The last two weeks of ENVS 295 has consisted of discussions around the “what” and the “who” of environmental engagement. While identifying the “what” (the environmental issue) and the “who” (the participants or stakeholders) is significant, means of connection between the two are dependant on the “how.” Effective engagement has been a central topic of the class, and readings for this week asked us to closely examine the three varied Models of Environmental Communication: the classical (deficit) model, the framing model, and the contemporary (dialogic) model.
The first classical (deficit) model approaches conversations with hard facts and a “slam your fist on the table, we have the facts” kind of manner, with very little room for an exchange to happen. The second framing model assumes that every individual is capable of making “the right” decisions with the information provided to them, meaning that this model can often be subjective to an individual’s specific way of receiving knowledge. The last contemporary (dialogic) model advocates for a very different approach to the other two models. The dialogic model involves both listening and speaking to achieve a – hopefully – productive dialog encompassing the chosen subject matter.
Important to preface is that although these modes of communication were written in relation to environmental issues, they are applicable to engagement across a series of topics. While the deficit and framing models of communication offer a more top-down approach, viewing education from experts to the general public as a means to action, the dialogic model calls for two-way dialogue that may result in further understanding of difference. This is directly relatable to our partner organization, Crossing Party Lines (CPL), as they use the dialogic model as a means of connecting over politically divisive issues.
A single approximately 10-minute conversation encouraging actively taking the perspective of others can markedly reduce prejudice for at least 3 months.”David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, 2016
Within this context of dialogic conversation, a relevant article is “Durably Reducing Transphobia: A Field Experiment on door-to-door Canvassing” written by David Broockman & Joshua Kalla (can be found here). The article focuses on an in-the-field door-to-door canvassing experiment that took place in South Florida. Carried out by members from the Los Angeles LGBT Center and SAVE (a South Florida LGBT organization), the canvassing was aimed at reducing transphobia within the targeted area. Canvassers use “deep canvassing” methods of communication, working to make the voter feel listened to.
Canvassers (who may or may not be members of the impacted community) listen nonjudgmentally.”Brian Resnick for Vox
Voters are shown a video that presents arguments about both sides, specifically in relation to a 2014 ordinance protecting transgender people from discrimination in Florida. Lasting around ten minutes on average, it was found that these conversations shifted voter’s attitudes toward the transgender community and that these biases were changed for around three months.
The CPL Approach
Although focused on different outcomes, the article shows commonalities in the practices of CPL. Both focused on engaged and cordial discussion, these two examples highlight the benefits of taking the time to use dialogic models of conversations that go further than overbearing methods of telling people how they should think. Commonalities can also be seen with the video that is shown to voters and the pre-meet up materials (text and videos) that both set up the conversation with an underlying level of recognition between groups. This directly relates to CPL’s conversation approach:
CPL’s above approach paired with the dialogic model of conversation has already made them a successful and growing organization – across the four states where CPL is active. Although they might not yet be perfectly connected, the “who” and the “what” are already preliminarily paired through CPL’s framework for discussion, and this framework has allowed for many deep, diverse, and engaging conversations. The goals of the discussions are very clear by their mission statement on their website, yet there is no measurable way to know how they are actually connecting the stakeholders to the mission of the organization. Therefore, one noticeable way how CPL could improve the “who” and “what” connection. This could be by creating a format to achieve an equal makeup of Democrats and Republicans at each of their Meetups.
This is much more difficult in practice than it might seem, especially when dealing with polarized groups of individuals. If CPL were to – for example – add a question to their sign up for a meetup, asking about individuals’ political leanings, it could result in certain people immediately being overwhelmed, and in turn not partaking in the event. A better approach could perhaps be a small survey, which asked open-ended questions of the potential participant, which would provide some more information on the makeup of participants for any given meeting. This approach could also help people who are less likely to speak out in a face-to-face meeting, to contribute their views in a safe manner.
The importance of connecting the “what” to the “who” cannot be overstated, especially in an organization like CPL where the core elements are reliant upon this successful merging of stakeholders. As could be seen in the canvassing field experiment above, being mindful of communication methods when discussing across difference is essential to effective engagement. The dialogic model, used by both the canvassers and CPL, employs skills around civil and productive discussion to ensure that conversations are not hindered by biases.
- Broockman, David, and Joshua Kalla. 2016. “Durably Reducing Transphobia: A Field Experiment on Door-to-Door Canvassing.” Science 352 (6282): 220–24. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aad9713.
- Resnick, Brian. 2020. “How to talk someone out of bigotry.” Vox. https://www.vox.com/2020/1/29/21065620/broockman-kalla-deep-canvassing