By Australian Conservation Foundation
Learn how to talk more effectively about government, democratic participation and reform, and ways to motivate people to get involved.
This cheat sheet is a summary of research by an alliance of Australian civil society organisations, working together to achieve legislative changes that limit corporate influence on our political system. It is designed for people working across civil society who are advocating for change that involves democratic decision making and participation. Its purpose is to help us talk more effectively about government, democratic participation and reform, and to motivate people to get involved.
See the full messaging guide and detailed research results at www.acf.org.au/democracy-narrative-guide
- People in Australia are generally not confident that our democratic system is working well and in everyone’s best interests, but many are reluctant to explicitly acknowledge this. They are confident that corporations exert undue influence in our democracy, but we cannot assume this will translate into widespread support for action. However, people can be convinced.
- There is widespread dissatisfaction with politics globally and in Australia. People have a negative view of “politicians”. However it’s important to resist the urge to focus on bad politicians or needlessly repeat the idea of flawed government, as this invites people to get stuck on that point.
- It is effective to lead with solutions and a positive vision for how our democracy should work.
- Focus on the important activities governments do on behalf of the public and frame government as belonging to all of us. Talking about our “elected representatives” works better than “politicians”.
- It is effective to talk about a “balanced and fair” democracy, the “common good” and “the next generation”.
- It is ineffective to use hyperbole or overly political language such as “splashing cash” or “lobbying”. Show rather than tell, and avoid attributing mal-intent.
- Give concrete examples of the impact of money in politics and avoid commentary on possible motivations. More specific examples, such as “mining companies donating millions during elections,” are more effective than generalities such as “corporate money influencing politics.”
About this research
This cheat sheet is a summary of a six-month research project exploring how Australians understand democracy and democratic reform, with a particular focus on the issue of corporate influence over our politics. We reviewed existing research from Australia and abroad, used discourse analysis to understand how allies, opponents, media and the public talk about these issues, undertook elicitation interviews and workshops, and ran a quantitative survey and online dial test with a representative sample of 1300 Australians in November 2019.
Our goal was to find the frames and messages which ring true with supporters, and which move most people in the persuadable group towards supporting the idea of progressive reform including limiting the influence of money in our democracy.
This research project was led by Jolene Elberth and Dr Tessa Fluence from the Australian Conservation Foundation, with quantitative research conducted by Troy Burton, Madeleine Holme and Holly McCarthy of Reveille Strategy.
- Key insights
- A message framework that works
- 1. Start with what we share – the kind of democracy we value
- 2. The barrier and who is responsible
- 3. The solution and pathway forward
- A note on talking about government
Download the cheatsheet from the box at the bottom of this page and see the full messaging guide and detailed research results at www.acf.org.au/democracy-narrative-guide