Personal agendas and ideologies seem to rule the world. The greater good is often sacrificed in favor of loopholes that make decisions easier to manipulate. People are willing to compromise their values to justify their actions and achieve their goals. However, as the world evolves and cyberspace becomes a platform for individuals to impose change, public opinion becomes increasingly important. Companies and organizations are forced to listen to their customers and publics or risk losing them.

Hope-based communication (HBC) is a strategic approach to communicating social issues that empowers people to take action for a better future by focusing on inspiring stories and solutions. It is grounded in the belief that hope is a powerful motivator, and it never gives up on the possibility of a better world. 

Deem Communications has been championing this approach over the past years with its social campaigns in behavior-changing efforts with international institutions, government agencies, and local nonprofits seeking a better future for their society. This practice was visible in the campaign to raise awareness of the importance of the domestic violence law in Armenia some years ago or the “Clean Armenia” campaign with the catchy slogan “The Place of Garbage is in the Bin.” 

An impact strategist and social change consultant, Thomas Coombes founded Hope-based communication. Coombes, branded as “the Hope Guy,” has over a decade of experience working with nonprofits and social movements worldwide, helping them develop and implement effective communication strategies. He is passionate about using the power of storytelling and narrative to inspire hope and motivate action for social change.

As part of DeeM’s collaboration with Life in Armenia, I recently interviewed Thomas Coombes to learn more about Hope-based communication and how we can use it in Armenia for better communication on all levels.

 

How can we build Hope-based communication that goes beyond using beautiful words and images to envision a better future?

Hope-based communication is a strategic approach to social change communications that focuses on showing people the desired future rather than just the present problems. This is based on neuroscience’s finding that humans have a predictive brain and can only support things or do things that they have actually seen. Hope-based communications is not about making people feel good but about giving them a vision of a better future that they can work towards. It is especially important when people need resilience and hope to keep going during dark times.

How do you convince people that HBC is the direction we should be going right now?

Hope is a radical act that is based on the idea of how things could be different or better. While it is important to analyze a situation and see what’s wrong, social change work should focus on how we want the situation to be different, and bring that vision to life. We should not be afraid to tell people about our dreams and visions of a better future.  Hope is not about being optimistic or positive – which is about seeing the best in the present situation. Hope  is about having a clear vision of how the future could be better, if we act, and working to make it a reality. We can learn from the example of Martin Luther King Jr., whose “I Have A Dream” speech inspired people to fight for a better future.

What are the important aspects of Hope-based communications?

For me, the purpose of hope-based communication is to help people to discover their own vision and values and to see the hope in every story. It is not about convincing people of your arguments but rather about helping them to get on the journey themselves. By deeply listening to people and helping them to articulate their core ideas, we can create a more balanced and hopeful world.

How can we encourage people to adopt the shifts in activism we’re proposing, even on a small level?

The first step to identifying and articulating gaps in the story we as social change people are telling is to be open to admitting that they exist. Once people can see and articulate the gaps, they can think about solutions. Asking people about the social change they are motivated by can be a helpful way to identify gaps. If people don’t know what we’re working for, we have a problem. That’s why I tell people to think about changing awareness, not just raising awareness. We need to understand the underlying causes of the problems we’re working on and develop strategies to address them. 

How do we build messaging and campaigns around the war?

I believe it is more important to have hope in dark times, especially during conflict. Hope helps us take action, change our minds, and care about others. It also helps us to make sense of the world around us and to create narratives that give us meaning. We developed hope-based communication while trying to find more effective ways to respond to several dire situations at a human rights organization – in other words, it has been developed precisely as a way to cultivate empathy and compassion, and constructive action, in the face of the worst possible situations.  We need to believe in our own power to make a difference. We may not have the power of an authoritarian leader, but we have our own ideas and our own values. We need to hold on to these values and keep our solutions alive. We are all saplings in the middle of a storm, and we need to hold on to each other and our hope in order to survive.

How can HBC fit into media literacy, especially in the context of misinformation and AI-generated content?

People will not do the right thing just because of facts, but because of values. If we worry that people are susceptible to believing misinformation, we need to do a better job of making truth and hope salient, and we need to tell stories that are engaging and relevant to people’s lives. We need to be transparent about our values (behind our motivation for putting forward the information we share) and have a bold vision for the future. To do this, we can use mass movements and real people telling real stories to spread our message. Authentic stories are more important than ever in a world where it is so easy to create fake ones. Salience is not just about volume; it is also about emotional resonance. Social change organizations have a powerful advantage in this area because they can tap into our intrinsic or compassionate values.  The thing about AI is that it is predictive and generative, and it will generate stories and images based on what is already out there. AI is like a magnifying glass exacerbating problems like bias in society. If we can regulate it we should, but at the same time we need to change the society that the magnifying glass is held over. If AI produces something we do not like, that is a sign that the dominant narrative needs to be replaced with a new one. But it has to be out there in society before AI can be influenced by it. This is why putting out the alternative stories and images we want to see is important. My understanding of AI is that it can only generate stuff based on what already exists. But what remains unique to human creativity is putting something radically new and different into the world. So AI only increases the imperative for 21st century activism to be about showing an alternative world we want to see, rather than the world as it is. As Rebecca Solnit says, imagination is the power of civil society. 

How to dissect and choose media critically, considering who said it, why it was said, and the language used?

Institutions and organizations need to be open and honest about their values and biases rather than trying to maintain a neutral stance. The audiences can instinctively sense when someone is claiming to be neutral, and they will inherently mistrust someone who tries to pretend they have no perspective or bias.  The key to competing with fake news is to create identity around the values we want to promote. Most people read a source of information that is caught up in their own identity (this is called motivated reasoning). Building a community around shared values is the key to building a successful movement.

Personal Thoughts

Armenia has faced many challenges in recent years, including political, economic, and social issues. Hope-based communication can inspire and motivate people to take positive actions to address these challenges and work towards a better future. It can help the Armenian people maintain their determination and optimism even in the face of adversity, which is crucial for overcoming some of the most challenging obstacles of our existence. As a communications specialist living and working in Armenia for over 20 years, I have seen the effects of fear-based messages and believe it is time to shift the narrative to a more hopeful and better future discourse.    Hope-based communication empowers individuals by showing them that they have the ability to contribute to positive change. This sense of agency can lead to increased civic engagement and greater responsibility for the country’s future. I, for one, have been carrying the torch through my communications agency, Deem Communications, and do not miss the occasion to speak about this approach to anyone willing to listen. And many are sitting up straight and listening. And that – gives me hope!