photo: Paul Hamilton. CC BY_SA license. (see about page for links)

Recent News

Events of note in the world of strategic framing and communications – from the Topos perspective

The Power and Pitfalls of Talking Inequality

A new Congressional Budget Office paper reviewing income inequality concludes that the pattern of increasing inequality will continue for years to come — unless we decide to make some policy shifts or there is some other major economic change.

Many advocates will be inclined to reference inequality and this new CBO paper as they promote policy solutions, since it seems to present such a natural news hook for advocates to review and revive policy proposals, such as those that make it easier for employees to stick together in the workplace.

In this essay — part of the Topos Library of articles with framing advice relevant to many issues — the authors (Topos principals Axel Aubrun and Joe Grady) discuss inequality as an organizing idea for communications.

From one point of view, this focus on Inequality is justified and even morally essential. What could be more important than trying to address the many areas in American society where one group is disadvantaged relative to others? Observations about Inequality aren’t just true, they’re also at the heart of many people’s motivation to become involved. Much of the passion that drives activism and advocacy springs from people’s instinctive rejection of Inequality, and their commitment to working against it.

BUT, does a commitment to reducing Inequality mean that we know how to talk about Inequality? Years of research on how Americans understand and talk about social issues suggest that, depending on the audience, discussions of Inequality must overcome important and complex challenges. In fact, the findings show clearly that when we talk directly about Inequality, listeners often take away a message that is the opposite of what we intended, and despite our skill and our good intentions, the discussion can end up doing more harm than good. While there are certainly some audiences that respond exactly as hoped, communications that are targeted at “the general public” can often fall on deaf ears, or worse, when they focus on this theme.

The reasons have partly to do with American assumptions and values – and at an even deeper level, with the (universal) nature of “everyday thinking,” and the mental tools people everywhere use to think about the world.

The authors review a number of pitfalls communicators should try to avoid and offer advocates ways to work toward the goals the they care about while avoiding these unfortunate traps.

Read the rest.

The Half the Oil Plan

Topos is proud to be working with the Union of Concerned Scientists on how best to communicate their Half the Oil Plan – an initiative to cut projected US oil usage in half in twenty years.

Last month, Joe Grady of Topos spoke at their Board Meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts to lay out in detail how our research insights help convey the plan in ways that resonate with the broadest range of potential supporters and can help build support and momentum among policymakers.

It’s exciting to see our findings translated so effectively in the animation below, which they have been using to explain their initiative.

Have a look.


Reframing Privatization Schemes

Axel Aubrun Speaking at NASHTU

Topos is often invited to share our work on reframing privatization with groups that are on the front lines of countering efforts to shift public assets and public responsibilities to private companies.

Topos has found that when the topic of privatization is framed simply as an issue of cost effectiveness, average people assume that private enterprise can likely offer services more cheaply and efficiently than government, and they have a “let’s give it a try!” attitude. They don’t become aware of the pitfalls of privatization schemes until it is too late.

However, when the issue is reframed as a matter of handing over control of important public assets and public responsibilities, people quickly take a much more critical and skeptical view of what might go wrong in a privatization scheme.  These doubts deepen if people are asked to consider whether we can count on private companies to do a good job when they are essentially given a monopoly or they are given a long term contract.

This month, Topos principal Axel Aubrun spoke at the 14th Conference of the National Association of State Highway and Transportation Unions (NASHTU).  Axel — together with Nancy Tate (Executive Director of the League of Women Voters) and Scott Amey (Project on Government Oversight)  — shared a panel entitled,  Outsourcing, Privatization, Contracting Out – Current Outsourcing Trends and How to Communicate About the Dangers Effectively.

Axel shared one of Topos Partnership’s videos, which contrasts how average people talk about privatization before they’ve heard the reframe – and after the topic has been reframed as handing over control. Check it out above.

 (Original research commissioned by In the Public Interest)