In a previous post, I proposed that the challenge of getting more people to invest in resilience can be approached from different angles. On the one hand, we can try to show how inaction is costly, and make people feel uneasy sticking with the status quo. Conversely, we can focus on making it feel easier and satisfying to be proactive. This post focuses on the sometimes underused second tactic. It’s a powerful communication strategy to leverage both types of information, but we need to double down on getting across the many and significant positive aspects of investing more in disaster resilience. 

When talking about risks, it can be tempting to show photos of horrifying damage and children needing rescue, or to lay on statistics about deaths and terrifying trends. To be clear, it is important to be informative and real about what’s at stake, to share facts about consequences of which people might not be aware. But to get people to do something new, the behavioral research is clear: keep the bad news to a minimum. Negativity, dismay, shock, and fear can actually make people freeze up and feel pessimistic, overwhelmed, and disempowered.

Resilience advocates should consider more ways to link resilience to positive experiences and aspirations. Yes, this is how marketers have so effectively associated Coca-Cola in our minds with easy-to-reach-for relaxation and happiness, but the basic psychology is also quite relevant to how people make decisions about risk, especially when uncertainty is high.

One way to present risk concepts with more positivity is through careful framing. Even though the two scenarios are logically equivalent, a medical procedure with a 90% (large) chance of survival (good outcome) sounds more appealing than one with a 10% chance of mortality (which focuses us on the startlingly large chance of the worst-case scenario). A seismically resilient building has a higher chance of being quickly and cheaply back to normal after a major earthquake. This is factually the same as saying it has a lower chance of being unusable for a long time, but the former is a more clear and appealing presentation of the choice.

Take a moment to think through your messaging about resilience and look for ways to frame the same information from different perspectives. You can share what’s been resonating with your clients and constituencies in the blog comment space.

Thanks for reading!