The psychology of climate change communication: A guide for scientists, journalists, educators, political aides, and the interested public

This guide by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, while focused on communicating research on climate change, will be useful for anyone interested in the theory behind communication and behaviour change and those who need to communicate evaluation results effectively to specific target audiences or the general public.

This resource and the following information was contributed by Alice Macfarlan.

Authors and their affiliation

Debra Shome and Sabine Marx, The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions

Key features

This guide covers a number of topics related to scientific communication. Key chapters include:

  • Know your audience - which focuses on understanding what mental models are and how these affect the way that people take new information on board.
  • Get your audience's attention - a discussion on the 'framing' of messages, including what a frame is and types of framing (e.g. a Gain vs. Loss, Now vs. Future)
  • Translate scientific data into concrete experience - this chapter deals specifically with the different ways of presenting scientific messages so that it has a better chance of cutting through. It touches briefly on dataviz, but focuses primarily on analytical messages vs. emotional messages.
  • Address scientific and climate uncertainties - useful discussion of ways scientific communicators have tried to make clearer the probability of uncertain predictions to their audiences, and how these audiences have interpreted this. Includes some useful tips about best practices.

There are also chapters that talk more directly on how to persuade groups of people, touching on when best to use emotional appeals, the dynamics of processing information in groups as opposed to individually, and using different sorts of incentives for behaviour change.

How have you used or intend on using this resource?

I have always been interested in communication generally, and specifically how to best communicate evaluation results. This guide has been useful in giving me an overview of some of the theories behind communicating messages to audiences that may be resistant to this, as well as some practical guidance about language and presenting evidence.

Why would you recommend it to other people?

This guide tackles the trickier aspects of communication - moving away from what reporting formats work well to dive deep into what makes people change their minds about their beliefs. It won't be useful for everyone - not every evaluator or evaluation team is responsible for the communication of evaluation findings beyond the delivering of a report. But for those whose roles do include this, and those who commission evaluations and use evidence, I think this will be a useful, quick read. For those who want a brief overview of the key points and guidance at the end of the brief, as well as a reading list for those who want to go deeper.


Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. (2009). The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Audes, and the Interested Public. New York. Retrieved from: