Framing: A quick guide

An excellent introduction to creating powerful messages or ‘framing’ is provided by the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) entitled Framing: Creating powerful political message by Delft University of Technology. These notes are taken – sometimes verbatim – from the transcripts and videos. While the MOOC is focused on politics, the lessons are more broadly applicable. Many examples, taken from political life, are also provided in the MOOC. The MOOC was available free online through edX, but is currently closed.

 

The characteristics of a good frame are:

  • It is ‘sticky’ – in other words the message is powerful and simple
  • The person hearing or seeing it intuitively agrees with it
  • There is a ‘villain’, i.e., someone who does not do what is intuitively right (the opponent)
  • The opponent’s core values are at stake, which forces them to respond
  • It taps into societal undercurrents. These are strong views that many people take for granted.

 
When you step into your opponent’s frame:

  • You give free airtime to your opponent’s frame
  • You put yourself on the defensive
  • You’ll probably have a heavier burden of proof than your opponent
  • Your response might be complex and vulnerable
  • Negating a frame acts to evoke it. Denial often serves as confirmation.

 
Patterns in the game of framing and reframing:

  • A frame that appeals to emotion draws on three roles: victims, villains and heroes
  • Politicians often frame themselves as heroes and their opponents as villains
  • If you are framed as a villain, how should you respond? Denying that you are a villain is not effective (negating a frame acts to evoke it). Instead reframe to tell a different version of the same reality, in which the division of roles is also different – where you are the hero.

 
The 3P model:

  • You can communicate your message in three ways: in the language of policy, of principle (values), and of personal commitment
  • Policy conveys information and is cold. Principle and personality are warm and relational
  • A politician who creates a frame always does so on the basis of one of the three Ps
  • Reframing means that you develop a message based on one of the other Ps. This can bring opponents out of their comfort zone
  • It is a good idea to make sure you can communicate your message from the perspective of each of the three Ps.

 
Using the downsides of your opponent’s values:

  • Often, you cannot object to your opponent’s values. But all values have downsides
  • Activate the downsides of these values in your frame and make their consequences for policy concrete
  • If you are confronted by an opponent who frames you in this way, reframe by highlighting the downsides of your opponent’s values and by making their consequences for policy concrete.

 
Hijacking your opponent’s values:

  • A politician has policies and values and will always link his/her own policies with his/her own values
  • A frame becomes much more powerful when you link your policies to your opponent’s values. You break their monopoly on those values.

 
Meta-framing. Perhaps this is the easiest way of reframing: simply state that your opponents frame is morally wrong or hypocritical.

  • Do not enter into your opponent’s frame
  • But say something about this frame, preferably a moral condemnation: your opponent’s frame (e.g. stance or question) is morally wrong.

 
Sharing and transcending a dilemma. If you wish to convince your listeners of your position, it can help if you formulate a dilemma (possibly a moral dilemma) first.

  • Part of this dilemma is your opponent’s position
  • You then frame your own position as one that transcends the dilemma, offering a way out
  • By making your opponent’s position part of the dilemma, you can also create the impression of transcending your opponent – you are not placing your position in opposition to your opponent, but above your opponent.

 
Creating a monopoly of emotion:

  • A message in the emotional frame often outperforms a cold and analytical message;
  • and can result in a ‘monopoly of emotion’
  • Reframing the monopoly of emotion? This requires empathy and calls on your own values and emotions.

 

Reference: de Bruijn, H. and Pagnier, J. (2016). Framing: How politicians debate. Delft University of Technology, edX Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) (details at: https://www.edx.org/course/framing-how-politicians-debate-delftx-frame101x-1 and https://ocw.tudelft.nl/courses/framing/). An introduction to the course is provided on YouTube: “Framing: Creating Powerful Political Messages” presented by Hans de Bruijn and Jet Pagnier was delivered in December 2014. Online: https://youtu.be/bN_C4V5J014.

Posted: June 2015
Last modified: June 2018