When counteracting dangerous speech, it can be really tempting to reach out for a ‘silver bullet,’ a message that will defuse harmful narratives and promote positive behavior. From what we know about the complexity of communication as it relates to intergroup dynamics, identity-based violence, and other group-targeted harm, however, we know that in order to be effective, communication must be responsive to its context and audience. While we can’t have a one-size-fits-all message, we can follow a process that allows us to leverage contextual and audience-specific insights to design more impactful communications campaigns and interventions. In the above video, Over Zero Founder and Executive Director Rachel Brown outlines the key steps in this process.

Below are a few questions to ask yourself in putting this process into action. Don’t forget to analyze for risk at each step of the process!

In considering context…

  1. What is the impact, or trajectory, of violence and harm you are concerned about?
  2. Is there currently speech that you are concerned about (because you are afraid it will increase the risk that a group will be harmed based on its identity)? How common, prominent, and mainstream is it?
  3. Who is spreading these messages?
  4. How is this speech spread (for example, online? At the kitchen table?)?
  5. What is this speech tapping into? Histories? Identities? Emotions?

In defining your audience…

  1. Who are key audiences (in terms of potential impact of the issue at hand)?
  2. Which audiences do you have access to?
  3. Which audiences are influential?
  4. Which audiences spread information?

In understanding your chosen audience…

  1. What do you know about how your audience sees the world?
  2. What are the drivers of your audience’s behaviors?
  3. Who does your audience look up to/ respect?

In choosing your medium, speaker, and message…..

  1. Where does your audience access its information?
  2. Who are the people your audience is likely to listen to?
  3. What are the potential drivers and barriers to behavior change among your audience?
  4. What are the shared values of your audience? How can you speak to those?
  5. Which identities are at play? How can you use shared identities in your messaging?