In the Looking Glass: Social and Behavioral Science Communicates the Value of SBS

Friday, February 12, 2016: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Hoover (Marriott Wardman Park)
Barbara Kline Pope, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
Thanks to the methods of social and behavioral science (SBS) research, we can empirically know what messages will resonate with members of the public and with policymakers about the benefits of SBS.  The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has used SBS research applied to communication to inform a critical communication strategy to counter the skeptical messages about SBS in the media and encourage policymakers and the public to more highly value what SBS does for society.  

In the interest of crafting narratives that effectively convey the message that social and behavioral science research is rigorous and objective and that its results often spur innovations, practices, and policies that improve our lives, the NAS hired the FrameWorks Institute to conduct communication research that would elicit what audiences know about SBS research and test messaging strategies and narrative structures over a nine-month period.

During March and April 2014, FrameWorks researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 20 Americans in four cities, who were selected to represent different socio-demographic categories. These interviews were used to identify a number of explanatory metaphors and narrative structures that appeared to resonate with respondents trying to understand SBS research, as well as a set of exemplars in the social and behavioral sciences to which people could relate. 

These interviews were supplemented with a second wave of “On-the-Street Interviews” conducted with 58 Americans in June 2014. Researchers used these interviews to test the effectiveness of candidate exemplars and explanatory metaphors in generating understanding of the function and importance of SBS.

An experimental survey was conducted to determine the effectiveness of the exemplars alone and then a number of mini-experiments were fielded to test narrative elements in a variety of combinations.  These surveys involved more than 6,500 American respondents and measured the impact of these framed narratives on public knowledge about the social and behavioral sciences and their beliefs and attitudes about the value of SBS to society. 

The results indicated that a combination of three specific narrative elements (value, metaphor, and exemplar) is the most effective strategy for most productively reframing the value of SBS research. The complete narrative also effectively reframes countering statements that argue against the value of SBS research.