge activity to nudge participants.




 With the current overload of virtual events and online fatigue in a COVID-19 world, we can certainly use new ideas and innovations to effectively engage the public on key issues. Peer-to-peer social influence is a powerful tool that can be integrated into engagement for behavioural change as it has the potential to shift cultures, norms, and values of a society beyond the immediate engagement event. In an ideal future where we are no longer homebound by COVID-19, a blended approach of virtual and physical campaigns, applying social pressure elements in various communities through continuous engagements, would be good strategy to sustain behavioural change beyond the conventional strategy of pure incentive-driven, one-time off public campaigns.