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How framing messages can help us enable greater change

As enablers of change, we know that effective communication is a vital skill in our work. We need to communicate clearly and persuasively with farmers, colleagues, partners, and stakeholders. In this episode, we’ll show how it’s not just the words we use that are important, but it’s how we frame our message. 

We often need to share information, ideas, and insights that can help farmers improve their practices and well-being. We need to inspire them to embrace innovation and change. But how can we communicate in a way that captures their attention, engages their interest, and influences their behaviour? One powerful tool that can help us is framing. This is the way we present or describe a situation, issue, or idea. It involves choosing which aspects to emphasise, what words to use, which tone to adopt, and what context to provide. Framing can affect how people perceive, interpret, and evaluate the information we share. It can also affect how they feel, think, and act in response.

Framing is based on the idea that there is no single objective reality, but rather multiple subjective realities that depend on how we view things. For example, a glass of water can be framed as half-full or half-empty, depending on our perspective. A new practice can be framed as an opportunity or a threat, depending on our mindset.

Framing is not about lying or manipulating people. It’s about highlighting the aspects that are most relevant, meaningful, and beneficial for our audience. It is about aligning our message with their values, goals, and emotions. It’s about helping them see things from a different angle or in a new light.

There’s been a bit of work done in this space in agriculture over the years, so we’ll highlight some of this to demonstrate how framing can be used. Ngo et al. (2022) explored Vietnamese farmers’ response to climate messages. They used either gain-framed or loss-framed messages that were concrete or abstract. Their work revealed that farmers responded to messages that highlighted concrete gains compared to abstract losses.

However, before we get too carried away, we need to realise that not every researcher has found a clear cut response to message framing. Andrews et al. (2013) worked with cropping farmers in the US. They set up messages that had different ways of framing a gain; such as more profit or getting a payment for using a particular practice. They found that profit-framed messages about conservation tillage weren’t very effective. In fact, they were most effective at ensuring that those farmers who had already decided not to adopt were less interested in conservation tillage after being exposed to the profit-framed messages! Andrews et al. (2013) explain that in this case, prior beliefs had more of an impact on behaviour than any small amount of profit.

We think these results are useful though because it highlights that using framing effectively requires us to know our audience well. We need to understand their values, goals, emotions, beliefs, and preferences. We should also test and refine our message based on their feedback and reactions. For example, when we encounter resistance or scepticism from farmers or stakeholders, instead of arguing or dismissing their concerns, we can acknowledge and reframe them. Instead of saying ‘you’re wrong to think that this practice is too risky or complicated’, we can say ‘I understand that you’re concerned about the risk or complexity of this practice’. Then we can reframe their concerns as challenges that can be overcome or opportunities that can be seized. And, we need to think about using stories or emotions instead of just facts or logic alone. 

We’ve been talking about framing but let’s quickly mention reframing. This is where we consciously change the way we’re perceiving a situation. A quick example is when we’re nervous before an interview or a presentation, we can tell ourselves that we’re not anxious but excited about the opportunity. This replaces a threat mindset with an opportunity mindset, and that small switch can make a big difference!

We hope you’re feeling inspired to give framing a try in your own extension work. It’s amazing how a few well-chosen words can make a significant difference in our communication. But enough about us—we’re eager to hear from you now! Share your experiences, tips, and additional ideas about using framing by leaving a comment below. This is a chance for us to have a genuine conversation, where your voice matters.

We firmly believe that the best discussions are the ones that involve everyone. So please join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. We’re excited to learn from you and continue growing together. A heartfelt thank you for being a part of this Enablers of Change episode. To stay updated on future episodes, remember to subscribe to our newsletter. And if you enjoyed what you’ve read, please spread the word to your friends, so they too can join the conversation and benefit from these discussions.

Wishing you all the best until we meet again! Keep embracing change and let your words create a positive impact in the world!

 

Resources

Andrews, A. C., Clawson, R. A., Gramig, B. M., & Raymond, L. (2013). Why do farmers adopt conservation tillage? An experimental investigation of framing effects. Journal of soil and water conservation, 68(6), 501-511.

Borah, P. (2011). Conceptual Issues in Framing Theory: A Systematic Examination of a Decade’s Literature. Journal of Communication, 61(2), 246-263. Available online

Kareklas, I., Carlson, J. R., & Muehling, D. D. (2012). The role of regulatory focus and self-view in “green” advertising message framing. Journal of Advertising, 41(4), 25-39.

Ngo, C. C., Poortvliet, P. M., & Klerkx, L. (2022). The persuasiveness of gain vs. loss framed messages on farmers’ perceptions and decisions to climate change: A case study in coastal communities of Vietnam. Climate Risk Management, 35, 100409. 

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alex murray
alex murray
5 months ago

Morning Bruce, this recent video on Framing and reframing echoed some recent learnings from last weekend’s ABC radio interview with the great Australian musician James Morrison. He wasn’t talking about extension messaging per se, but it was more about his disposition to playing without nerves. He famously has never been nervous before playing a concert or recording session even with his greatest musical hero such as Dizzy Gillespie. He said he is just excited…and teaches his students to do the same….reframe themselves. Have a listen (skip to 6 min if you don’t that the time to listen to the whole… Read more »

Grey Wilkins
Grey Wilkins
5 months ago

Hello John, this is really good piece of advice as far as bringing change among farmers is concern. It’s really hard change farmers perception since we spend much time arguing on certain practice as some technologies we brought forward to them does not conform with long term acquired and established values and ideas. With this approach framing and reframing it’s way to go. Though, some technologies and innovation are policy oriented does not a room for change agent to be innovate.

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