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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“We are constantly revising the messages, in terms of what seems to resonate with people at a given time.”
— Kolleen Bouchane, RESULTS

EXAMPLES

Sometimes an entire organization can “re-frame” itself, with great results for its advocacy. The World Federalist Association had worked for decades to promote a better United Nations. The organization's leadership and members re-examined their mission and vision and re-launched themselves in 2004 as Citizens for Global Solutions, “a nationwide organization that inspires America to engage the world." Read more »

Message Framing

Frames are the lenses through which people view and receive information. According to the Communication Consortium Media Center, “The way issues are packaged by means of carefully designed words and phrases, visual clues, and selection of symbolic communicators, affects how the public thinks about issues. Framing influences the perception and interpretations of media consumers and politicians alike.”

The wrong frame can make it hard for the public to see the policy solutions you support. Successful foreign policy advocacy depends on how well advocates can understand how global issues are currently framed by policymakers, the media and by your constituency. With this understanding, you can affect these frames, and in turn affect the public discourse about global issues.

Evaluating how to frame your advocacy issue
Remember that the public, media and policymakers may not be able to see the information you want them to see. As Susan Bales, president of the FrameWorks Institute, has said: “If the facts don't fit the frame, the facts get rejected, not the frame.” You may need to “re-frame” the debate or at least ensure that your information is framed as effectively and consistently as possible. And you'll want to monitor your success in framing the debate as part of your ongoing evaluation. Start by reviewing your communications with key stakeholders and analyze how your messages resonate with existing frames.

The GII commissioned the FrameWorks Institute to perform extensive research on the topic of framing global issues. FrameWorks found that:

“The American public cares strongly about international issues, and its conceptual model is more about social and moral values than self-interest. The problem is that the public thinks the U.S. is doing more than its fair share. This impression is influenced by the fact that other countries are virtually unseen in media coverage. Still, while media coverage frames most international issues as global mayhem, its impact on public opinion is not as pernicious as might be expected. Exposed to this coverage, people still want to do all they can to prevent international problems and to alleviate suffering. And yet, the public does not know whom to hold accountable for international problems.”

Advocates can promote a broader and deeper appreciation of our global interconnectedness, a notion that will support long-term foreign policy advocacy goals. FrameWorks and GII state that a good “global interdependence” story should highlight solutions and effectiveness, teamwork and partnership, and emphasize principles rather than self-interest.

The GII has several reports available to help you with message framing. The U.S. in the World project draws on GII research, among other sources, and offers additional detailed and practical messaging resources.

It is not simple to change people's frames in general, and when it comes to foreign policy, it may be more difficult because the “global mayhem” story is reinforced so frequently in news reports. But you will have come a long way if you understand the global issue frames currently in use by the media, by your constituents and by policy makers. You will be on your way to planning your own messages accordingly.


TIPS

  • Make sure the message resonates! If you cannot find much research on U.S. public opinion regarding your issue, conducting a survey could be a simple and low-cost way to understand how your constituency responds to a message. If colleagues will be promoting your organization at a conference, for example, ask if they could pass out surveys to passers-by.
  • Online tools are making it easier to understand how your message resonates. For instance, many online advocacy site providers have robust tools for testing multiple messages with a subset of your constituency, allowing you to determine which messages best trigger action from your members. Using such a test will allow you to send the best message to your full list and will also help you better determine which messages you should use in the future.