Resource: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Manitoba

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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an important social issue in Manitoba fraught with misconceptions and communications challenges. Communicating with Manitobans about FASD is difficult because people’s thoughts about this issue hinge on deeply held and widely shared beliefs about motherhood, substance use, choice, responsibility, and morality. To engage members of the public in thinking about FASD in ways that boost support for the policies and programs that are necessary to address it, communicators need an empirically based framing strategy that anticipates and redirects public thinking.

Communicating effectively about FASD first requires a clear sense of the core concepts that the public needs to understand in order to support the initiatives that evidence suggests will create change. We call this set of concepts the untranslated story of FASD. The untranslated story unites researchers, practitioners, and advocates around a set of core principles that they want to be able to communicate to the public about FASD.

After we distil the principles that need to be communicated, we describe the patterns of thinking that underlie how Manitobans think about FASD. This phase of research investigates how people think about FASD by examining the patterns that appear in how they talk about the issue. Working from over 650 pages of interview transcripts, we identify the common understandings and implicit assumptions that shape how the public reasons about FASD and related issues. This focus on common understandings does not ignore the fact that people also have different ways of understanding this issue. However, analyzing the patterns that are shared across a diverse group of people allows us to develop reframing strategies that will be most effective in changing the public discourse about FASD in Manitoba, ultimately generating support for crucial programs and policies.

This report proceeds as follows:

• We outline the untranslated story of FASD. This set of principles reflects the field’s understanding of what FASD is, how alcohol affects fetal development, why women consume alcohol while pregnant, what the effects of FASD are, and how FASD can be prevented and addressed. This untranslated story represents the content to be communicated to the public with a reframing strategy.

• We describe the cultural models —anthropologists’ term for shared but implicit understandings, assumptions, and patterns of reasoning—that shape how Manitobans think about FASD. We review patterns of thinking related to pregnancy, alcohol use and addiction, social factors, causes and effects of FASD, and ways to address them.

• We then map the gaps between the field’s and the public’s perspectives and describe points at which these understandings overlap and diverge. This analysis highlights the key challenges in communicating about FASD. Seeing the Spectrum: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Manitoba.

• Finally, we present a set of preliminary framing recommendations that emerge from this map the gaps analysis. A description of the methods used in this research, and participant demographic information, can be found in the Appendix.

Click to download report: Manitoba-FASD-Strategic-Meeting-Report-May-2017


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