Framing the MTA Message: Speaking to People’s Hearts and Minds

Here are a few take-aways from this excellent workshop I attended yesterday led by Kaja Rabane, founding member of South Central Wisconsin Move to Amend:

How do people think?

We’re led to believe that when people hear new information, they:

– Evaluate whether it makes sense

– Then connect it to their own lives

– And use it to make decisions weighing the costs and benefits, choosing the best options using a fundamentally rational process

How people really think?

– The world is a complicated place. We evolved to be able to operate within it. People not as analytical machines

– Research shows how new info is perceived depends on what’s already “in people’s heads.” Logic is secondary to emotion.

– We naturally think in stories with a protagonist, antagonist and conflict resolution. Stories paint pictures in people’s minds with shared moral values. People are more interested when facts presented in the context of a narrative. We remember them better

The role of emotion:

– Tells us what’s important

– Facts only matter when emotion tells us they do Ways to reframe Move to Amend message to make it more gripping:

On money in elections: “Big money is turning our elections into auctions, and our elected officials into corporate servants.

Our government shouldn’t be for sale to the highest bidder. “ “We’ve all been at a party where one loudmouth talks nonstop – nobody else can be heard. That’s what’s happening here.”

On corporations: “Even a small child can tell the difference between Monsanto and a person – so why is this so hard for the Supreme Court.”

Frames/framing message

– Frames are conceptual structure that organizes our thinking

– Ties together into a coherent whole

– Lens through which we interpret issues

– Emphasized certain aspects and renders others invisible Framing and Reframing

– Choose good frames

– We must contest the opposition’s frames and present our own alternative reframe (Show how their frame doesn’t explain well and provide a different frame)


– Appeal to higher level ideas

Level 1: Core Values: freedom, democracy, responsibility, community

Level 2: Issue Types: economy, environment, and election integrity

Level 3: Specific issues: climate change, corporate personhood, money as speech

When reframing, try to move up to a higher level


– Also part of the frame – important.

– People identified as “advocates” often don’t make good messengers.

– Consider your audience. Try to find a “neutral” or “objective” person to present your message.

When using numbers or statistics

– Frames trump numbers

– Stats alone are ineffective – no pics in our heads

– Always tell people what numbers mean

– Lead with meaning, not numbers

– Numbers give your story credibility but are not themselves the story

Our Role as Communicators

– Help people make sense of the world

– Connect the dots into a coherent whole —

– The general rule is when conveying information: “if you don’t feel it, don’t use it.”


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