GUIDELINE NO.6: Frames & Framing: Learn to break it and build one

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When you are communicating you will frame, when you are framing, you will communicate.

[Download PDF: No6_iMekong_BreakandBuildFrames]

Framing is a process. Framing comes naturally when you are communicating, e.g., writing, drawing, speaking, etc., which sometimes is strategically designed to call for action. A frame is an organization of selective perception towards a particular reality.

In other words, a frame helps an audience to understand a particular situation in a particular way. In our daily life, we experience framing at all times, from different media outlets, for example, advertisement, movies, political campaigns, news, etc. (please see Guideline No. 2 and 4 for more iMekong’s factsheets on frames and framing).

You may intentionally or unintentionally frame your message that serves your purpose. A message often consists of several elements designed to persuade an audience, e.g., textual, visual, and sound, to do or not to do something.

Effective framing includes other factors such as WHO tells and HOW they tell about that story; whether it comes from an official, an activist, a journalist, or a scholar, the audience usually receives the message differently.

Two common types of frames are: (1) Generic frame, which can be identified across different subjects, e.g., cultures, economics, and politics, such as conflict, human interest, collective action, and morality, etc. (2) Issue frame, is specified to certain fractions of reality, such as energy development, carbon trade, global warming, and ecological justice, those are used in climate change debates.

Other types of frames are: negative and positive frames, strategic and substantial frames, competitive and uncompetitive frames. Remember: frames can appear in specific terms (visible) or a meaning between the lines (invisible).

In communicating you will frame, in framing you will communicate. Framing is one of the fundamental tools in generating effective communication. Using multiple frames and forms (textual + visual) is also key to your campaigning message.

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In photo: A, B, and C are selectively framed from the same landscape scenario of Battambong I Dam site in Cambodia; A captures a beautiful sky with mountains and trees, B captures a dog with not much context, and C captures a construction side replacing green area with concrete and wires (photo credit: Sun Yanh, “Please relocate the dam, not the villagers” iMekong, 05-31-2015).

Different kinds of frames will give you different results, a green forest signifies a rich environment, while a gray concrete structure feels dry and no life, or sometimes it reveals a progress and development for some groups of people. It depends on your objective of framing and a worldview of your target audience.

For example: (A) a negative frame will give an urgent sense to audience, may lead to action, “Vietnam’s Mekong Delta hit by worst drought in years”, (Asian Correspondent, 03-03-2016); and (B) a positive frame will be giving a sense of hope and change, “Organic rice in Northeastern Thailand: Improving farmers’ livelihoods and environment,” (Mekong Commons, 03-18-2016).

Keep in mind that a powerful frame captures a shared value and resonates with target audience’s worldview, such as democratic value, gender equality, environmental rights, etc. Also, used frames must provide a logical occurrence, a tangible approach, or a sensible solution to a problem (see a Venn diagram below).

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You may apply these following steps when you do framing.

Step 1: Set your objective and goal.

First of all, set a clear objective and goal of your campaign and/or writing, e.g., to gain support, to organize, to mobilize, etc. and; a specific goal, e.g., for your target audience to make a donation, for youths to go cast their first-time votes, for your readers to say yes/no to a policy, etc.

Step 2: Analyze your target audience.

Knowing your audience is also key to determine your message (writing language, visual, sound, form and tone). You should evaluate your target audience.

For example, what their needs, aspiration, fear, motivation, value, norm, their political and social influencers are/ what they think about themselves/ what other people in the community think about them/ their media consumption behavior/ their demographic information (e.g., age range, gender, income, where they live, etc.)/ their typical behaviors and lifestyle choices/ and the place you can find them.

When analyzing your audience, also try to answer these questions: what kind of behavior do they need to change?/ what communications tools are likely to effectively reach them?/ what do they already know about your organization or the issue you are advocating?/ what are they likely to react to your message and why?/ what other factors do influence the audience that receives your message? (time, place, voice, media literacy, etc.)/ Are there any difficulties you might have in communicating with each audience?

NOTE: In some cases, it will not be effective to direct communication at certain audiences. In those situations, it may be better to select other audiences that can function as intermediates for reaching them.

Step 3: Build your frame.

When you frame, you will have to (3.1) evaluate the surrounding circumstances of the issue you want to frame, at a local, national, regional level. (3.2) Specify the common worldview about the issue among your audience, this is critical in framing process. (3.3) Identify the moral judgement, what people should do about the issue. (3.4) Identify the possible remedy or solution to the issue (i.e., problem). (3.5) Select your wordings, terms, or phrases, including, images, sounds, spoken persons as applicable.

Step 4: Select a perception.

Remember that when you are framing (of a selective perception), you are capturing another possible reality, to reveal another alternative explanation to a particular occurrence, or to provide an alternative solution to a problem.

Step 5: Test your frame.

Share the written story, proposal, audio or visual story, that contains multiple frames within the key message, with your friends – see what their reactions are to your message.

Be aware of a side effect. You will have to be cautious of what frames you use. Sometimes your frames will turn off your audience rather than turn them on to achieve your goal, they might feel bored, fatigue, fear, etc. For example, your frames are too negative, violent, or depressing.

RULE OF THUMB: The chosen frame must not contain any stereotyping, assumption, labelling, and always provide accurate information. In any form of communication, you must prioritize the safety of yourself and your source. You should treat your source, audience, and information with respect, responsibility and accountability.

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