Before we can develop strategies for our clients, we need to understand where the potential audience is in regard to their feelings about and knowledge of an issue. We need to be able to assess how and if we can compel them to take action—as well as what we need to communicate to them before we can.

Without a doubt, awareness alone does not lead to social change. It is simply the first step on the path. Sure, audiences—whether they’re an elected official or an ordinary citizen—need to be aware that an “issue” is even an issue. But once they’re aware, they need to be compelled to care; the issue needs to resonate with them. They need, for example, to see it as unjust or as something that runs counter to their morals or values. Once they care, they need to believe that the situation is not hopeless, “just the way things are.” They need to understand the issue: what social or policy changes could be implemented that could transform it. (This is where many social change efforts fall down – because time and thought is not given to what meaningful action needs to be taken.)

When they’re aware of, care about and understand an issue, audiences need to believe and clearly see how they can personally contribute to that transformation. They need to know what actions to take and to be confident that these actions will have an impact. Finally, audiences need to feel compelled to call on others to join them – to evangelize.

Each step along this path is applicable whether you’re talking about change that can be instituted by a single decision maker or that requires the attitudinal or behavioral change of a generation.