Researchers Propose Guidelines To Communicate Climate Change


Researchers from the Interactive Technologies Institute (ITI) found that climate change communication has followed trends. They also propose design guidelines to engage communities successfully in this field. Their results have been published in the 9th Congress of the International Association of Societies of Design Research.

Marta Ferreira, PhD student and first author, is working on better communicating climate change through data visualisations. Her literature review study has demonstrated that communication about climate change has followed different trends. “The earliest projects, up until 2016, were much more focused on energy-related topics such as eco-feedback technologies, but since then, there was a shift towards sustainable lifestyles and biodiversity”, she adds.

Supervised by Nuno Nunes and Valentina Nisi, researchers at ITI and Professors at Instituto Superior Técnico, she found that most climate change communication projects have a neutral tone. Most of the analysed projects presented neutral framing visualisations that lacked suggestions for actionable steps for application afterwards. “We considered “negative framing” messages those that focused on what we lost or will lose as negative consequences of climate change; “neutral framing” those that just communicate the facts in a neutral exposition of the issue; and “positive framing” the interactions that focused on what can be achieved with change”, explains Marta.

Based on the analysis of 74 projects, the team has proposed a set of implications for design that take advantage of diverse communication strategies. The authors believe these proposals could help better engage audiences, leading them to act.

“Our findings support that choosing the topic based on impact and the target audience is best. For example, Project Drawdown points to impactful solutions that normally receive comparably little attention, such as high-quality, inclusive education, or topics related to the food system and land management”, clarifies the researcher.

Marta and her supervisors also claim that interactive engagement is key to successful engagement, mainly in daily routine places like bus stations, shops, or the street. Another suggestion is to convey the topic in a positive frame, using a narrative adapted to the audience, and providing ideas for actionable steps.

“One of the big issues people face is not knowing what to do. Climate change is such a complex issue that sometimes even concerned individuals don’t know how to act beyond the more discussed actions, such as recycling. Adding actionable proposals linked to the communicated topic can help people better connect with the issue and feel empowered instead of depressed with the daunting task ahead.”, she adds.

Some of these suggestions are already being adopted by the Interactive Technologies Institute in projects such as Finding Arcadia, an interactive data story related to the ocean ecosystems and whales, aiming to test these implications for design. The research community agrees that it is critical to reconnect audiences with this complex and highly charged issue to overcome this global challenge.

One thought on “Researchers Propose Guidelines To Communicate Climate Change

  • January 11, 2023 at 3:14 pm

    Nothing to see here, folks, move along…

    Climate always changes. Has nothing to do with what humans do or don’t do. Any scientist worth his weight in salt know that.

    Humans have no capacity to influence climate, no matter how desperately they believe they do. It is sheer hubris to believe humans can control a chaotic system such as climate change that involves massive input from our Sun, our solar system, our galaxy, tectonic movements, volcanism, random impacts from space, etc., etc.

    Time to stop wasting $$$ on this silliness and get on with more important problems. The oceans are NOT becoming “acid”, the polar bear are in great shape, and the propensity of humans to not get along with each other remains the gravest danger civilization faces… as it always has been.


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