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General Election Framing Guide 3

For anyone working towards a more equitable, democratic and sustainable societyOccupy Protester Shouting

It’s just seven days until the polling stations close.

Depending on your constitution (and/or the most recent poll you have seen), you might feel we are living in exciting (or terrifying) political times, or you might agree with Brenda in Bristol that there is just too much politics these days. Either way, it’s important not to lose sight of the long-term changes we are working towards. Knowing how to communicate effectively is a key part of creating this change.

At PIRC, we work with others to explore how to best frame the issues we care about (creating a nicer, more equal, happier, greener world). From the varied groups and issues we’ve worked on (including our current work on Framing the Economy), we’ve summarised five things anyone working for a more equitable, democratic and sustainable society should keep in mind when communicating with people in this week before the election (whether you’re out door-knocking, sending your final email campaigns or writing blogs).

1. Speak to people’s best selves

We aren’t as divided as we think. Just as we can all be horrible sometimes, we can also be really wonderful. Research suggests people are much nicer than we think; and that we share more values in common than we assume. In particular, people prioritise values around caring about others more than we think.

Research also suggests that what we focus on can encourage different values and sides in people. So, if we talk about economic benefits, people are more likely to act with concern for personal financial gain. If we talk about collective care, people are more likely to act with concern for their communities. What this means is we need to focus as much as possible on our (collective and individual) better selves.

In a similar vein, think about when your own mind has been changed. Has it been when someone’s been shouting at you, condescending you, or calling you an idiot? Unless you’re a bit of a masochist (and that’s fine), the answer’s probably no. So respect the people you’re talking to—they’re not stupid, and they’re not evil—and respect the journeys they might have to go on to really hear what you’re saying.

Will we convince everyone? No. But we’ll also lose our own supporters (and possibly our souls) if we bend to their requests in order to win everyone over.

2. Yes, ‘the system is rigged’: so what?

Most people already agree with you. The system is broken. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. The ‘establishment’ are not to be trusted (variously understood as bankers, corporations, politicians, and the media). Even better: people care.

The bad news? People are cynical and fatalistic. People think we’re screwed, and there’s not much we can do about it.  So when you say “The system is rigged!” people don’t think “And we can work together to fix it!” They think “And that’s just the way it is cos people are selfish / it’s always been like that / nothing changes.”

Naming the problem is important, but not sufficient.

If we want to motivate and energise people this election (and—gasp—beyond), we need to talk way more about solutions. Clear, constructive, collective solutions. Solutions that match the size of the problems we face. There’s no point being unrealistic—it’ll just cause disillusionment and disappointment when it doesn’t happen—but let’s show that there are ways of doing things better, and that change is possible.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat

You know how frustrated you get when you’ve seen that terrible advert for the 400th time? Well, it’s kind of on purpose. Advertising is made to be repeated over and over and over and over because, however annoying it becomes, that’s the way it sticks in your brain. Savvy politicians know this—hence those repeated rhetorical flourishes we can all cite word for word. If you want people to remember what you’re talking about, get your message clear, as snappy as possible, and keep getting it out there.

It also means that working together and acting in solidarity with each other is good for all of us. We should be repeating and passing on each others’ messages in order to give them more strength.

Sound obvious? Perhaps the less obvious bit is that even when you’re talking about how annoying the advert is you’re reinforcing their advertising. (Just like saying ‘don’t think of an elephant’ doesn’t stop you thinking of an elephant!) In other words, don’t repeat messages you don’t agree with, even to refute them.

This means myth-busting is a bust. One study showed that people who read a myth-busting factsheet about vaccines were more likely to believe they were true afterwards, and actually attributed the myths to the health organisation sponsoring the factsheets. So if you’re talking about policies or rhetoric you don’t agree with, give them as little airtime as you can. Instead, repeat and reinforce your own.

4. Care is competence

There are strong frames around competence in most elections. We are repeatedly being told who is competent to lead the country in difficult times, make decisions about our economy, etc. from all sides in this one. But the dominant framing of competence is often narrow and incompatible with creating a more sustainable, equitable and democratic society.

We need to disrupt this frame. Wherever possible, we must make the case that competence includes responsible care for people and planet. Any politician making policy decisions that worsen living conditions, destroys nature, fails to represent communities (etc. etc.) is not competent: different choices can and should be made.

Finding a good metaphor or other comparison for this kind of competence vs. the pretence of competence will likely be useful.

5. Disrupt xenophobic nationalism

Post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-Manchester, we need to be ever-vigilant for the racist and xenophobic nationalism that casts a huge shadow over so much of our political debate. The response to this has often, at best, been too quiet: too many of us have sat in that shadow. At worst, people have pandered to these beliefs in order to win over those with opposing views.

We must, instead, undermine these frames.

Remember that myth-busting doesn’t work, so this doesn’t mean saying ‘immigrants/ refugees  are not / do not…’. Instead try the show don’t tell principle: showcase diverse voices and faces, telling a story of our country that is inclusive and fair through what people can see.

At the very least, we all—whatever our issue—should check over what we’re saying for whether it could be read in a way that excludes people of colour or immigrants from the story of our country.


Yes Equality Paint Splat Campaign Banner

If you want a bit of inspiration, the Irish campaign for a yes vote on the marriage equality referendum in 2015 is a good ‘un (they won an ‘impossible’ 62% yes vote):

  • Speaking to people’s best selves. The campaign (after much research) decided to focus on a positive story of Ireland as a generous, fair, equal and inclusive country: in which marriage equality was a perfect next step of progress. They situated gay and lesbian couples within their wider families and connected with their various audiences with a variety of very human messengers. They used humour and got people out knocking on doors and creating their own campaign videos. And they consciously refrained from talking about it as a rights issue or focusing heavily on unfairness.
  • Showing change is possible. The campaign was all about change, and focused heavily on the solution rather than spending time talking about the problem (except when appropriate, like when asked why the change was necessary). It was really clear on its campaign asks and how people could get involved. And there was a huge, grassroots uptake of the issue: thousands of canvassers and people making their own materials; other organisations getting involved.
  • Repeating, repeating, repeating. Campaigners refused to get into debates with the No Campaign, or get drawn on their insidious claims, as they found very early on that saying ‘it’s not true that x’ just fuelled an unhelpful debate. Instead, they knew their own key messages and stuck to them: that this was a positive family issue, that reflected the character of a nation centred on generosity, equality and fairness.

Lastly, take care of yourselves, and each other

Campaigning, canvassing, even just talking to your own family about politics, can be really, really hard. Hearing the lies told in the media and the horrible events that occur daily is heavy stuff to take. It can all be a bit exhausting at least, and traumatic at worst. Make sure you’ve got some people you can shout and swear at (like, good friends with tea / cake / beer). Take time out. Sleep. Eat.

Remember self-care is a political act.


Beyond “The Game is Rigged” – Finding a New Story of the Economy 1

“If you think about it, the economy is rigged. The banking system is rigged. There’s a lot of things that are rigged in this world of ours… and we’re going to change it. You know, the system, folks, is rigged. It’s a rigged system.”

If we take the word ‘folks’ out, this quote from Donald Trump could just have plausibly been from the British Prime Minister Theresa May or leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn. In her speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in November 2016, May said that “a minority of businesses and business figures appear to game the system and work to a different set of rules”, and in his address to the Fabian Society this January, Corbyn used the word rigged in relation to the economy or the system no less than ten times, concluding that he stood “for a complete break with this rigged system”.

‘The system is rigged’ is a frame that implies a minority of elite humans who have intervened to twist the economy to their own advantage, and it brings to mind the corruption of supposedly faraway governments, and the imagery of seedy casino interiors where money sloshes around and the house always wins.

This a) captures something true about our present economy and b) connects with public opinion in the UK and US.  That means it’s effective, right?  Not necessarily.

It’s a frame that resonates, but at the same time can stir anger and reinforce fatalism.  Anger can impair thinking and narrow our ability to evaluate solutions, and, as communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio puts it: “anger dismantles; it doesn’t create”.   Fatalism is demotivating, and in this context reinforces the belief that it’s ‘just human nature’ for people with wealth and power to try and stay at the top; that there is nothing ordinary people can do to change things.  

‘The system is rigged’ needs situating in a strong story of how the economy can be transformed for the better–a story that is very different for Trump, May and Corbyn.   When Corbyn, like Trump, says ‘the system is broken, but if I’m in power I can fix it’, he might instead offer a more creative and hopeful solution that gives people efficacy (appealing to active citizenship, direct democracy and collective action).  He might aim to clearly differentiate his explanation of how a system supposedly so rotten and entrenched can change so fast.  

The job of ‘framing the economy’ is not about landing on one message that resonates and hammering that home. It’s about telling a compelling and coherent  story about what the economy is, how it works and what needs to be done. This story needs to provide meaning for messages like ‘the system is rigged’ and be repeatedly told by people who, for whatever reason, bring credibility and charisma into the telling.

The problem is that progressive spokespeople are too often failing to build a coherent story of the economy into their communications.  How can we change this?  

The first thing to do is to step back and ask what is ‘progressive’ supposed to mean? This is a good question.  Actually, it’s the starting point for the project I’m about to outline. Let me explain.

Read more

Can you help reframe the economy?

Blog pic

Call out for literature!

PIRC, New Economics Foundation, NEON and the Frameworks Institute are starting an 18 month project on Framing the Economy, helping social movements tell a better, more compelling story about what our economy is for, how it’s broken, and how we can fix it. It’s an ambitious project and we want to kick off with a review of what research is out there already so that we don’t reinvent the wheel.

Can you help?

The big question we’re asking is: How does the British public think about the economy? And, to break that down ever so slightly: what do people think, and why?  We’re trying to understand how people interpret new information on the economy, through the filter of existing knowledge, beliefs, values and emotions.

If you have access to any reports or research findings on this (rather broad) topic, we’re casting the net wide, so please help us by filling out this quick and easy form!

These are some of the specific areas we’re interested in:

    • Beliefs – what beliefs do people use to interpret information on the economy? i.e. beliefs relating to society, human nature, ethics, wealth, power etc.
    • Trust – who is trusted to talk about the economy and where do people typically get information and news about it?
    • Moveability – when do opinions about the economy shift, and why?
    • Audience – how does thinking about the economy change, based on people’s demographic or economic background?
    • Framing – what research has already been done to understand the stories that are told (or stories that could be told) about the economy?

Please send us what you can. We’re focusing on the British public in particular, but do send us sources from other cultures if you know of something excellent that we should be aware of.

The form, again:

And if you want to chat about this project,

Come and work with us! 3

Applications now closed, thanks for all the interest.

We’re looking for someone to join our small team who can help us make ourselves and the broken stories of our current system a little better. It’ll be a varied role within a flat structure in a dynamic charity based in Machynlleth, in the beautiful green hills of mid-Wales.

bcr-130637-800The Team

We’re an organisation working for a nicer, greener, fairer, more compassionate and more democratic society, through participatory approaches to connecting, learning and research. We’re particularly looking for an excellent communicator (any medium considered*) to help us develop our exciting new strategy (well, we’re excited about it).

It’s a four day per week role, and you’ll be paid £22,000 pa pro rata as part of a flat pay structure (with regular increases).

We’ve recently moved to working non-hierarchically. This means that every team member has equal input and decision-making power in the direction and running of the organisation, and we share many of the tasks related to general organisational management as well as project work.

What you’ll be doing:

  • Working with other members of the team on existing projects: including action learning programmes and framing research. In particular, this might include working with Ralph on our Framing Nature project; Elena on our Framing LGBTI Equality project, or Bec on our Framing the Economy project.
  • Writing reports, articles and blogs and helping us jazz up our general communications.
  • Facilitating workshops with varied groups, mostly on framing and story, and liaising with external partners and networks (which may include travel to London and elsewhere).
  • Updating PIRC’s website and social media.
  • Working with all of us to develop our strategy, new projects and associated fundraising tasks.
  • Carrying out selected organisational responsibilities which may include team support, programming, strategy and web maintenance, depending on skills and motivation.

You’ll definitely be:

  • Committed to equitable and sustainable social change.
  • A great communicator: you may include among your skills writing, running workshops, designing publications or producing web content.
  • Experienced in facilitating or organising groups.
  • Organised and capable of effectively managing projects.
  • Flexible, with the ability to manage multiple projects and tasks simultaneously.
  • Committed to collaborative working.

It’d be an added bonus if you had:

  • Excellent writing skills – clear, quick, and with experience of being published.
  • Knowledge and experience of participatory tools and approaches.
  • Experience of designing, carrying out and writing-up research.
  • Web skills (ranging from social media to programming and design).
  • An understanding of how frames and stories shape the world we live in.
  • Experience of managing budgets and fundraising.
  • Prior experience of working or volunteering in the third sector.
  • A fondness for Frisbee / board games / the outdoors / K-pop.

Other things we’ll expect:
Our flat structure means that we share the responsibilities involved in managing and developing an organisation. Part of this happens through rotating roles in Core Groups focused on Resources (finances, fundraising and office supplies), Communications (publications, web, social media), People (staff wellbeing, cohesion and training), Programming (capacity and planning) and Direction (strategy, ideas and development) so we would also expect any new team member to participate in one or more of these Groups. We don’t expect you to have any particular skills in any of these areas, but it would be a bonus if you did.

In addition to all of this, we try to cultivate a culture of awareness around the multiple systems of oppression in our society and our own role in these so that we can be better allies to those who experience these oppressions. We’d hope that any addition to our team shared this thinking.

Applications now closed.

Tell us why you think you might be the one we’re looking for: what makes you tick, how you meet the criteria we’re looking for, and what you’d like to bring to one or more of our Core Groups. We’d also love to see a piece of your work that you’re particularly pleased with (such as a website or article, a report, a picture of some artwork you’ve done, an audio clip of a beautiful song you’ve made). You’ll get a confirmation page when you submit, and an email. If for any reason you don’t get this acknowledgement, send us your attachments by email, just to be sure.

Please note that we will consider applicants who wish to work remotely, or for fewer days a week, but we have a preference for someone who can live in Machynlleth and fulfill the full role. Email if you have any other burning questions!

Deadline for applications: Thursday 31st March 2016 (now passed).

Interviews will be held on Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th April– please indicate on the form whether you can make these dates. We will let you know if we would like to interview you by Thursday 7th April.

If you want to know more about what we do, have a look around the website, or just email get in touch!

*Though contemporary dance will require us to rethink our current strategy a bit.

Developing Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals

Where does poverty come from?

Whatever your answer, it’ll shape what you think we should do about it. If you think it’s natural, for example, then perhaps all we can do about it is alleviate suffering rather than get rid of it. Perhaps we shouldn’t do anything about it at all.

Your answer will subsequently have an impact on how effective you are at addressing poverty. Will you introduce incentive schemes because you believe poor people are just not trying hard enough; or higher taxes for the rich because you believe historically there has been an unfair allocation of resources? Do you reduce or increase social benefits, like unemployment or child benefits?


In other words, the way we ‘frame’ poverty has a direct link with our political response.

It’s worrying, then, that an upcoming report from /The Rules suggests that the understanding of poverty that underpins the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs) is faulty. Worrying because the SDGs, which replace the Millenium Development Goals, represent the political response of the entire international community to global poverty. Read more

Strivers and skivers? We’re all in this together 2

The binary rhetoric that currently surrounds the welfare state reflects a deep moral narrative with a crippling social impact. ‘Strivers’ and ‘skivers’ are two sides of the same coin. That coin is shame.

One side represents the deserving, and the other side the undeserving. Rachel Reeves, the UK Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary, recently said that: “We [the Labour Party] are not the party of people on benefits.” She faced some criticism for these words, but these are messages we hear daily, from government and opposition alike.

We’re here for hard-working families. We’re here for the taxpayer.

In this narrative, employment equals worth, while unemployment casts you into the world of the untouchables.

Economic policies are created around this notion of worth. Unemployment must be a choice—you’re shirking—so let’s coax you out of it. You don’t need benefits in your first week of unemployment since you should be looking for work. We’ll put sanctions on you if you’re unemployed for too long.

Shame on you for being unemployed. Read more