Public Education and Social Change

Public education campaigns are an important part of many social change efforts. People need to know about the problem – how big it is, how much it costs, who is affected, why the problem exists, what exactly can be done. Magazine ads, press releases, television and radio advertising (if you can afford it!) are all good ways to get a message across. But there might be better ways. A little creativity is called for here. And budget issues might force you to be more creative.

The following list of principles could help you develop better public education campaigns:

1. Leverage – What medium will let you reach the most people who need to hear your message, for the money you can spend? What specifically can you communicate that will have the most impact? Research or think. Don’t guess or assume.

2. Design Thinking – Design the message for the audience and not for your group or to copy something cool/touching/edgy that you’ve previously encountered. Your message has to consider the norms, beliefs, and attitudes of people who are going to get the message.

3. Marketing – You have to sell, sell, sell. It might be regrettable that people have to be made to care about the facts of a certain issue, but that’s the way the world works. If you want your message to stick, study copywriting principles and social marketing.

4. Science – At least use relevant facts about an issue. Maybe Americans use 40% of the world’s resources while being only 5% of the world’s population. So what? Maybe the rest of the world is too poor!

Use these principles when designing or redesigning a public education campaign. Consider all four principles when you use the idea generation tools I’ll write about next time. I’ll also apply these principles and tools to public education campaign about critical thinking. Real applications of my abstract ideas!

Don’t forget that public education is different from advocacy, though there is certainly going to be some combining of objectives – publicize the costs of global warming and convince them to take step X or make change Y.


~ by chetdavis on January 14, 2008.

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