Strategic Communication: Audience Needs, Priorities, Values, Pressures

Identify and Understand Your Audience(s) Needs, Priorities, Values, Pressures

The term ‘audiences’ is used to describe anyone with whom you plan to communicate and engage. While it can have a connotation that might suggest a passive recipient of information, in reality, those we communicate with are active agents. As noted in the Communication Goal section, it is important to consider what action we hope they will take as a result of the communication effort.  In practice, this step can be done in parallel with or before the work of identifying your communication goal(s). It is likely that one will inform the other and both will be updated iteratively, as needed.

Taking time to do this step well will also help ensure that you have the understanding you need to develop subsequent approaches of identifying credible messengers, framing the issue effectively, speaking to core values and generating social proof for the ‘ask.’

There are many tools for identifying who to engage or communicate with at a particular moment in time. Many of them use some form of a matrix to map factors such as: ability to influence the desired outcome, readiness for engagement or level of interest and more.

The Talking it Through (Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2020, p. 16) matrix below is one example. You may decide to create one based on different criteria or factors that are more relevant for your work. It can be helpful to then brainstorm all possible audiences (participants, partners, and other actors) connected to an initiative and place them in one of the quadrants. This can provide a picture of who you might want to prioritize and when.


Questions to better understand your audience, once you’ve identified and prioritized those you want to reach, include:

(Note: You might have your own questions. You might also find ways to ask some of these kinds of questions directly, or you might use your existing knowledge).

  • What do they already believe about this topic or about the specific project/ initiative you want to engage on?
  • What kinds of pressures do they face? What is competing for their attention?
  • What matters to them?
  • What values might motivate them?
  • Whose opinion and expertise do they trust?
  • What kinds of group(s) do they identify with? What do they see that group doing? What do they believe that group cares about?
  • What histories or past experiences might be shaping their perception(s) of this topic?
  • What worldviews might inform how they understand the issue(s) and their potential solutions or responses?
  • What blind spots might you have, based on your social location, that could prevent you from understanding this audience? What might you do to address this?
  • What fears, worries or anxieties might this information bring up? What do they need to feel safe, connected and engaged in authentic action?

Considering our own social location and worldviews

When thinking about how we deepen our understanding of audiences, it is critical to recognize how our own worldviews and assumptions can be barriers to this effort, particularly when we inhabit multiple social locations that are privileged and reflect dominant narratives. For example, in the context of non-Indigenous practitioners engaging with Indigenous communities, Callison (2017) writes that, “Understanding indigenous peoples’ self-definition is vital to understanding articulations of the impacts of climate change…indigenous people come to a climate change discussion with their own knowledges, vernaculars, histories, and cultural frameworks for making sense of and interpreting what climate change means both in the observable present and the predicted future.”


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Strategic Dialogue and Engagement for Climate Adaptation Copyright © by Simon Fraser University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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