kimberley crofts


an information and communication designer living in London

Communicating Communicatively with Campaign Audiences

Sense-Making Methodology: Communicating Communicatively with Campaign Audiences
Brenda Dervin & Micheline Frenette p69-87

Treating communication as dialogue (i.e., commmunicatively) requires fundamental redefinitions of the terms audiences and campaigns. In one sense, both terms are no longer applicable—audiences become peers and collaborators—and if there are “campaigns” involved, they are two-way. p69

Especially in the case of new media and campaigns that involved social networking, Earth Hour being one of these.

The authors start by listing four ways to approach communication in a dialogical way. Keep in mind that this piece was written no later than 2001, so before social networking really took off:

  1. Give the audience more than just campaign information. This is the reality tv show idea, that giving an audience the campaign message dressed up in something more palatable will have a larger impact;
  2. tailor the message to specific social networks;
  3. Respect, reflect and absorb the audiences views on the message;
  4. Consider the effects of social power and ethics.


Communication programs are doomed mostly to failure unless they focus on audiences interpret their worlds and live and struggle in the complexes of social networks and everyday experiences that bind them. This focus on audiences, however, should not be merely a tool for constructing more persuasive messages. The communication campaign must place primary attention on creating procedural conditions that promote and invite two-way sharing and negotiating of meanings. p72

At least in the west, this approach is important to consider, given the large amounts of people involved in social networks. What about the developing world though? How is this transferred to a society without access to technology? Community groups?

In Sense-Making, this is accomplished by refocusing attention away from nouns of interest to the campaign (e.g., its goals and its evidence) to verbs that permit a dialogic interface to be established. In simple terms, a nouning approach implies that we have come to a fixed understanding of a problem and its solution, whereas a verbing approach implies that we pay attention to how people are making and unmaking sense in the context of their lives. p72

Could this approach be what is needed for climate change campaigns? Something that is a verbed approach? A more fluid approach? Especially when the problem is temporarily distant, and therefore not certain, it is hard to define a campaign in absolutes.

Sense-Making puts a focus on describing the message in the context of the audience’s “lived experience” as well as accepting that expert views may not have  much relevance to everyday people. It does not seek to silence the expert voice, but merely to put it in the language of the audience. This is interesting if you consider the question posed at the RSA talk, that could not public health messages have greater impact if they were delivered in the pubs, at the school gates and in the everyday lives of the audience?

The planning of a Sense-Making campaign is illustrated in the article by the interviews conducted for a blood donation campaign. Timeline interviews were done where 80 women donors were asked, “What happened during your most recent donating experience?”. For each timeline step (what happened first, second, third), the interviewee is asked “what gaps they faced, what questions they had, whether they got answers to their questions, and how they were helped or hindered in each step of the way”. The findings showed that instead of creating a campaign to convince women to donate, what was need was a restructuring of access to donation facilities as this proved to be the largest obstacle to donors wishing to donate. p83 (Dervin, Jacobson, & Nilan, 1982, 1981).

I wonder if this sort of study could be done with adolescents and what effects it would have?


Filed under: communication, , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Twitter Updates

Flickr Photos

%d bloggers like this: