The Role of Values in Communications about Equity and other Social Issues

The Nebraska Civic Engagement Table brought Dr. David Campt, of the DWC Group, to Nebraska to provide information to Table member organizations on effective messaging strategies.

Dr. Campt provided a helpful and easy to follow framework for crafting an advocacy message to our elected officials.  The following is taken from the handouts provided at the training.

3 guidelines have emerged from research:

  1. Lead with values, and frame them in ways that are broadly shared by a broad segment of the public.
  2. Don’t lead with facts, problems, or culprits, you want to challenge.
  3. Don’t lead with myths you want to destroy; saying them only reinforces them.

The following values were identified as effective in communicating about equity and social issues:

Equality—The benefits and burdens of society should not depend on what we look like or where we come from. Equality means celebrating our differences while challenging stereotypes and breaking down barriers.

Mobility—Where we start out in life should not determine where we end up. Inherent in mobility is the belief that everyone who works hard should be able to advance and participate fully in society.

Voice—We should all have a say in the decisions that affect us. Our voices must be heard in voting booths, at public forums, and across the media.

Redemption—We all grow and change over time and need a chance to start over when things go wrong. To foster redemption, we must provide conditions that allow people to develop, to rebuild, and to reclaim full responsibility for their lives.

Community—We share responsibility for each other and for the common good; the strength of our nation depends on the vibrancy and cohesiveness of our diverse population.

Security—We should all have the tools to meet our own basic needs and the needs of our families. Without economic and social security, it is impossible to access the other rights and responsibilities society has to offer.

He provided a four-step sequence for constructing a communication:

  1. Lead with values (choose one from the above list that fits best) and vision
  2. Introduce the problem
    • Frame the problems as threats to shared values
    • Choose facts carefully
  3. Pivot quickly to solutions
  4. Assign an action

Here is an example:

(Value)  Access to an affordable home in a good neighborhood is critical to the American promise of opportunity and to our nation’s economic security.  (Problem) But misconduct by the lending industry and inadequate rules and enforcement helped to wreck our economy and deny that promise to millions of Americans. (Solution) Fortunately, solutions exist that can prevent further foreclosures and restore the American Dream. They include steps like mandatory mediation, reducing loan principal to fair market rates, and ensuring that reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac keep sustainable home ownership available to working Americans. (Action) Tell the White House to endorse and implement the Compact for Home Opportunity.

Summarized by Carolyn Thiele; adapted from Effective Messaging Strategies training with Dr. David Campt, DWC Group.