Of Public Engagement and Dan Yankelovich

I often scoff at those who rush to Facebook to tout the death of the latest movie star or musician, cynically believing that they are far more interested in the clicks that come with sharing an obit of a “famous person” than they are in the loss they might feel over the individual’s passing. But over the weekend, I felt a great loss reading of the passing of Daniel Yankelovich. And it is a loss the entire PR, public affairs, and marketing profession should feel.

I’ve often declared that I am a disciple of Yankelovich’s public engagement model, a process developed while he was at the Public Agenda Foundation. In reflection, I realize I am not just a disciple, but I am an evangelist. The Yankelovich model has been a centerpiece for my professional work, a way of thinking that has driven much of what I’ve done since my mentor first taught it to me nearly 20 years ago.

Many in the communications profession may be thinking and doing like Yankelovich without even knowing it. It is based on the premise that effective public – or community – engagement is more than just a one-way information system, one where the communicator continues to push out data, facts, or opinions in hopes that target audiences consume it.

No, the Yankelovich approach requires stakeholders to take specific action. It realizes true success comes by moving from informing the public to building commitment to a solution to finally mobilizing the public around specific actions.

There is a great difference between making stakeholders aware of a concern like the need properly installed car seats or improved public education or taking 10,000 steps a day to the more sophisticated level of informed public opinion necessary to reach consensus on both the problem and the possible solutions, generating a sense of urgency that ultimately leads to the action of adopting a change and integrating it into day-to-day behaviors of all involved.

The Inform-Build Commitment-Mobilize Action process can be broken down to understand the steps necessary to move through this process. Using a seven-stage model developed by Yankelovich and the Public Agenda Foundation, we can analyze the process of engaging a target audience and moving them from uninformed bystander to an action-oriented group. These stages are:

  • Becoming aware of the issues
  • Developing a sense of urgency
  • Looking for answers
  • Managing and persevering through resistance
  • Weighing choices
  • Intellectual acceptance
  • Full acceptance

In applying these seven stages to our key audiences, we must recognize that each stakeholder group may be at a different point along this continuum. Understanding this is critical to designing and implementing the appropriate tactics to move them to action. Many a plan has failed because it was based on the assumption that one size fits all audiences.

As a society, it if often easy for us to recognize there are problems in need of our attention, but many do not agree on what those problems may be or what actions might successfully address them. And, unfortunately, too many people believe that there is nothing that can be done to fix these problems. When a problem has existed for a long period of time, people stop seeing it as a problem and start seeing it as a situation.

Once individuals believe in the interpretation of the problem, they are ready to commit to a solution. That means transforming one’s mission into a call to arms to demonstrate to a variety of audiences, in dramatic and memorable ways, that these solutions are the right ones to improve efficiency and success.

Once people feel that an issue is urgent they begin to demand solutions. If we have been successful in defining the issue in our terms, it will be easier for us to state solutions convincingly. In this stage, people will demand action from a range of stakeholders. This is a good time to organize meetings to introduce specific actions that our audiences can take to help us reach our goal.

Inevitably, some people will reject the proposed solutions. This leads to the most difficult stage of the process. Some audiences will be reluctant to face and accept the trade-offs that come from choosing a specific plan of action and opponents will try to poke holes in our ideas. This resistance may be heightened by misunderstanding, narrow thinking, wishful thinking, or resistance to change. The best way to avoid this resistance is to ensure that everyone is involved in the process and that all of their concerns have been heard.

Only after pushing through this resistance can people begin to weigh their choices rationally and look to a variety of options for moving recommendations into practice. At this stage, stakeholders should feel that they have a range of choices and a reason to make them. As leaders in this process – with a special awareness of how decisions are made – we can clarify the pros and cons of each decision and allow time and opportunity for deliberation.

It is then we can mobilize for action. Changing attitudes and informing the debate is not enough. Just as a politician who has convinced 60 percent of the public to support his/her issues, but who has not succeeded in convincing them to go to the polls on Election Day, will lose the election, advocates for change or improvement cannot accomplish their goals unless supporters move from passive acquiescence to active engagement. We succeed when stakeholders are actively supporting its solutions.

Once our target audiences are engaged because they believe in the merits of our position, they will need to know what we want them to do to help accomplish these goals. So it is important that our communications and organizing efforts include specific actions that supporters can take to help us reach our goals. In addition, we will also need to make it easy and feasible for them to take these actions.

From there, many will agree that our efforts are valid and will produce desired results, but may not be willing to change their behavior or adopt the change. We must recognize that this is a temporary stage and that, with patience and continued effort, they will get there. It is important not to expect too much, too soon. The process of moving from awareness to action takes time.

Given time, incentives, and opportunities to consider their core values in light of challenges and needs, our audiences should reach the final stage of full intellectual and emotional acceptance of the importance of improving their community. Of course, different target audiences will reach these stages at different times and go through them at different rates. We may need to tailor the same event or materials to perform different functions depending on where in these stages specific members of our audience stand.

When it comes to public engagement and community change, the issues we often confront are topics as driven by emotion as they are by fact. As a result, too often, stakeholders decide that inaction is the best action, out of fear of taking a wrong step or alienating a specific group. For that reason, the Inform-Build Commitment-Mobilize Action model is one of the most effective methods to educate key audiences on the need for change and the long-term impact such efforts have on strengthening communities and nations across the globe.

Dan Yankelovich taught me all that. I am a better communicator because of it. And the engagement efforts I have led in education, healthcare, and workforce development are better for it as well.

(This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

The Blue Bird of Ed Advocacy, 2017 Edition

After a year’s hiatus, Education Next magazine and the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli today released its annual list of the Top Education Policy People and Organizations on Social Media. The lists are definitely worth a gander.

As someone who spends a great deal of time on the education policy Interwebs, I was pleasantly surprised by how this year’s rankings shook out. We are seeing more voices of color on the respective lists than in previous years. We continue to see members of the media strongly represented. And, from dear ol’ Eduflack’s perspective, we tend to see fewer members of the “education reform” community, both individually and as organizations, on these lists than we did in previous years.

Petrilli and EdNext smartly included a list of “Other Educators to Follow,” which provides a terrific list of classroom voices who are providing important insights, as they should, into the education discussion.

The top five education policy people on social media (meaning Twitter and measure by Klout score) are: 1) Diane Ravitch; 2) Randi Weingarten; 3) John White; 4) Xian Franzinger Barrett; and 5) Patrick Riccards (they really like me) and Andy Smarick.

Based on total Twitter followers, the top five education people are: 1) Ravitch; 2) your Eduflack; 3) Weingarten; 4) Alfie Kohn; and 5) Betsy DeVos.

The top five education organizations on social media (by Klout score) are: 1) NEA; 2) U.S. Department of Education; 3) Edutopia; 4) Teach for America; and 5) Ed Surge.

Based on followers, the top five orgs are: 1) U.S. Department of Education; 2) Edutopia; 3) Education Week; 4) Huffington Post Education; and 5) US News Education.

Yes, the ranking still uses Klout scores. Folks can get all over Petrilli for this (as they do every year), but if you do, how about offering another quantifiable metric? In this instance, Klout is like VAM scores. It is a vastly imperfect measure, but it is still the best one available.

And yes, the focus is on K-12 education folks and organizations. So those focused on higher education are not the focus of these lists.

A huge thank you to all of those who follow @Eduflack on Twitter and find enough value in what I offer to retweet and like my randomness. Just about everything on Eduflack is education related. I try to stay way from personal opinions, and instead focus on news articles and research studies in education. From time to time, I will offer personal opinions. And from time to time, I will include posts on the NY Mets, MMA fighting, and Guatemala. I strive to make it a relatively impartial clearinghouse of education policy info.

Please check out all of the lists on Education Next. And if you are on Twitter but aren’t following someone on those lists, be sure to add them to your feeds immediately!

 

Prepping for an End to ED?

A start of a new school year is usually the time for presidential administrations to launch new education efforts and start new campaigns. But we are currently hearing crickets. EdSec Betsy DeVos still is without most of a senior leadership team, and the US Department of Education is still without major proactive engagements. 

Maybe that is the whole point. After decades of Republican calls for the elimination of the US Department of Education, is the effort actually underway? Is that why we are seeing ED simply acting to the letter of the law?

On the latest episode of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore this theory and look at whether this is the end game. Give it a listen. 

Is It Too Much to Ask for a Little Civility

As Hurricane Harvey was bringing devestation to Texas over the weekend, EdSec Betsy DeVos did what most public officials do during such disasters. DeVos tweeted her thoughts and prayers to those affected by the hurricane, noting that the US Department of Education is prepared to help. 

It’s what is expected. It usually gets little notice. It’s what we do. 

But this tweet was different. What was a pro forma statement by a government leader became a lightning rod. Sportscaster turned talk show host turned Resistance instigator Keith Olbermann saw a need to respond. Knowing that DeVos remains controversial was too much for Olbermann to pass up. So he tweeted this response. 


The Saturday Olbermann message has been, as of Monday morning, been retweeted more than 17,000 times and favorited more that 48,000 times. Anti-Trumpers across the country celebrated the former ESPN newsreader for being so bold. 

Really? Have we gotten to the point where using a tragedy to both personally insult a government leader and use some of the vilest language possible in the process? Is this the new normal?

I get that the Resistance believes that shocking, ugly language is the best way to make its point. Dear ol’ Eduflack has written about the dangers of such an approach previously. But what are we really saying here?

If a teacher used such language in the classroom, would we now be OK with it? What if it was said in relation to the President? Or to those who organize nazi rallies? Would that be ok?

What if a teacher used it in relation to Robert E. Lee? Or slave-owning Founding Fathers? What if a conservative teacher used it in relation to Obama? Or to Hillary?

We quickly forget that our kids watch us closely and model our words and our actions. When we, as parents, cheer over the use of such language, we tell our kids it’s permissible. We condone such ugliness with our kids. Heck, we celebrate it. 

At the end of the day, Olbermann got exactly what he wanted. He was cheered by the left Nd celebrated on social media. But he has added nothing to the debate, nor has he contributed to the discourse. All Olbermann has done is take a rhetorical level we thought was as low as it could get, and drive it deeper into the mud and muck. 

And that’s a cryin’ shame. Our political discourse deserves better. And so do our kids. 

Are We Coming for Surnames Next?

I also worry about letting our sensitivities and concerns for “what if” drive our decisionmaking. We cannot embrace free speech or assembly if we believe it only applies to those with whom we agree. We cannot embrace a free press if we do not acknowledge that includes media with stark biases that may conflict with our personal beliefs. And we cannot embrace inclusiveness if we are afraid a surname will engender concern or outrage.

From my latest on LinkedIn Pulse, exploring ESPN’s head-scratching decision to remove a broadcaster from a U.Va. football game because of his “Robert Lee” name

Another Reminder to Learn Our History

And for those who think this lacking grasp on American history is limited to those writing on the right-hand side of our historical ledger, one only needs to look at recent responses from the left on what needs to be done to get rid of President Donald J. Trump to understand that a broader understanding and appreciation of American civics is needed by all comers.

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest commentary on Medium, exploring recent rhetoric on removing President Donald Trump, rhetoric that flies in the face of everything on which the United States is built

How Protected Should Our College Students Be?

As it was preparing for the Charlottesville showdown, Eduflack’s alma mater, the University of Virginia, urged its students to remain in their dorms and not join in the protests against the nazis marching through town. 

While it is a college’s top responsibility to keep its students safe, is this really the message an elite university should be sending? Shouldn’t dear ol’ U.Va. be teaching its students to speak out and speak up instead?

This is the topic we explore on the latest episode of TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. Give it a shout out!