Climate Change

Climate infographic

Building public understanding of climate change, and the political will to address it, is arguably the most important science translation effort of the century. FrameWorks is proud to have been a contributor to this effort since the organization was founded. In 1999, with funding from the Turner Foundation, FrameWorks undertook a major research effort for the Climate Message Project, culminating in a campaign and toolkit designed for this diverse coalition of U.S. environmental groups. In 2006, the David Suzuki Foundation asked FrameWorks to duplicate the research in Canada, and a new round of framing research was conducted to update and compare perceptions of climate change among Canadians.

At the same time, FrameWorks began a related project documenting how Americans think about oceans, including the impact of climate change. This work was supported by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ocean Conservancy on behalf of a broader network of groups, in anticipation of the release of a number of landmark reports on the state of the world’s oceans. That framing research informed such influential groups as the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

In 2009, FrameWorks was tapped to support the growing number of aquariums seeking to explain the science of climate change and ocean acidification to the millions of visitors that pass through their doors each year. Working under the leadership of the New England Aquarium, with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), FrameWorks conducted a secondary analysis of its research data and developed materials to inform an intensive workshop for aquarium communicators.

The success of this pilot project gave birth in 2010 to the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) a partnership of informal science educators, climate scientists, and social scientists. With the support of the National Science Foundation’s Climate Change Education Partnership, we are working together to change the national discourse on climate change to be more productive, creative and solutions-focused. Strategic Frame Analysis® is a cornerstone of NNOCCI’s approach, informing a series of Study Circles in Strategic Framing, regional workshops, an online course, and interpreters’ practice nationwide. You can learn more about the impact of this project here.

The reframing tools and techniques developed through this research have been used frequently in public discourse, by a wide range of science communicators - academic scientists, environmental advocates, documentary filmmakers, policymakers, and more. Through a project supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, science centers are using the reframes in data visualizations displayed on Science on a Sphere globes and other digital formats. The tested Explanatory Metaphors and Values have even shown up in a children’s bedtime story about climate change and a virtual reality experience that explores ocean acidification. These creative communications are all great examples of how a “two science approach” – climate science and communications science – can coexist with communications as art.

Featured Resource: Update from the Field

See how the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is applying strategic framing recommendations to engage visitors in learning about how climate change is affecting ecosystems in different regions – and what we can do about it.

Research & Recommendations

**New** How to Talk about Climate Change and the Ocean: Prepared for the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation with Support from the National Science Foundation (2015). This MessageMemo synthesizes multiple studies and outlines a practical, actionable communications strategy for building public understanding of climate change and its effects on coastal and ocean ecosystems.  

Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Using Metaphorical and Causal Explanation to Increase Public Understanding of Climate and Ocean Change (2014).This report summarizes research findings on how empirically tested Explanatory Metaphors and Causal Explanations can help the public understand the complex science of Oceans and Climate Change in ways that our previous research shows is not available to them otherwise. 

The Value of Explanation: Using Values and Causal Explanations to Reframe Climate and Ocean Change (2014). This report details the results of an experimental survey of more than 7,000 registered U.S. voters that explores the extent to which values-based messages and explanatory statements affect attitudes about climate and ocean change and support for relevant policies. The experiment demonstrates the power of the values of Protection and Responsible Management to move attitudes and policy opinions about these issues in productive directions, and describes how the value of Protection is particularly powerful when paired with discussions of the human health impacts of climate change. The report also finds that Explanatory Chains—clear causal descriptions of the processes that connect determinants to outcomes—increase the effectiveness of messages.

Just the Earth Doing Its Own Thing: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Oceans and Climate Change (2013). This report extends FrameWorks prior research on climate change and lays the groundwork for a larger reframing project by examining the differences between the ways that experts and the general public understand climate change and oceans. Data from interviews with both members of the scientific community and lay informants are compared to identify gaps in understanding that can ultimately be addressed through strategic communications.


Expanding Our Repertoire: This short article, a resource created for the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation, unpacks a Strategic Frame Analysis® of the benefits of highlighting colective-level solutions in climate communications.

Framing for Climate Interpreters. This FrameWorks Academy course is designed for informal science educators, and offers an engaging, guided tour of recent research on how to frame climate and ocean issues.

FrameWorks Institute

  March 21, 2014   Updated: 06/08/17