During this workshop, held on June 29, 2010 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Val Morrison set out to:

  • Illustrate how even the best-conceived communications products (posters, various public health campaigns, etc.) can be interpreted in radically different ways by their intended audience,
  • Provide an understanding of the different “moments” of communication and how they affect interpretation, and
  • Provide workshop attendees with the ability to understand how both the construction and the interpretation of messages are “socially located”.

Understanding Media Communications: The Encoding / Decoding Approach
25 slides

Traditional models of communication often assume that the meaning of the message communicated is fixed. That is, assuming that the method of communication is “well constructed,” there is only one possible interpretation of the message. The goal of those communicating the message is thus to find the most efficient way of getting the message to the target audience. Frustrating situations may arise when audiences seem to misinterpret what the sender intended them to understand. Often the solution is to then return to the drawing board and come up with a “better” message. In reality, research has shown that just as the senders of messages are institutionally and socially located (for example, public health actors might speak from a specific institutional location and, as a group, are likely to share certain social characteristics such as class and education) so too are audiences. In other words, audiences are not simply the receivers of messages but are active in interpreting the messages that are sent. In this workshop, we will use one particular approach to media communications (the encoding/decoding model (Hall, 1980) to work through an analysis of several examples of public health communications.