The Core Components of Public Will Building

January 12, 2012

Today’s guest post was written by Ehren Reed from Innovation Network.

The Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health), as part of its current strategic plan, is working to create public will to decrease racial and ethnic health disparities in particular – but  views public will as an important ingredient for just about all health issues that need public and political support to advance. Public will building is a powerful, and increasingly popular, strategy for affecting change. But what does “public will” really mean?

Successful public will building involves changing a target audience’s feelings about an issue so that, when asked, that audience is willing and able to take action in support of that cause. Public will is complex; in order of public will to exist, five different factors need to be addressed:

  • Opinion: In order for public will to exist, people need to have a belief or judgment—either positive or negative—on an issue. For many issues, we have no opinion one way or another. To generate an opinion, public will building efforts need to both educate the target audience and frame their issue in a way that triggers an opinion.
  • Intensity: People not only need an opinion, they need to feel strongly about the issue. Without that intensity, or passion, it is unlikely that people will commit their time and energy in support of the cause. To generate more intense opinion, public will building efforts need to demonstrate the benefits (or consequences) related to the issue.
  • Salience: One of the most challenging components involved in public will, salience involves how important an issue is to people. For public will to exist, the issue has to be a top priority for people; it needs to be firmly connected to their values and to their decision making. Programs to promote preschool education or to reduce drunk driving have broad public support. Yet these issues rarely influence our decisions in the voting booth. That is because they lack salience.
  • Willingness to act: Having intense and salient opinions about an issue is not enough to generate public will; the target audience also needs to be willing to act in support of the cause. For this, people need to know what action is being asked of them. Additionally, in order to be willing to act, people need to feel confident that their actions can actually make a difference, and that the benefits of taking action will outweigh the risks (or level of effort) involved.
  • Capacity to act: Finally, the target audience needs to have the skills and confidence required to take the action required of them. People not only need to know how to do what is being asked of them, but need to believe they have the ability to take that action.

A successful public will effort needs to address not one or even three of these factors, but all five. Public will only exists when the target audience has intense and salient opinions about an issue, as well as the willingness and capacity to act in support of it.

 For more, check out the Center for Evaluation Innovation’s definition of public will.

Ehren, along with Julia Coffman from Evaluation Exchange, presented on public will to last month’s meeting of the Class of 2012 Health Leadership Fellows. Here’s what two of our fellows said was their biggest takeaway from the presentation.

13 Responses to The Core Components of Public Will Building

  1. Pat Wrice says:

    I love this. It really keeps me in the loop.

  2. Ann Levie says:

    Wonderful comments from my fellow Fellows! Bravo Dailyann and Fernando for representing us so well.

  3. Michael Reid says:

    Great job!! & Thank you for your leadership and sharing your reflection about public will tied to values.


  4. Daileann says:

    Thank you to my fellow fellows for your support.

  5. Carle-Marie Memnon says:

    It’s really great that Maryland was able to flim Daileann and Fernando after the “Building Public Will” session. Their comments echo and place a voice behind what behind what public will means…

  6. Heang Tan says:

    Thank you, Ehreen for sharing this information. All of this makes sense, but the devil’s in the details. Those who understand the issue – are outraged. And those who don’t understand are not fully committed to learning more about the issue to change the status quo. Where do we go from here? Just like the civil rights movement , change didn’t happen until everyone was on board.

    • Ehren Reed says:

      Heang –

      Great comment! And you are absolutely right. Through this post, I was hoping to parse out public will into components that are easily understood. However, I never said that building public will was going to be easy!

      For me, the key involves linking your issue to people’s existing values. (And both Daileann and Fernando noted this in the video.) People won’t pay attention to what you have to say, not to mention make a commitment to your cause, unless you connect it to their core values.

      Another great resource on public will building comes from The Metropolitan Group: Building Public Will: Five-Phase Communication Approach to Sustainable Change. Check it out for more tips and examples!

      – Ehren

  7. Katherine Ill says:

    The suggested core components of public will building make me pause in thinking about chf efforts and my own experience. Well done. Thank you.

    Katherine Ill

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