How can campaigners win hearts, then minds?

Compelling, inspiring, impact focused, targeted and succinct. Campaign messages that are all of these things should motivate people to sit up and take action. But above all, to elicit this response communications should fit in with the way the people I want to influence see the world.

The reality is that most of the time facts alone are not enough. In most situations, facts will be trumped by people’s empathic response to them. Our emotions and values are bound up with our own identity and if we are presented with ‘facts’ that contradict or challenge our identity or our values, then we resist their conclusions. Essentially, we accept the facts we find convincing, and reject those that we don’t.

This has interesting implications for campaigners. Why, for instance, does the environmental movement not achieve changes it seeks when the evidence is clear? Because, says Brian Lamb, people screen out things which don’t fit within their views or pre-existing frame of reference. People make irrational choices about rational things.

Speaking at NCVO’s Certificate in Campaigning last week, Brian explained how gathering support often means working with the way people think and believe, not against. So campaigners need to understand the way people think and make decisions about an issue, in order to change their opinions and provoke the actions that are needed. Brian inspired me to read more about this issue of ‘framing’ which appears to hold a key to impactful campaign communications.

There is a lot of theory on this topic, so if that’s your bag then there is plenty to read. It makes a lot of sense for campaigning. But it strikes me that there are also some very achievable practical things that campaigners can do to put these notions into practice and create memorable messages that inspire people to take action. Campaign communications that appeal to people’s emotions and values should look to win hearts first, then minds.

To read more take a look at NCVO’s Good Campaigns Guide, by Brian Lamb. Weston, Lakoff and Kahan have also written extensively about topics relating to framing political issues.

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Sarah Gilbert Sarah Gilbert is an experienced campaigner. She is an independent consultant and runs projects for NCVO on campaigning and influencing, including the Certificate in Campaigning and Leadership in Campaigns. She also coaches campaigners, has guest lectured for Roehampton University, and is a member of the advisory board for the University of Westminster's MA in Campaigning, Communications and Media. Sarah sits on the Campaigning Effectiveness Advisory Board and writes blogs, articles and tweets about how to influence people and the sector’s role in campaigning.

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