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Frames and their Consequences. For Rural Issues. How do people think about social issues?. What Research Suggests About How People Process Information. People are not blank slates People use mental shortcuts to make sense of the world

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what research suggests about how people process information
What Research Suggests About How People Process Information
  • People are not blank slates
  • People use mental shortcuts to make sense of the world
  • Incoming information provides cues that connect to the pictures in our heads
  • People get most information about public affairs from the news media, which creates a framework of expectation, or dominant frame
  • Over time, we develop habits of thought and expectation and configure incoming information to conform to this frame
Smoking: Old Frame



Drug addiction (personal vice)

Responsibility of parents

Bad behavior (teens’)

Vital industry

Protection (Just say no)

Smoking: ReFrame

Defective Product


Manipulation of drug addiction

Responsibility of government

Big $ in politics/corruption

Deviant industry

Protection from advertising

Reframing Tobacco



what are frames
What Are Frames?

Big ideas -- shared and durable cultural models -- that people use to make sense of their world. These simplifying concepts are ‘triggered’ by such readily available, familiar and highly charged vehicles as symbols, pictures, metaphors, and messengers – the grammar of storytelling. One evoked, frames provide the reasoning necessary to process information and to solve problems.

the power of frames
The Power of Frames
  • Tell us what this communications is ABOUT
  • Signal what counts, what can be ignored
  • “Fill in” or infer missing information
  • Influence decision outcomes
  • Persuasive communications cannot depend on simply putting information in front of people
  • It must change the lens through which they see the information
  • If the facts don’t fit the frame, it’s the facts that are rejected, not the frame
  • Awareness is not the (only) goal; if the frames don’t work, your issue will fall off the public agenda
the communications challenge
The Communications Challenge
  • Understand people’s existing frames of reference with respect to rural issues
  • Anticipate the way your communications will be processed, how it will interact with default frames about rural issues
  • Give people an alternative, complete model or frame from which they can reason on these issues
the research base
The Research Base
  • 30 one-on-one interviews

10 each urban, suburban, rural

Maryland, Colorado, Illinois

  • 7 focus groups

New Hampshire (3), Arkansas (2), New Mexico (2) mixed gender, ethnicity/race

Urban/suburban + rural (2 hour drive)

community influentials screen

  • Builds on extensive prior research from Kellogg

Focus groups, survey research, content analysis, etc.

what are the pictures in americans heads

What Are the Pictures in Americans’ Heads

When they think about rural America?

depends on where you sit
Depends on Where You Sit
  • Q: How do people in rural areas make a living?
  • A: Beats the heck out of me. If they don’t farm, I have no idea. [urban IL man]


I think one of the problems in rural areas is that there aren’t enough white collar jobs. I’m speaking for this particular area. It’s a very blue collar town, and I would like to see this town, anyway, develop some white collar jobs, some high-tech jobs. [rural IL woman]


Implication 4



Implication 5

Implication 6

Implication 7

Rural Systems

Implication 8

Implication 9

When In Doubt, Default

Visible Attitude


Implication 1

Rural Utopia

Implication 2

Implication 3

what frames are available from media
What Frames Are Availablefrom Media

The Dominant Frame

  • Rural = areas facing urbanization and trying to preserve their rural past or atmosphere (encroachment)
  • Change = loss
  • Rural residents oppose it
  • “TV news just wasn’t interested in civic life in rural America.”
  • Change = inevitable
  • Future = negative, fearful
  • Less about agriculture or farming than open space
  • 1/12 = quaint and charming
  • 1/12 = economically challenged, socially marginalized
  • Farm Bill covered as “politics as usual”
  • Largely episodic, little contextualization or issues orientation
  • Nice place to visit

Center for Media and Public Affairs for W. K. Kellogg Foundation, content analysis of 337 rural stories, national TV, magazine and print

rural dystopia another available default frame
“I’ve done some traveling in the South and there the real poverty is devastating. I mean people live in shacks I’ve driven past that looks like if you sneezed it would fall down. Not quite as bad a place as like India, but…”[urban CO male]

Poverty, hardship, hopelessness



Shiftless, trashy, inbred, drunk

The Other

Rural DystopiaAnother Available Default Frame
rural systems connect the dots
Rural Systems:Connect the Dots
  • Explains disconnection, decline, lack of a reliable economic base
  • Shows cause and effect
  • Connects rural to rest of America – both physically and same issues
  • Gets civic culture and empowerment into picture
  • Wal-Mart, not Mayberry or Dogpatch
systems thinking
Big pictures not snapshots

Interconnections between people in cities and country

No quaintness

Lack of facilities and services affecting many people

Situations not people

Systems Thinking
rural utopia
Rural Utopia
  • Life is simple
  • Poverty is a virtue
  • Encroachment is the main threat
  • We help each other
  • They chose this lifestyle
life is simple
I'm thinking in a rural neighborhood, life is much simpler… [It’s not about] the latest color of eyeshadow that came out, which is what a city need is, or, in suburbia it's that wine that you need for dinner. I mean, not that not that people in rural neighborhoods are light-years behind anybody else, I mean, but there's probably a smaller selection, so their needs are probably more basic… I'm not saying that as a put-down, I think that's something people need to revert back to. I'm all for it. You know? Eliminate all the 20 different products of one thing, you know, we don't need it. [suburban IL woman]Life is Simple
consequences of the rural utopia frame poverty is not a rural problem
Consequences of the Rural Utopia Frame:Poverty Is Not A Rural Problem

Q: So when you think about poverty in America, would you associate that more with cities or with the country?

A: I think the cities. I think I hear more about it in the cities, the large cities. Although I take stuff to the mission down here [in a small Colorado town] and I know there’s plenty of poor people down there…I mean the inner city, that’s where to me, I think you have more poverty. [rural CO woman]

Well, I’d rather be poor in the country than I would in the city. I feel very sorry for people that have very bad incomes and live in the city. I really don’t know what, how they manage. Whereas in the country, you can just go outside and smell the grass and..I really don’t have much feeling of how they cope with it. I feel terribly sorry for them and I think it’s very sad. [rural CO woman]

Q: Do you think there tends to be more poverty in rural parts of the country or more in the cities?

A: I think more in the cities, like out here [in suburban Colorado], I don’;t really see many homeless people, but like in the city, there’s tons of them.

Q: Okay. But in rural areas you figure people probably aren’t so poor?

A: Or they go to the city. I don’t know. Like they might be struggling, but I mean they’re not like to the verge of poverty, I guess. [suburban CO woman]

consequences of the rural utopia frame poverty is not a rural problem21
Rural people

Own land

Work hard

Self sufficient


Urban people

Are dispossessed

Are lazy

Hand out


Consequences of the Rural Utopia Frame:Poverty Is Not A Rural Problem
consequences of the rural utopia frame no role for government




No stress

Get away from it all


Government would spoil it


Man made




Strive, achieve

Isolated individuals

Government tries to fix it

Consequences of the Rural Utopia Frame:No Role for Government
consequences of the rural utopia frame encroachment as the main threat
Consequences of the Rural Utopia Frame:Encroachment as the Main Threat
  • Progress is inevitable
  • Save the Family Farm = Save the Whales
  • Precious resources to be mined till gone vs. disrupted systems
  • Leads to Museum Stance and tourists in the rural landscape
we help each other
A Rural Code of Ethics

Do whatever you can for yourself

When things get tough, sacrifice and do with less

When necessary, help friends, family and neighbors

Only truly dysfunctional people would need outside help

Intervention is not respectful

We Help Each Other
they chose this lifestyle
“I don’t think farmers are being exploited, because it’s a choice. They’ve chosen to do that as where their passion is or how they want to live.” [suburban IL man]

If you don’t like being the country, why don’t you go somewhere else?

They Chose This Lifestyle
consequences of the frames





(Invisible) poverty


Don’t spoil it

Don’t interfere


Museum mindset

The way things are supposed to be

Consequences of the Frames
speculative reframes from past research
Speculative Reframes from Past Research
  • Rural areas are places of innovation.
  • Rural areas are places of history and culture.
  • Rural areas are places of diversity.
  • Rural areas are an untapped asset.
  • What are the consequences of these frames from FW elicitations?
  • What are the consequences of these frames from FW focus groups?
rural areas are places of innovation
More ingenious than high-tech

Work with what you’ve got (self-sufficiency)

Doesn’t automatically set up education, training, jobs

Needs work to prevent default

Rural areas are places of innovation.
rural areas are places of history and culture
Already think that

Negates Rural Dystopia

Sets up Rural Utopia

Antiquated forms

Modern progress is inevitable

Save the last best space/museums mindset

Rural areas are places of history and culture.
rural areas are places of diversity
Diversity of race and ethnicity not routinely perceived

May connect to crime frame, if asserted

Intra-rural diversity: do you have indoor plumbing?

Uniqueness of regional crafts does little to motivate policies

Civic culture in rural America not visible

Rural areas are places of diversity.
rural areas are untapped assets
Offers the public a compelling vision of what stronger rural communities would look like in the contemporary context

Foregrounds new successful small businesses on Main Street

Explains the systems at work: agribusiness, Wal-Mart

Connects rural America to urban and suburban America

Rural areas are untapped assets.
refining the reframes

Refining the Reframes

Results from the Focus Groups

structure of focus groups
Structure of Focus Groups
  • Collaging symbols (dominant frames)
  • Probe for past speculative reframes
  • Problems discussion
  • Solutions, responsibility probe
  • Vision of future
  • Policies discussion (importance for rural areas, nation, future)
  • 6 frames: 2 dominant frames plus 4 new speculative reframes as news articles
  • Revisit policies
  • What are rural issues/areas about?
top of mind issues
Top of Mind Issues
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Opportunity (to get out)
  • Farm consolidation
  • Transportation
  • Health care
  • All problems, no solutions
  • Responsibility is on rural residents to fix these problems
reactions to inserted issues
Reactions to Inserted Issues
  • Economic development important, robust conversation, must be done with respect and participation of rural residents
  • Internet connections a no-brainer
  • Helping farmers switch to organic farming is about health, not economics
  • Living wages are about migrant workers
  • Child care is not a problem (farm frame)
six focus group reframes
Six Focus Group Reframes
  • In the Path of Progress: Preserving Yorkville (dominant frame of museum mindset/inevitability)
  • Rural Poverty (dominant frame of problem/deficits)
  • Innovation in the Heartland (innovation/ingenuity, diversity, help from outside)
  • We are All Connected – Boundaries Blend Between Rural and Urban Areas (systems)
  • Outside Forces Breaking the Small Town Economy (cause and effect)
  • Restoring Main Street (vitality, cause and effect)
in the path of progress preserving yorkville
Like small towns everywhere, Yorkville is struggling with how to adjust to progress. People who live in the area have mixed views on the new housing developments sprouting up. “It’s some of the greatest land in the world,k and it’s gone forever..We’ll look just like every other shopping mall in America,” says Frank Ahrens. “There is going to be growth. We need to try to make it happen the way we want it to, a balanced approach,” says city administrator. “Life is hard everywhere, but especially for rural people,” says resident. Currently the town council and state legislature are debating options to preserve Yorkville’s small town character, including zoning restrictions, grants for historic preservation of buildings, and tax subsidies for small businesses.

Familiar story/script

People in rural areas conflicted over future

Progress is inevitable

Focuses attention on rural as place not people

Sets up museum mindset

Keep it quaint so I can retire there

Gets us nowhere

In the Path of Progress:Preserving Yorkville
rural poverty
Lack of opportunities has led to entrenched poverty in many areas. “You’ve got counties where there are no jobs and the income is below poverty level, so you have groups trafficking in drugs who take advantage of that, and you have local sheriffs and small-town police chiefs who have limited resources,” said Sam Brown, a local law enforcement officer. Poverty, matched with isolation, has created other problems as well. Health care and an opportunity for a college education are non-existent in many rural areas. Rev. Zach Wear seeks to improve conditions. “We need to invest in developing a rural economy that prevents health problems. Housing, transportation, work environment – these are as important to rural health as hospitals. A coalition of community leaders is headed to the state capitol to request funding for infrastructure development and regional planning grants.

Familiar story

Have heard crime is a problem in rural areas

Like the idea of prevention

Don’t know what to do with this story

Gets us nowhere on policies

Rural Poverty
innovation in the heartland
In the midst of serene landscapes and small towns where everybody knows everyone’s name, there is a new, innovative rural America that is emerging. There is a new type of barn-raising occurring in Springfield, a town of less than 15,k000 residents. This past week more than 100 residents came together to crate a computer center in the local middle school. “People think of farms when they think of rural places,” explained Ann Wilson, a spokesperson with the Alliance for Technology Access. “But farming only employs a small percentage of people. Many rural areas actually have more self-employed people than urban areas and they rely upon the success of small businesses that funnel resources back into the community. At this computer center, we’ll be providing training and resources that will help small businesses thrive and train our young people for jobs that won’t require them to move away to other states.” State Senator Carl Morgan said, “Legislatures need to look at rural areas in a new way, and work with them to bring the education and jobs here that they need to thrive.”

Mixed performance

See technology as a way to improve education and opportunity

BUT allows kids to get jobs in other places

Reinforces rural people as backwards

Challenged to extend advantage beyond school to whole community

Why should my money go to those places? (zero sum mentality with product)

Might perform better if less about innovation and more about empowerment, taking charge of own destiny

Innovation in the Heartland
we re all connected boundaries blend between rural and urban areas
All the nation’s geographic regions, urban, suburban and rural, are connected in ways less obvious than the national highway system. Increasingly it is becoming obvious to social and environmental scientists, urban planners and legislators that, if one part of the system breaks down, it affects us all. Small rural communities form the base of the national supply chain.But new trade agreements have erased quotas and tariffs that long insulated United States industries from foreign competition. For these already-struggling communities, the first post-globalization recession may erase any hopes of long-term survival. We are connected in some surprising ways as well. Pollution in rural areas is severe, not because of urban industry, but because farmssend fertilizer and animal wastes into the groundwater and into rivers. Across the country, metropolitan water agencies are battling increasing pollution from the countryside.The farm bill is now being scrutinized by members of Congress from urban and suburban districts who realize that these upheavals in agriculture have implications beyond the grocery store.

Connection is an important reframing element

Reminds people that we rely on rural areas

Foreign trade reminded people of disappearing manufacturing jobs (same issue, different locale)

Environmental story was new and surprising: opportunity

BUT didn’t reinforce connection in way intended (negative connection)

We’re All Connected: Boundaries Blend Between Rural and Urban Areas
outside forces breaking small town economy
Family farms in America are disappearing at a rapid rate and taking small towns with them, due in large part to federal policies that benefit corporate farming at the expense of family-run enterprises. Rice farms in the Mississippi Delta are just one example of a national trend that is occurring in all parts of the country. This region, whose farmers have helped make the United States the world's third-largest rice exporter behind Thailand and Vietnam, offers one of the starkest examples of the unintended consequences of the federal farm subsidy program. The subsidies have been lopsided. The top 1 percent of farmers and farm groups in the federally defined Mississippi Delta region receive 26 percent of the subsidies, or $1.9 billion. The bottom 80 percent receive only 9 percent, or $686 million. What is needed, according to Senator Lincoln, is an overhaul of agriculture policy that will allow family-owned properties to thrive once again, which will reinvigorate the economy of surrounding towns.

Educates people that farm policy is not just about economies of scale

Unfair to advantage agribusiness

Don’t want to lodge control in few (gets at diversity)

Moves from American Heritage frame to David v. Goliath

May benefit from expansion to other examples of impact of agribusiness and consolidation, e.g. food quality, pollution

Outside Forces Breaking Small Town Economy
restoring main street
There is a vitality to Circleville these days, that hasn’t been seen in decades. After years of planning, residents’ vision has finally been achieved – a vibrant town with economically secure residents who plan on staying. The decline of family farms and ranches was followed by encroaching urban life. City residents seeking a rural lifestyle came to the area, bringing with them a higher cost of living and the large national retailers found in the suburbs. “We watched one shop after another close as new residents chose to shop in the strip malls outside town,” said long-time resident Helen Otis. “Before you knew it, good jobs were harder to find, because all the services that relied on agriculture incomes left town – shops, banks, dentists, doctors. “We could either decide that the changes we were seeing were inevitable,” explained Joe Davis, of the Rural Development Initiative, “or we could get together to figure out how to rebuild our town. Ten years ago, county residents put together a task force to understand the outside forces that had damaged the town’s economy and put in place the changes that would repair the damage. The town’s plan called for zoning restrictions, tax credits for small business owners, tuition repayment programs for doctors and dentists who move to Circleville.

Refutes the preconceived idea that rural towns have to disappear

Empowers rural residents

Positions outside help as respectful, invited because locally managed

Puts all the responsibility on local areas (not my problem)

Needs to do better job of setting up state or federal role

Restoring Main Street
elements of a successful reframe for rural issues
Elements of a Successful Reframe for Rural Issues
  • Reinforce a sense of connection that is based on mutual well-being, not just nice memories of childhood or a vacation
  • Explain a cause for the problem that is manageable and fixable -- economic policy, farm policy, etc.
  • Make the solution prominent and show that it can be done
  • Create a role for rural people as well as citizens generally in the solution
  • Formula works well for economic development, trade, farm policy
  • Works less well for education and health, where default moves toward deficits, charity and backwardness
more systems more cause and effect more solutions
More Systems, More Cause and Effect, More Solutions

All the nation’s regions -- urban, suburban and rural -- are connected. Keeping the nation in good working order means paying attention to all parts of the country. For example, rural places are central to the nation's economic well being because we rely on rural areas for energy, agriculture, timber, mining, and raw materials. But recent decisions concerning foreign trade are affecting the long-term stability of rural areas and with it our resources. New trade agreements have eliminated quotas and tariffs that protected United States industries from foreign competition. With those protections gone, small towns are teetering in the recession and may not recover. Solutions include….As a nation, we cannot afford to neglect our rural communities.

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