Framing Your Message
Building a wide base of support for housing efforts is vital to achieving a community’s housing goals. However, building public will to address housing challenges may be even tougher than many people realize. Although understanding your community’s housing needs is a critical starting place, this information alone is not enough to catalyze public support for housing initiatives. Studies by cognitive and behavioral scientists show that people become more entrenched in false beliefs when confronted with evidence contradicting their views – this is known as the “backfire effect.”
“The irony is that as data about the importance of housing pile up, our messages seem to be losing traction and actually making things worse. Facts, data, and vivid stories about individual troubles are not increasing public understanding, and some of our initial research suggests that they may in fact be both depressing public support for housing issues and reinvigorating misinformation.” (Source: Manuel, T. and Kendall-Taylor, N. (2016). “You Don’t Have to Live Here” Why Housing Messages Are Backfiring and 10 Things We Can Do About It. Washington D.C: FrameWorks Institute.)
How to Think about Framing
We all have multiple ways of thinking about social issues, such as access to affordable housing. We may dislike taxes, but want better roads. The way in which we frame a need or proposal can trigger how people respond to it.
If we talk about creating programs or housing for others, this may stimulate an “us versus them” reaction. In contrast, if we frame the need for diverse housing options as a matter of fairness so that everyone can have access to housing they can afford, we may help activate a more favorable response. In strong housing market areas, showing that more housing of diverse types is vital to supporting economic development in your community can also generate positive reactions.
Referring to “homes” may suggest the surroundings that shape us, but “housing” may cause people to think about a commodity or consumer good. Be strategic about the language and imagery you use, understanding the local culture in which you are working.