Communicating for change

Communications campaigns (e.g. behaviour change, risk communications) form an important part of any suite of initiatives to address change. However, communication activities need to be tailored for particular functions within wider integrated change initiatives in areas such as health, disaster management and sustainability. These campaigns are increasingly seen as both a one-way transfer of hazard and risk related information and their management, and as a two-way exchange of related information, knowledge, attitudes and/or values. Moreover, as we start to deal with more complex issues that communication efforts also need to emphasise that they are two-way – building on principles of dialogue. The papers here provides some lessons from experience, and begin to point to frameworks that can help in the development of more effective campaigns.

Improving lives by changing how we talk about complex issues
The Workshop is a unique research organisation in Aotearoa New Zealand, established by Jess Berentson-Shaw and Marianne Elliott. They are public narrative researchers and communication advisors. They identify how people explain complex issues, use scientific methods to find narrative strategies that deepen people’s thinking about those issues, and use storytelling tools to upskill people with complex knowledge to craft effective communications. Through their work they have developed a range of great guides for communication in a range of areas from climate change to well-being. They have both a message guide and checklist for communicating about COVID-19.

Risk Communication and Natural Hazards
This 2010 report by Corina Hoppner, Michael Brundl, Matthias Buchecker and colleagues begin by providing a state-of-the-art review on risk communication in general, and then looks at specific cases from which to draw best practice examples. The review of communication practices considers all phases of the risk cycle (prevention/preparation, warning, emergency response, recovery/reorganization). However, the focus is clearly on communication to prevent/reduce severe impacts from natural hazards, to prepare people for natural hazards and to enable them to better cope with their consequences. From a risk management perspective, such communication mainly takes place in the prevention/preparation and the warning phase of the hazard cycle.

New Rules: New Game – Communications tactics for climate change
The New Rules: New Game isn’t a simple, ‘one size fits all’ blueprint, and some of the tips might even, at first sight, seem inconsistent. But taken together, they provide a practical guide for action. These short rules are communications techniques which pull together the most effective strategies for changing people’s behaviour. They are based on a huge body of international psychological, sociological and marketing studies, gathered and analysed by Futerra – a UK-based communications agency with some very interesting and stimulating communications publications.

‘Sermons’ as a climate change policy tool: do they work? Evidence from the international community
In this article, Karen Akerlof and Edward Maibach note that ‘sermonizing’ – or conducting communication campaigns – has been embraced by many nations that are responding to climate change. They review these experiences. The experiences of the UK, Canada and Sweden demonstrate that climate change communication campaigns appear to influence large numbers of people in relatively short periods of time. As to be expected based on past pro-social behavioral campaigns, these initiatives were more effective at influencing people’s knowledge and beliefs than their behaviors, but there is evidence of behavioral shifts.

Innovative climate change communication – Team Minus 6 percent
Public awareness is key to making a real difference in fighting climate change, and good examples of that happening can be evidenced in the ‘sermons’ article reviewed above. However, due to ineffective communication strategies, much effort to educate the public on climate change issues has not translated into a great degree of concrete progress. Acquirement of knowledge about climate change has not been accompanied by the action to combat it. This paper reviews communication efforts and recommends 6 ways that can contribute to action.

Disaster Planning and Risk Communication With Vulnerable Communities: Lessons From Hurricane Katrina
This paper by David Eisenman, Kristina Cordasco, Steve Asch, Joya Golden and Deborah Glik looks at the importance that working with extended families and other social networks plays in creating effective communication. They look at the experience of Hurricane Katrina evacuees to better understand factors influencing evacuation decisions in impoverished, mainly minority communities that were most severely affected by the disaster. They highlight that effective disaster plans must account for the specific obstacles encountered by vulnerable and minority communities. Removing the more apparent obstacles of shelter and transportation will likely be insufficient for improving disaster plans for impoverished, minority communities. The important influence of extended families and social networks demand better community based communication and preparation strategies.

The risk communication and engagement page has links to a number of aligned resources. Other closely related sections in the site include social marketing  and dialogue and negotiation. As communications begin to be more two-way exchanges other tools such as the diagramming and other systems thinking  tools also become of relevance.