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Altering public sphere communication through popular media for knowledge and action on climate change in India.



Despite a wide acknowledgment of anthropogenic reasons exacerbating climate change, there is a clear lack of public discourse on climate change. The debate and action remains limited to the scientific community and development professionals, which has resulted into an alarming level of inattention and inaction by common public. However, altering people’s behaviours on the issue can significantly help in responding to threats of climate change; and mass media (cinema, television, radio, internet and literary fiction) is one of the most powerful tools widely known to influence and shape people’s attitudes as well as action. Drawing this understanding from various behaviour change theories and concepts; such as Self – efficacy, Message Frames, Agenda Setting theory of media and others; the proposed project aims to trigger media action on creating a dialogic environment within the public sphere on climate change issues in India.

Within this context, the primary approach of this project will be to engage with key media professionals (film-makers, television producers, radio-jockeys, popular fiction writers) in a dialogic and workshop format, to sensitize and build their capacity to communicate climate change as an issue requiring urgent action. Care would be taken to avoid framing climate change as a disaster or doomsday narrative as such narrative often leads to the individual citizen feeling incapacitated in terms of taking action to mitigate climate change. Rather the self-efficacy of the individual, households and civic bodies about taking action for climate change needs to be built and strengthened. A person or an entity is more likely to take a step which is beneficial for the environment and society at large when the cost involved in this initiative also works out as a benefit for him/them. Various mass media formats with their far reaching effect on public psyche are in a powerful position to fire up public imagination for taking positive climate action.

Is this proposal for a practice or a project?


What actions do you propose?

The proposed project will be implemented in three phases of activities:

Phase – I Formative research

To express a complex and technical phenomenon like climate change in form of media formats, the research team aims to build an in-depth understanding of climate change as well as social behaviour. Hence the first phase will include extensive research focusing on the following sub-objectives:

  • A secondary review of existing work on climate change communication through different media forms
  • A baseline assessment of people’s perceptions and attitudes towards climate change issues through review of literature
  • Researching social-psychological and media theories on social behaviour change and linking it our proposed interventions. Among several mass media theories, our project is largely designed within the framework of Entertainment-Education approach. This approach integrates and purposely designs media to both educate and entertain people, thus capitalizing on popular appeal of mainstream media for to alter people’s attitudes and behavior on an issue. Within this framework, ‘social role modeling’ and ‘message framing’ are two most important concepts relating to character building and narrative development respectively. Social role modeling, derives its meaning from Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, highlights the significance of transitional characters in media. Transitional characters are carriers of the key message depicting transformation of action from negative to positive. Message frames are helpful in understanding message development process – it is based on the agenda setting theory of media which talks about use of media with a definite objective. Message frames build the context of the message, providing the intended perspective from which the audience should perceive it.
  • Research into similar organised efforts in India and abroad where media shaped the public consciousness toward progressive aims. E.g. The Bell Bajao! campaign.
  • Identification of climate change experts (climate science, adaptation and mitigation) and development communications professionals who could contribute to this project. Engaging in a continuous dialouge with them to understand the ways in which complex, scientific jargon-laden language of climate change research can be translated into language understood by common man. The characteristics of such language may be such it makes empowerment of individual actors and civic bodies the highest priority rather than fear and the consequent apathy or denial.

This phase will culminate with a workshop of select climate change experts and development communication professionals who translate complex scientific information into language of laymen. We expect the outcome of this phase to be:

  • A set of papers/books/reports which has translated climate change science, adaptation and mitigation issues into language that laymen can understand. The chief characteristic of these outputs will be that the climate change adaptation and mitigation actions will be framed in a manner that increases the self-efficacy of an individual / household / civic body in terms of taking action at the individual / household / civic body level.

Phase – II Engagement with and sensitization of the media professionals

The media (cinema, print, television, internet and radio) is a very powerful medium which can be used to make climate change a part of popular imagination. The fact that climate change is not a regular feature in public discourse leads to inaction. The public understanding of causes and consequences of climate change is generally over wrought with misconceptions. On top of that what sways the public’s imagination is even less understood. This is where the media will play an important role in sensitizing the public to the issue of climate change, challenging the existing perceptions and then fire up popular perception to be swayed in the desired direction. The media has become highly influential and immensely powerful in today’s day and date. It is a very powerful medium to convey the intended message which will have a far reaching effect.

Therefore the next foundational phase of the project will include engagement with media professionals - mainstream feature film producers and directors, radio jockeys, popular fiction writers, cartoonists and comic book writers. This will be done in three sub-phases, with the two sub-phases ongoing in parallel, followed by a third sub-phase.

Sub-Phase IIA: Engagement with senior/well known media professionals

In this sub-phase, the team will start engaging with the well-known (popular) media figures e.g. Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bacchan, through contacts in their personal and professional networks to persuade and convince them to be part of this initiative. A workshop with climate change experts (from phase I) and the well known media personalities (in different media categories) who agreed to support this initiative would be organized. The workshop would use a dialogic format and many of the end-products of phase I would be used to present climate change science, adaptation and mitigation issues in language that media personalities can understand.

Sub-Phase IIB: Development of media products – a competition

In parallel to phase IIA of the project, a competition with prize money (e.g. USD 10,000 as first prize) would be announced, inviting media professionals in different media categories (a film, a novel, a comic book, a radio program) to submit their entries for review by a jury committee (formed by the experts). The underlying principle, which will be used as the key evaluation criteria, is that the media products should communicate the particular climate change issue so as to convey a clear action oriented message (whether mitigation response e.g. replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs, or adaptation action e.g. building rain water harvesting structures at home or community level) possible at the individual, household or community level.

The flyer related to the announcement of the competition would explain that any film or radio programme with an underlying theme of climate change will present the issue within the socio-economic dynamics of a common person’s life wherein s/he is faced with challenges of relationships, individual sustenance, turbulence of emotions and moralities, social customs and norms; and within these complexities how a person can understand and respond to climate change. It is important to see that these media products will not be a guide to dos and don’ts like a teaching aid is, but are entertaining, engaging and thought-provoking tools to normalise climate change as a problem of common man. Therefore, media development here will follow the novel concept of integrating this issue into mainstream media consumption to bring it into popular imagination and dialogue.

The second most important aspect exlained in the flyer of the competition announcement will be to ensure that these media products represent mainstream formats and do not reflect the ‘documentary genre’ by being a dos and don’ts guide or teaching aid is, but are entertaining, engaging and thought-provoking tools to normalise climate change as a problem of common man.

To facilitate the participants and handhold them to take up this challenge, the presence of a dedicated support person will be ensured to answer any queries on climate change theme or others. The jury for this competition would consist of some of the well known media-professional identified in phase IIA and some of the climate change experts associated with phase I of this project.

This competition will serve the following important purposes:

  • It will be a initiating point to create a group of like-minded people both in terms of participants as well the jury members. So, from this point onwards the project will start strengthening its association with experts from media and climate change fraternity.
  • Secondly, the shortlisted/winning media creations will become a pool of sample products to be used in the following capacity building workshops.
  • Apart from small prize money for the winners, a greater reward for the shortlisted participants will be an opportunity to work with and learn from well recognised names in the media/ climate change space in the upcoming capacity building workshops. Another draw to the competition and workshop would be engaging a popular figure in each of the media (e.g. a popular actor like ‘Aamir Khan’ for the category cinema, a popular writer like ‘Amitav Ghosh’ for the fiction writers and print media) to endorse the competition and give an opening plenary talk in the following workshop.

Sub-Phase IIC: Final Capacity Building Workshop

The idea is to bring together a select group of media professionals in a workshop mode selected from the entries made in the competition. The workshop would aim to sensitize, build capacities and knowledge base of media professionals through an engagement with development communication professionals and climate change experts identified in the first phase using the outcomes from the first phase. In addition, the workshop participants get the opportunity to interact with and learn from well-known media professionals (identified in phase IIA), some of whom would play a facilitative role in this capacity building workshop. For example, both the climate change experts and popular media personalities may analyze, discuss and dissect some relevant excerpts from the shortlisted media products (e.g. excerpts from winning films in the competition) and the in the process also provide feedback to the workshop participants (the relatively younger media professionals).

We expect that this phase will provide opportunity for development of collaborations and partnerships among different media production houses, content developers, radio stations, television channels and fiction writers for converting ideas generated during the training sessions into actions i.e. development of media products on climate change. We expect that the continuous pre-workshop dialouge and the culminating workshop would facilitate media professionals in including climate change in their narratives and creating impactful media products for a larger audience.

Phase III: Formulation of a “think-tank” to sustain activities

To sustain the climate change discourse in the public sphere through media, we propose to culminate all the associations and networks created in the form of an organised body such as a think tank or a consortium. This group will be registered as a society and will lead future activities within the space of climate change communication. It will be formulated with people who have already been a part of the whole project process therefore taking them on board as long term members. We expect that this society will be able to sustain itself and carry out various possible initiatives with already gathered support from the big names in media industry. This step will ensure that the new dialogue initiated through this project is continued even after completion of this project. The formulated society will be an established system to carry forward the envisioned work.

One of the first tasks that this think-tank could engage in is promoting the best media products, shortlisted in each media category from the competition, for reaching out to the larger public. Various impactful ways for this purpose can include:

  • Public group screenings of video products (youth spaces in universities, multiscreen theatres, cultural centres etc.)
  • Radio broadcasting of audio products like radio programmes as well as Public Service Announcements on public and private FM channels
  • Collaboration with national dailies and popular periodicals for sharing comics and fiction work
  • Comical representations can also be converted into posters and hoardings and displayed in public spaces

This small initiative possesses a significant potential as a ‘proof of concept’ for addressing climate change at a public level in India.

Who will take these actions?

Primary stakeholders of the project will include –

  1. Project management team – A core team of qualified and competent project management professionals with understanding and experience of working on climate change or environmental issues will be formulated to carry out the tasks and also coordinate with all other stakeholders
  2. Research team – a team of social science researchers with experience in climate change communication, disaster communication, adaptation and social behaviour.
  3. Climate change experts – a team of subject experts on climate change will be involved as part of the trainers’ group
  4. Senior media professionals – Media practitioners with an experience of working with different media formats especially for development communication will also be involved as trainers to discuss content development and treatment for impactful media creation

Where will these actions be taken?

The complete project will be implemented within India. To be more specific, the project process actions (training workshops and competition procedures) will be carried out in Delhi and Mumbai as a large majority of influential media professionals as well production centres are located here. Secondly these are also most conveniently accessible cities for people from other areas to participate.

The sharing and promotion of media products will be done at the national level reaching out to both urban as well as rural spaces in major regions of the country

In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.


Country 2

No country selected

Country 3

No country selected

Country 4

No country selected

Country 5

No country selected


What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

Exposure to idea of climate change and its impact through mainstream media formats, and sensitisation to the possibility of actions that can be taken by the individuals themselves which also has co-benefits to them, over a sustained period of time is likely to lead to action by individual citizens and stakeholders at different scales. The cumulative result of this can be substantial, though it would be difficult to make any quantitative estimates of reduced emissions or adaptation .

What are other key benefits?

We expect the outcome of the project to be greater engagement of the popular media with climate change and the  sensitisation of public that solutions that are possible at the individual level, household level, community level, by civic bodies such as Resident Welfare Associations, by civil society and even by managers of the funds earmarked for Corporate Social Responsibility. This is likely to effect all the different 8 missions of the National Action Plan on Climate Change which were rolled out by the Government of India in 2008 to the extent.


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

We expect the total cost of the project to be USD 290,000. The break-up of the cost is mentioned below:

1. Formative research in phase I

  • Honorarium for researchers
  • Travel


USD 40,000

2. Development of training modules

  • Working group meetings by climate change and media experts
  • Honorarium for training content development expert
  • Travel and communication


USD 55,000

3. Conducting media sensitisation capacity building workshops

  • Workshop venue, food and logistics
  • Honorarium to experts involved as trainers


USD 60,000

4. Organising competition

  • Promotional activities for announcing competition
  • Review meetings by jury panel
  • Event for awards and results
  • Award money for winners
  • Honorarium to jury members


USD 70,000

5. Creation of a think tank which would also share the media products developed during the course of this project (end-products of competition and workshops) as its first activity

  • Organising screenings
  • Broadcasting on radio/TV
  • Visual publicity of print products


USD 30,000

6. Project management

  • Project management personnel
  • Travel
  • Project promotional activities
  • Contingency and other small miscellaneous expenses


USD 35,000


The project timeline is 3 years. The timeline for impacts of the project are discussed below.

Since the proposed project is specifically focused on altering people’s knowledge, mindsets and practices the results of the project activities can be understood through the KAP (Knowledge, Attitude and Practice) model of behaviour change wherein it comprises of three basic stages – change in knowledge, shift in attitude and practice. Looking at these stages, the impact of the proposed project can be defined in the following timeline:

  1. Short term (5 years) – visibility of climate change as an issue in mainstream media discourse and public discussion, i.e. more films, public debates on television, radio programming and print media covering climate change and related issues. Therefore the first step of bringing the idea into discussion will be achieved in initial five years through a concentrated effort during this project and resultant stirring of partnerships and collaborations. This impact can be easily mapped through a media content analysis exercise after five years.
  2. Mid term (10 years) – with a conducive environment built for discussing climate change as an urgent public issue largely within the mainstream media, a shift in people’s attitudes towards climate change can be anticipated. It will be realistic to expect at least two major shifts – an enhanced risk perception towards climate change and its effects on common man’s life, and a sense of responsibility and need generated within individuals to act in some way curb it.
  3. Long term (15 years and more) – to see a practice level change in people’s behaviour where a proactive and self – mobilised curative as well as preventive actions could be seen within general public, it will take as long as fifteen years or more depending upon lack/provisioning of other supportive elements in a larger context. Since practice change is subjected to several factors including those beyond the ambit of media such as state’s programmatic support, availability of technology etc., it becomes difficult to gauge such a long term impact. However the instrumental role of this project in triggering this process of change cannot be overlooked.

About the author(s)

Upasna Sharma is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi since January 2013. Prior to this she has taught at IIT Madras and worked at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria. Upasna holds a PhD from Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management, IIT Bombay. Upasna’s research interests lie at the intersection of two domains - climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management. Her research focuses on questions related to use of information in enhancing adaptive capacity of individuals to climate risk. More information on her work can be found at

Shweta Prajapati is a development communication professional majorly working in the field of environment communication. Being a postgraduate in Development Communication and Extension from University of Delhi, her work has been focused extensively on community radios, climate change communication and ICTs for development.

Dakshina Sharma is a former corporate professional in Human Resource management who takes avid interest in social issues especially related to climate change. She ardently believes in sustainable way of life for a greener earth and is a propagator of chemical free Organic Farming as the way ahead for future.

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