Exploring “Frames” theory

11/07/2014 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

Reflections and Conversations around Finding Irish Frames

Guest blog by Caroline Murphy.

(Part 2 – Read part 1 here)


Frames as a Development Education Exercise

I have also been asked by colleagues how development educators might practically explore frames with various target groups.  Whilst explaining Frames Theory to target groups might appear academic, it is possible to develop hands-on participatory methods which make frames applicable through critical literacy exercises.

For example, development educators should build the critical literacy of target groups by utilising methods which specifically critique and respond to NGO public communications materials.  One such method might present various materials to participants and ask them to answer the following questions:

  • Who is doing the speaking?
  • Who is not speaking?
  • What is the stated problem?
  • What are the stated causes of the problem?
  • What is the stated solution?
  • Who is depicted as the heroine in bringing about the solution?
  • Do you think this message depicts the full truth overall?
  • What perspectives are missing, and why do you think this is?
  • Do you think the NGO should be challenged on this communication message?

It should be noted that these are simply suggested questions which would merit careful and sensitive facilitation by the development educator.

The aim should be to develop the critical literacy of participants around such an emotive topic, so that they have the opportunity to debate and decide for themselves how the information is ‘framed’, and if such framing is conducive to promoting global solidarity, partnership and justice.

Further, they themselves, might decide if the NGO should be challenged about the depicted image and message, in order for the participant to have the opportunity to find out more about the wider aspects of the situation, which are often considered “too messy” or “too complicated” to include in the initial material.

Whose voice?

Frames as a Tick Box Task

The above suggestion, however, is not intended to create the impression that deciding on how all NGO communications are ‘framed’ is a simple tick box development education exercise.

Indeed, when analysing the Finding Irish Frames research data against Darnton and Kirk’s (2011) identified frames (see appendix C in main report), it was found that a substantial number of materials would merit more in-depth consideration.  However, such materials were less likely to be linked to a ‘direct ask’ for a donation, and more likely to be communication materials used in annual reports or volunteering programmes, for example.

The materials used to appeal for public donations were much more easily assigned to frames such as poverty, help the poor and charity.  Further, these materials were much more likely to depict women or children as the sole beneficiaries, with women largely highlighted in their role as a mother or care-giver.  In fact, overall in the analysis there appeared 146 images of women in comparison to 36 images of men.

Materials that were intended for direct fundraising appeals were much more likely to use personal stories of women in a way that depicted the causes of poverty as internal to the developing country, or even the fault of the beneficiary herself.

Nevertheless, although such material could be easily assigned to frames, other material, as mentioned above, highlighted certain complexities around applying Frames theory to the development NGO sector.  In short, it cannot be simply seen as a tick box exercise between positive and negative, or good and bad.  Rather, it must firstly involve a critical analysis of materials by applying other underpinning theories.

Ultimately, in this sense, the limitations of Frames Theory must be recognised, and the sector should exhaust other perspectives and theories to help better understand why NGOs have come to communicate with the public in the ways that we do, and the wider implications that this might have on public perceptions and long term support for development and global justice overall.


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Entry filed under: Communications, MDGs, NGOs. Tags: , , , , , .

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