Toolkit: Framing and Communication Guides

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When communication is fully effective, it seldom happens as a happy accident – it is the result of professional craftsmanship; the communicator applies their knowledge in specific and intentional ways. Even informal and spontaneous contacts with visitors require preparation, skill and application of appropriate strategies. A thoughtful and intentional approach becomes even more important with a critical issue such as climate change.

Any good communicator understands the need to make information relevant to the audience. For the issue of climate change, this is often complicated by political and ideological influences and debates. It is wise for all communicators to research and understand the needs and interests of their audiences in order to make the best choices about what information and techniques to apply. Also, framing the issue appropriately may be the most significant choice made for an audience. It may determine whether they pay attention, or just pass by. Understanding multiple perspectives in play will enable communicators to pick examples, and solutions, that lead to inspiration rather than despair. The following sources are good references to use in getting started. It's also worth checking out our Who's Your Audience? page to learn about those to whom you'll be communicating.
There are many different approaches to talking about the implications of climate change, and some which take advantage of particular “Frames” of reference. Is Security, or Human Health, of specific interest at your site? Does sustainability factor into your site’s message or story? Here are some things to help you figure out what will work best for your audiences.
Usage of "Global Warming" vs. "Climate Change"
A Yale article found that the two terms are used differently and mean different things among many Americans. Does Word Choice Matter? [PDF] looked at the use of these terms and found some differences in perceptions based on political party affiliation.
Communication Climate Change: Why Frames Matter for Public Engagement
This article from Environment magazine introduces the concept of Frames and examines different frames applicable to climate change.
Using Audience Research to Inform Design
This article from the George Wright Forum provides some key findings about how visitors to parks most prefer to learn about climate change.
This video from PBS Digital Studios explores the social science aspects of climate change, examining why it is a difficult issue for humans to confront and unite together to tackle. It also introduces the concept of frames and demonstrates why they are useful to consider when facts alone do not seem to help.
Climate Communication Guides and Handbooks

If you’re new to communicating about this issue, a good first step is to explore the Interpreting Climate Change Self-Study Module (Module 4) on Appropriate Techniques and Strategies. It provides a well-organized and interactive approach to help you identify the best techniques to use and to examine some good examples and models to apply for yourself. You will find a Study Guide and Learning Companion to help you cultivate facilitation skills, develop strategies for a variety of audiences, and acquire skills needed for embracing controversy.

Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science
This short guide presents information that is deemed important for individuals and communities to know and understand about Earth’s climate, impacts of climate change, and approaches to adaptation or mitigation. Principles in the guide can serve as discussion starters or launching points for scientific inquiry. The guide aims to promote greater climate science literacy by providing this educational framework of principles and concepts. The guide can also serve educators who teach climate science as a way to meet content standards in their science curricula.

The Climate in the Parks: Innovative Climate Change Education in Parks guide provides a handy reference to a variety of examples of climate change education occurring in parks and protected areas around the world, including programs and other methods of communication. This document was a product of a 2013 conference at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Also make sure to download Parks: The New Climate Classroom.
Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication [PDF]
The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at the Earth Institute of Columbia University partnered with ecoAmerica to publish this guide to synthesize their findings after many years of communicating climate change. In particular, much of this guide focuses on understanding your audience and crafting messages to best reach them. Their Psychology of Climate Change Communication guide is similarly helpful.

Climate Communications and Behavior Change: A Guide for Practitioners
This communication guide focuses on communicating climate change to create behavior changes among the audience. Case studies, examples, and success stories are used to illustrate points and ideas.

Last updated: September 15, 2020


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