Welcome to “Whose Voice Matters?”, an interactive Facebook group exploring the ins and outs of advocating for authentic citizen engagement. My name is Shannon Blood, and I have had the privilege of learning about strategic persuasion in WSU’s COMSTRAT561 with classmates across the globe this semester. I hope you enjoy this presentation. Our focus in COMSTRAT 561 Persuasion for Professional Communicators was on learning, analyzing and applying “principles of strategic persuasion to advocate for a single political or social issue."
After nearly two decades of working in state government, I have observed a critical thing: with the very rare and notable exception, the average citizen does not get much opportunity to provide input into government decisions about programs, policies and spending decisions. It can be hard to find ways to share your voice as a citizen -- and it can be hard for the clunky machinery of government to make space for your voice.
This seems counter-intuitive, especially given that social media has created so many new platforms for being heard. But tools can’t take the place of face-to-face interaction. Authentic connection matters. And it’s missing in the arena of policy and government operations. Facebook, tweeting, email – they can get the ball rolling. But they are no substitute for people listening to and learning from one another.
What does authentic connection mean? What should it look like? How can citizen engagement be best supported by government agencies? What gets in the way of citizen engagement? What could persuade citizen’s that their voices matter, and what could persuade government to be more supportive and receptive of citizen engagement?
The first stop along the way is building a common understanding of policy – something I refer to as the “Big P” and the “Little p” of policy. Lawmakers debate the relative merits, concerns and costs of proposed laws. In Washington state, the statutory language that passes both Houses and is signed into law by the Governor is known as RCWs (Revised Code of Washington). There are a lot of them. State government agencies then put those laws into action – they bring them to life – they implement them. These rules are known as the Washington Administrative Code (WACs). These rules (policy with the small “p” if you will) try to make operational sense of the legislative policy (policy with a capitol “P”). The big “P” laws are the ones we learned about in school.
In our class reading of Persuasion: Theory and Research by Daniel O’Keefe, chapter 9 “Message Factors” tells us that “messages with more specific descriptions of recommended actions are more persuasive than those providing general non-specific recommendations” (p.18). When people have a clear sense or understanding of what they can do, it is easier for them to see themselves as doing it, which means they are more likely to do it. Their sense of self-efficacy has increased.
This particular post gave a very clear idea of citizen participation in policy making, with a focus on the “big P” side of things. While this graphic was a reader-friendly snapshot of all the different ways a person could be engaged, it was lacking the specificity in what steps to take to get engaged, decreasing its effectiveness. O’Keefe pointed out in our reading that a person’s belief in his or her ability to engage in the behavior is an important persuasive factor. A more persuasive sub-heading on this graphic might be: Political Voice – Steps You Can Take to be Heard. When writing persuasive messages, active voice is often more powerful.
This particular post alluded to a theory that essentially says people go along with dominantly expressed attitudes and opinions. Eventually, dissenting or minority voices are squelched.
This graphic uses an appeal to fear – your voice will be lost; you will be silenced! – to get attention. Our O’Keefe reading pointed out that “a fear appeal message employs what amounts to a problem-solution message format.” So, in my post introduction, I asked readers if they had ideas for what could interrupt the downward spiral of silence. The graphic and the question caught the FB groups’ attention. Readers offered expanded evidence or stories from personal experiences validating the theory, but only one tentative solution was offered at the end after I nudged.
So, the effectiveness is 50/50. Folks moved into conversation, but they didn’t get to problem-solving.
The theory of reasoned action from our Montano reading “asserts that the most important determinant of behavior is behavioral intention” and that the success of the TRA theory relies on a person’s perception of the ease or difficulty of behavioral performance. He goes on to say that it also “depends on [the] individual . . . exercising a large degree of control over the behavior” (2008, pp. 70-71). The theory of planned behavior (TPB) -- which grew out of the TRA theory -- adds the element of perceived control to the equation of persuasion. Essentially, Montano is saying that the more clearly a person can see herself engaging in a specific behavior, and the smoother or easier she thinks her participation will be, the better outcome on moving the stages of change to put the new behavior into action.
In a nutshell, intention, perception, attitude and control play into a person’s sense of self-efficacy – important factors in behavior change.
Montano, D & Kasprzyk, D. (2008). Theory of reasoned action, theory of planned behavior, and the integrated behavioral model. In K. Glanz, B. Rimer,
Half in Ten is a social campaign that identifies as a “community of low-income families, service providers, and other community leaders working to expand economic opportunity through the power of personal stories.” Their website was very persuasive, using a wide range of tactics addressed in many of our class readings.
One strong points of the website is that it offered very specific, one-click options to get to action steps. From the Montano reading, the ease or difficulty of engaging in a behavior is a major determinant of behavioral performance, and the person’s sense control over the behavior is another important factor. These combined items contribute to a person’s increased self-efficacy.
The website also demonstrates the persuasive impact of the O’Keefe reading on Message Factors, in which a “single example can be more persuasive than parallel statistical summary information.” The website focus is on gathering the personal stories – descriptive examples, essentially -- of those persons most impacted by poverty. Pratkanis’ also mentions that “plausible stories serve to guide thought, determine the credibility of information, and ultimately direct evaluation and choice . . . And tend to persist even in the face of strong, discrediting information.”
A final bonus for this website is their use of the Foot-in-the-Door approach. The website offers five ways of getting involved in their social campaign. The ask for money is the last option presented, which means they are more likely to get donations from those folks that have already opted to participate in other ways.
Pratkanis, A. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. In The science of social influence: Advances and future progress, 17-82.
In the Booth-Butterfield reading (2002, p. 157) we learn that “a person processing a persuasive communication through the central route would generate many of his or her own thoughts in response to the arguments contained in the communication.” The reading goes to say that arguments seen as strong generate positive thoughts which are more persuasive while weak arguments generate negative thoughts and are less persuasive. The central route leads to consideration of both arguments for and against and a choice is carefully considered. Which – in a fairly circular way – leads us back to message structure and self-efficacy. If the message is clear with specific actionable items, and the receiver has a way to add to the message content, he or she will have a greater sense of what is possible – a greater sense of self-efficacy. People with more self-efficacy are more likely to get to the point of behavior change. And a change in one’s behavior is more lasting persuasion than a change on just one’s attitude.
Another way of thinking about the elaboration likelihood model includes the concepts of motivation and ability. A user who feels directly impacted by a topic is more likely to process the message through the central route. Sharing the message in a way that is meaningful and matches the audience’s cognitive level means they will be more likely to engage in central processing. Succinctly stated by Victor Yocco in his article Persuasion: Applying the Likelihood Model to Design “if you want users to actually pay attention to your message, make it directly relevant and easy to understand.”
Victor Yocco, “Persuasion: Applying the Likelihood Model to Design”, July 1, 2014 Published in Graphic Design, Web Strategy, User Research retrieved from http://alistapart.com/article/persuasion-applying-the-elaboration-likelihood-model-to-design
For folks who don’t know, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), it is an international organization that bills itself as “creating the political will for a livable world by empowering individuals to experience breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.” Such a catchy phrase. Great ideology, right? The heart of advocacy – the effective exercise of personal and political power.
After being unexpectedly invited to the one hour presentation on Saturday April 11, I decided to take careful notes to use in this project. The link to “A Peek at Citizen Engagement Tactics” is my op-ed piece for the Facebook project, and details numerous social influence tactics used by the speaker.
In a brief snapshot, the speaker labeled the issue in a favorable manner and immediately established his credibility through his education and community volunteering, and the organization’s credibility with a lot of famous name dropping. He set the agenda and framed the conversational direction through a careful use of story as well as facts. He actually began his presentation with immediate inoculation to “global warming” detractors up front by presenting graphical evidence of “climate change” over time, neatly forestalling any possible rebuttals from audience members. Using these tactics, he engaged his audience in careful consideration of the information, while painting a vivid picture of what participation looks like. At the end of the presentation, he provide a single sheet of paper for folks to leave their contact information and about twelve different options for participation ranging from “I am going to go home and research” to “Sign me up, I’ll get our local chapter going” to “Here’s my donation!”
Remembering that the Theory of Reasoned Action states that most important determinant of behavior prediction is behavioral intention and the Theory of Planned Behavior builds off of TRA and addresses perception of the ease or difficulty of performing the behavior, the speaker was clearly successful in his presentation. He built a solid picture of participation, complete with the tie-in to notable public figures, and the desire to be known as a community volunteer performing good works and provided many interesting, tantalizing nuggets of information. The behavior piece was locked in with the simple paper and pen form – he knew his audience; older, late career or retired, and more comfortable with pen and paper. He had over ¾ of the room stay to talk to him in person and fill out the form.
It had become apparent in the Facebook posts that people were fairly intimidated by the lack of civil discourse found in media generally and social media specifically. Two quotes from the group discussions stuck out:
“The illusion (and I hope it's only an illusion) of ‟Groupthink” has taken hold of our society because people believe that to hold a position different from their peers is to lose friends, have family angry at them, threaten their jobs. That is probably particularly true for social media. If I relay an opinion verbally, especially to only one person, one witness, I can always later deny saying it. If I post that same opinion on social media, therefore in writing, I cannot later deny it. It's there for all to see...forever.”
And . . .
“Unfortunately social media seems to only hold sharply polarized views. If you state a liberal view you are pounced on by conservatives. If you state a conservative view you are pounced on by liberals. Unless you limit your contacts to those who agree with you. There is never much room to look for common ground. I've been in very few forums where intelligent discussion on both sides takes place.”
So, when we got to our class reading by Anthony Pratkanis, Social Influence Analysis: An Index of Tactics, I latched onto his description of “jigsawing” – a tactic that is designed to “promote intergroup harmony and positive social relations" and started looking for some shred of hope in civil and safe, authentic and meaningful discourse.
I found this article, with the lovely picture. The picture and article have affective appeal, positive and hopeful. The article contains specific guidance on building relationships that are respectful of one another, recognizing each other’s contributions, knowledge, experience, needs . . . Pratkanis talks about jig-sawing being one way to establish conditions of greater equality, necessary in positive intergroup relations. I found this effective as it engaged FB group readers in identifying which of the article’s key messages were most important or hardest to do. When the audience contributes to the message, coming up with their own reasons or examples, the persuasive appeal is stronger and lasts for a longer time – it leads to greater change. .
So, how to keep spirits lifted and folks willing to participate who are weary and grumpy? They need a booster shot!
Our Compton and Pfau reading on inoculation treatment messages say a successful message increases the receiver’s sense of involvement in and attachment to the issue and increases communication levels on the issue with others. The letter to the dismal allies across the pond sparked considerable comment on the FB page, and confirmed some of my suspicions that folks were just plain tired of the overwhelming onslaught of relentless negative media that clearly influenced other in-person communications in negative ways. How could they be strengthened so they would continue sharing their voice?
I really couldn’t find anything that addressed that very question . . .
So, I created my own message. It’s garnered a few likes . . . With any luck, it will encourage citizen engagement.
Message Structure &
Specific descriptions of recommended actions enhance how
the message recipient perceives:
leading to increased belief in individual ability to take action.
O’Keefe, Daniel. (2002). Message Factors. Persuasion: Theory & Research (pp. 215-240).
Retrieved from: http://eres.wsulibs.wsu.edu/eres/coursepage.aspx?cid=1831&page=docs
Intention and Control
The Campaign to Cut Poverty in Half in Ten Years
Be a video storyteller with "Our American Story"
Our American Story is a community of low-income families, service providers, and other community
leaders working to expand economic opportunity for all through the power of their personal stories.
Share your American Story
Help grow and build the #TalkPoverty network
#TalkPoverty is a network of social media activists who use Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms
to share resources, and raise their voice online for low-income families through local and national actions.
Download our Minimum Wage Toolkit
The toolkit includes talking points, common questions and answers, sample op-ed, sample social media
and more, to help you take action with the media and your elected officials to #RaisetheWage!
The Elaboration Likelihood Model:
How message processing influences people
High involvement central route to persuasion
Low involvement peripheral route to persuasion
Citizens’ Climate Lobby:
A New Chapter Appeal
A Peek At Citizen Engagement Tactics,
April Facebook Opinion Piece
Intergroup Harmony &
Positive Social Relations
means inclusion in
political and economic
processes that shape
March Op-Ed Blog Post
Seven Keys to Kind and Fair Political Decisions
by Mark Gilbert | Mar 5, 2015
“Can we let go of defending our predetermined decisions . . . our
differences? Can we shift our focus towards being open to new
ideas . . . our commonalities . . . our relationships?”
A letter to my dismal
allies on the US left
By Rebecca Solnit | October 15, 2012
Barack Obama Photograph: Lynne Sladky/AP
sector of the
far left, please
Booth-Butterfield, S. & Welbourne, J. (2002). The elaboration likelihood model: Its
impact on persuasion theory and research (pp. 155-173). In J. P. Dillard & M. Pfau
(eds.), The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory and Practice. Thousand
Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Compton, J & Pfau, M. (2009). Spreading inoculation: inoculation, resistance to
influence, and word-of-mouth communication. Communication Theory, 19, 9-22.
O'Keefe, D. J. (2002). Source Factors. Persuasion: Theory & Research (2nd ed.).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [eReserves]
Montano, D & Kasprzyk, D. (2008). Theory of reasoned action, theory of planned
behavior, and the integrated behavioral model. In K. Glanz, B. Rimer, & K. Viswanath
(Eds.) Health behavior and health education. [eReserves]
Pratkanis, A. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. In The science of
social influence: Advances and future progress, 17-82. [eReserves]
Yocco, V. (July 1, 2014). Persuasion: applying the likelihood model to design. Graphic
Design, Web Strategy, User Research. Retrieved from