Framing the Issue for Effective Discussion

Few other concepts are more important to your community engagement efforts than effectively framing the issue and your subsequent discussions. Quite simply, how you frame the issue sets the tone, and will likely greatly influence the outcome of your entire effort. In general ‘reframing’ or ‘framing’, is somewhat different for every community and/or issue.

The following list identifies a few best practices  to help you frame the issue:

Move from positions to interests

Reframing can be used in the broad community context to bring diverse interests to the table as well as focus discussions on a particular issue to move people off a position and toward a common set of interests.

Avoid inviting conflict

How the issue or problem is framed will greatly influence the problem solving environment in which your discussions take place – while creating as little polarizing conflict as possible. Differing perspectives of course are the key building blocks of your long-term success; your goal, however, is to use these differences productively toward a solution and not allow them to erode trust or relationships.

Invite solutions

As a general rule, your framing and its subsequent discussion questions should focus on “How can we….?” rather than “should we…?” types of questions.

As noted above, how you frame your issue will have a huge impact on your outcomes. If it is solutions to the problem you want to achieve, your discussions and discussion questions will have to be designed to be consistent with this goal – and build on the common interests and goals of your stakeholders.

More specifically, and assuming you have a solid grasp on the complexities of the issue, your framing should seek to elicit perspectives related to:  How can we do X while also accomplishing Y (and perhaps Z)? This allows you to recognize the legitimate interests around the issue while seeking a solution orientation.