Giving Compass’ Take:
• Doug Hattaway shares a framework for social change communications strategies based on learnings from anti-smoking and pro-marriage equality campaigns.
• How can these lessons be applied to issues areas you work on?
• Learn about promoting social change effectively.
We can understand the effectiveness of the campaign in terms of the six-step framework of Aspirational Communication that I offer here.
Step 1: Focus on People Who Are Ambivalent
When you survey the vast middle ground of public opinion on a contentious topic, you’re likely to find a lot of people who are ambivalent. We often observe this state of mind among people who say they are “of two minds” or have “conflicting feelings.” Because these inner conflicts make us feel uneasy, we try to resolve them to achieve peace of mind. People who feel torn about a contentious social issue may ultimately change their worldview to achieve inner peace—by making peace with the changing world around them.
Step 2: Understand Their Anxieties
Anxiety often underlies the inner conflicts and public turmoil associated with contentious social issues. The American Psychiatric Association defines anxiety as an uncomfortable feeling in response to an anticipated threat—something that might happen in the future that makes you feel insecure. In the brain, anxiety can disrupt attention, concentration, and memory, prompting people to shut down, rather than open up to new ideas. When people feel anxious about a social change like marriage equality, you need to address their concerns up front.
Step 3: Connect Your Cause to Their Authentic Aspirations
Connecting an issue to people’s aspirations—tapping into ideas and emotions that define and motivate them—opens an efficient route to addressing their anxieties. Your aspirations are your ideas about the kind of person you want to be, the life you want to live, and the world you want to live in. Aspirations are important to our personal identities and play a powerful role in driving our attitudes and behaviors.
Step 4: Frame It With Winning Words
Once you have a clear read on the emotions and aspirations of your target audience, it is time to craft your message. The first words people hear about an issue influence every perception and judgment that follows, so framing a topic strategically at the outset is critical. The words you use first (and most frequently) to talk about your topic should be what I call Winning Words—simple but meaningful words and phrases that define the issue in terms that win over the target audience.
Step 5: Share Strategic Stories
Storytelling is the most powerful form of communication. We learn our language, our values, and how the world works through stories. In order to comprehend a story, we must first believe what it tells us—a phenomenon the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the “willing suspension of disbelief.” Readers must put aside critical reasoning and judgments and accept the sometimes fantastical premises of fictional works in order to enjoy them. You do this when you’re reading a novel, viewing a film, or listening to a skilled storyteller in person. If you’re in a highly rational, critical, or judgmental frame of mind, you’re less likely to enjoy the experience.
Step 6: Help People Think It Through—and Be Their Best Selves
Strategic storytelling about love and commitment created empathy for same-sex couples by opening people’s eyes to the realities of their relationships, but that didn’t secure marriage equality’s victory. The final step in achieving durable attitude change was to help the audience of ambivalent voters think through the issue on their own terms—and decide to live up to their own aspirations for the kind of people they wanted to be.
Read the full article about social change communications strategies by Doug Hattaway at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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