Models of Environmental Communication
The three models of environmental communication are the classical (deficit) model, the framing model, and the contemporary (dialogic) model. The classical model relies on the assumption that the public can be inspired towards action by using apocalyptic tones and innately shocking statistics. Addressing inadequate scientific understanding is the main hurdle in gaining public support. The framing model practices slightly more sensitivity toward the contexts in which humans receive information, but like the classical model assumes that communication is a single-sided, one-way flow of information from experts to the public. Both the classical and framing models can appear to be condescending, and may invalidate the perspectives of the public in communicating environmental issues. These models are contrasted by the contemporary model, which emphasizes the importance of active listening in education. Through this model, dialogue allows the recipient of information (the public )to become an active collaborator rather than just a passive recipient.
The Importance of Dialogue
Dialogic models have the potential to vastly change the success rates of work aiming to reduce prejudice. Brookman and Kalla (2016) demonstrate the efficacy of this model with the success of canvassers in reducing the public’s negative perceptions of transgender individuals, as they implored those they conversed with to actively take on an outgroup’s perspective. The personal exchange of initially opposing views through the framework succeeded, as those canvassed reported markedly and enduringly reduced prejudice. Both canvassers and canvasees had the opportunity to share their perspectives, and thus engaged in perspective-taking. Taking on the perspectives of people suffering from prejudice in a first-person manner allowed those canvassed to employ empathy toward the marginalized individuals in question.
Narrative 4’s “story exchange” approach, similar to that of the canvasser’s, relies on empathy and personal exchanges of narratives to bridge gaps, thus facilitating deeper understanding between groups and individuals with differing points of view. Yet, some argue that this approach is somewhat naively optimistic. It is impossible to know whether the person canvassed actually changed their view or if they only acted to please the canvasser, or if the person kept this experience in mind when going to the ballot. These questions and more have been raised when exploring these types of verbal engagement models, as although organizations such as Narrative 4 advertise themselves as attempting to ‘bridge’ people’s perspectives, their actual goal is to convince individuals to change their opinions. Though these critiques are based on the programs and experiments that we described above, the contemporary model is effective in its ideal use of voicing people’s ideals and stories that wouldn’t be heard otherwise. Even if the goal of reconciliation and complete understanding aren’t reached in each program, there still is great importance in the dialogue and conversation created.
How does Oregon Humanities approach communication?
The Oregon Humanities Conversation Project already follows the contemporary/dialogic model of communication. The organization is based on its hosted intentional conversations that are open to the general public, and pertain to various issues of importance to communities. By creating an environment for conversation, “people and groups explore why they think what they do, share stories with one another that build trust, and make stronger connections and commitments to the issues that affect their communities” (Oregon Humanities). The organization follows the main characteristics of the contemporary model, as Conversation Projects allow participants to exchange stories with others who may or not have similar experiences, morals, or opinions.
Yet, there are still plenty of opportunities for Oregon Humanities to expand on their existing dynamic. For example, perhaps during one conversation, they could try out Narrative 4’s method of “story exchange,” where willing participants could voice their stories surrounding the topic at hand and exchange them with others in the group. Through this structure, participants can validate their own personal experiences in and listen to other’s experiences as well. This would require for there to be a heterogeneous pool of perspectives in the discussion in order for there to be a functional exchange of new ideas. That said, likely participants of this experimental conversation may have to be hand-selected. The facilitator of the conversation would be held accountable to see that every diverse perspective is addressed equally, and would present facts and statistics to prevent people from spreading misinformation. We discuss this further in our past posts, “Oregon Who-Humanities?” & “Can Conservation Save Our Post-truth World?”