This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.
Joe Brewer and I were just Skyping about a piece of work that we are starting to do together. We are interested in what range of values (or what ‘deep frames’) climate campaigns could most usefully appeal to. We agreed that such campaigns should seek to simultaneously:
(i) Maximise the probability of successfully motivating political engagement on the issue. There is clear empirical evidence that some values or goals are more effective as a means of motivating behaviour than others (for example, people tend to be more motivated in engaging in behaviour when they are doing so in pursuit of a set of intrinsic goals). What, we wonder, is the ‘full suite’ of values upon which campaigners can usefully build?
(ii) Minimise the extent to which dissonance between these values, or the counterproductive side-effects of promoting some of these values, undermines effort on a broader front. For example, there are ways in which, by appealing to some set of values, a campaign may help to win the battle, but simultaneously contribute to losing the war. Selling hybrids on the basis of looking cool is such an example. If your interest is narrowly focused on selling hybrids, flogging them on the grounds that they are beautiful things to own is probably a good idea. But in doing so, your campaign will help to promulgate a set of consumerist values that are ultimately counter-productive to motivating the more systemic changes that are needed. (Tim Kasser and I argue this point in more detail in Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity).
How do we strike the balance between these two imperatives? And how, in doing so, do we bring together work in social psychology on the importance of appeals to intrinsic values and the promotion of more self-transcendent values, with work like that of George Lakoff or Drew Westen on the narratives that underpin successful campaigns.
Ciaran Mundy just pointed me in the direction of work that Drew Westen and Celinda Lake have done on this. Here is a section from a recent article in the Huffington Post:
What we found is that when we talk in plain, values-oriented language, we solidly move people, motivate them to action, and beat the industry’s well-crafted messages by 20-40 points. What resonates with people are not specific fuel standards or the mechanics of how a cap and trade system would work or the precise tonnage of carbon emissions per year. What moves them is a set of themes that bring the issue home to them: economic prosperity and jobs; energy independence and self-sufficiency; clean, safe, natural sources of energy that will never run out; getting pollution under control and making polluters pay for their own messes so we protect our health and the health of our children, preserve the majesty of our land, and reverse the deterioration of our atmosphere; harnessing American ingenuity and restoring American leadership; and protecting our legacy to our children the way our parents and grandparents protected their legacy to us.
I completely get the importance of being clear about the values your audience holds, and articulating your campaign in emotional and accessible language. I also understand the importance of appealing to a “set of themes” (Westen’s phrase). As is apparent from other work in which Westen has been involved:
Messaging on both energy and climate change is much stronger when it uses values-oriented language rather than a technical or policy-oriented approach or when we debate science. More so than in many areas we have seen, activating multiple values tends to be stronger then just invoking a single value.
But there’s something slightly Panglossian about this ‘have your cake and eat it’ approach to campaigning, unless we are clear about the deep frames that underpin the pursuit of “themes” like “economic prosperity” or “jobs”. Can we define these ‘deep frames’, and apply them practically to campaigning in a way that goes ‘deeper’ than Westen’s “set of themes”?