Risk – people respond best to threats that: are visible; have historical precedent; are immediate; have simple causality; are caused by another “tribe”; and have a direct personal impact. How do we best convey the risks caused by population size, which tend not to meet these criteria? Better, how do we endow our message with these characteristics?
Belief – people tend to believe things, not just on the facts, but when they suit their internal ethics, world view, social norms and behaviour. How do we reframe our message so that we avoid so contradicting people’s core beliefs that they reject it out of hand?
Attention – there are subjects of which people are aware but which it is not socially acceptable to discuss. This is also known as failing the “dinner party test”. These subjects are taboo, perhaps because they’re potentially distressing, or embarrassing, or controversial, or might challenge the audience’s behaviour.
Stories or interpretative narratives – the way we mediate information. What is the “story” or message of population growth about? It could be about resources, or the environment, or quality of life, or ageing, or gender equality, or poverty alleviation, or technological progress, or, less positively, national competition, immigration or political control. Of course, it’s to some extent about all of these things. Given this complexity and these very different possible narratives, how do we construct a coherent (it hangs together), convincing (it’s believable) and compelling (it makes people care) story?
Responsibilities – similarly, who should be doing something about population numbers? Possible answers include: women; men; wealthy countries; developing countries; the government; the UN; schools; teenage girls; even all of us. How do we construct a story that allocates responsibility for action in a way that is seen as appropriate?
Objections – reasons people give for rejecting our message. Examples: I do other environmentally friendly things; you have no right to tell me what to do; I’m not the main cause of the problem; I’ve done nothing wrong; I can’t make any difference on my own; it’s too difficult for me to change my reproductive behaviour/ speak out; society won’t accept change in its reproductive behaviour/ discussion on this; there are too many obstacles to changing reproductive behaviour. What can we say to counter these?
Distancing – some people will say that population is a problem that’s happening to someone else, or somewhere else, or that it’s buried in the past, or something for the future. How do we convince them that it’s important to them personally, here, and now?
Compartmentalising – some people will agree it’s a problem, and then ignore it with reference to their own behaviour. How do we persuade them to change their behaviour and what they say about population?
Positive framing – people may focus on perceived positive aspects of population growth. How do we ensure the downside is seen as more important?
Ethical offsets – people may say they’ve ‘done their bit’ by having only one or two children. How do we encourage them to do more?
Cynicism – people may decide to have more children before it becomes unfashionable. Can we persuade them to be responsible?
Agnosticism – people will say that the impact of population numbers is unproven. How do we convince them it’s real?
Denial – some will deny it’s a problem at all. How do we limit their influence?