Even those of us not directly responsible for communications have much to gain from a strategic understanding of how to frame our issue to build public understanding and support.
Communication Matters - Framing Social Issues for Public Understanding and Support
Diane Benjamin is FrameWorks' Deputy Director for Field Practice and a long-time collaborator with the Institute on framing messages for front-line advocacy. Her areas of expertise include message framing on issues related to public health and child and family well-being. Previously, she led outreach for the Maternal and Child Health Training Program at the University of Minnesota (U of M) and directed KIDS COUNT at the Children's Defense Fund-MN. She holds a Masters degree in Community Health Education from the U of M.
Communication matters. Those of us concerned about social problems know that the way we communicate about our issue can help to place it on the public agenda, prime people for action, expand our constituencies — and more. Or the way we communicate can trigger negative attitudes, disperse accountability, fail to define our issue as worthy of public attention. No one is off the hook when it comes to communication. Even those of us not directly responsible for communications have much to gain from a strategic understanding of how to frame our issue to build public understanding and support.
The FrameWorks Institute helps those involved in social movements figure out what type of communication works. Our approach is based on research about how people think. For example, it’s tempting to think of the people we want to reach as empty fishbowls, eagerly waiting to receive the messages we drop in. But we know from research that people’s minds are a swamp of hypotheses and understandings about how the world works. These “schemata,” based on prior knowledge, experience and expectation, guide perception and inference and are activated when confronted with new information.
The research tells us that people tend to move toward schema-consistent information and away from schema-disconfirming information. It also tells us that schemata are stubborn and deeply rooted. What does this research mean for us? It means that people are not blank slates. They try to fit what we say into what they already know. Getting them to think differently can be very challenging. Entrenched attitudes and ideas can’t be dislodged with one sound bite and often persist even in the face of evidence to the contrary.