Thursday, March 19, 2009

Framing Basics

In the past couple of years there has been much talk in the field of science communication about framing. Framing is simply a way to talk about a specific issue that helps people recognize the way that issue relates to them.

Frames are not about persuasion, but activation. There is an interaction between preset frames in a listener's head and the presenter's frames - if the preset frames correlate with the frames in a presentation, an issue becomes more relevant to the audience. A simple example of this would be explaining to your roommate about an accident in the house:

You: You know that glass vase you kept saying you hated because you could never reach your hand to the bottom to clean it?
Roommate: Yes.
You: I don't think you have to worry about it anymore.

An example of a frame that wouldn't work in the same scenario:

You: You know that heirloom vase with your hand-painted family tree on it that your great-grandmother gave you before she died?
Roommate: Yes.
You: Do you have a picture of it?
Roommate: Why?
You: Because I already bought the super glue but couldn't remember which of your relatives go next to each other.

In a way, framing is "lensing" an issue - it is how you approach something. Framing tells you why an issue matters and what to do about it, often without you having to think about it. Most importantly, framing focuses attention on one aspect of a situation to the exclusion of another.

Framing is a good tool for advocates because frames can be used to: strategically define issues, mobilize, minimize or expand media attention, and shift debate to favorable policy contexts.

According to Gamson & Lasch,* frames:
  • simplify things because they focus on one dimension over others
  • work by activating preconceived notions
  • help trigger a connection to a larger cultural value
What kinds of frames do you see about science?

*Gamson, W.A., & Lasch, K.E. (1983). The political culture of social welfare policy. In S.E. Spiro & E Yuchtman-Yaar (Eds.), Evaluating the welfare state (pp. 397-415). New York: Academic Press.

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