PIRC http://publicinterest.org.uk Sustainability, Equality, Democracy Thu, 15 Jun 2017 12:59:42 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 130023399 General Election Framing Guide http://publicinterest.org.uk/election-framing-guide/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/election-framing-guide/#comments Thu, 01 Jun 2017 21:00:47 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=5867 Read more]]>

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 beinging 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.


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Framing The Economy http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-the-economy/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-the-economy/#respond Mon, 06 Mar 2017 16:20:12 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=5212 Read more]]>

Over the next 2 years, PIRC is partnering with the New Economics Foundation, the New Economy Organisers Network and the FrameWorks Institute to find out how people across the UK think about the economy and how civil society campaigners can use this understanding to better communicate.

In the coming months, we’ll organise interviews, surveys, focus groups and literature reviews, working alongside a network of campaigners and communicators to help apply this research to areas such as housing, energy and tax.

An economy is a collection of a human systems invented to help us harness resources to provide for human needs, inside or outside the marketplace. The way people think about these systems is deeply affected by what stories (explicitly or implicitly) of the economy are told, how often, and by whom. It’s subject rich in metaphor (economy as a pie, household budget or force of nature) and linked to our deeper beliefs about how the world works (who has power and why, how wealth is created, what’s the role of Government etc.)

We’re interested not in word smithing or message tinkering, but in helping civil society actors craft and enact a powerful new story about the economy.

Get in touch!
If you would like to find out more about this project, contact Bec Sanderson:

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Beyond “The Game is Rigged” – Finding a New Story of the Economy http://publicinterest.org.uk/beyond-game-rigged-finding-new-story-economy/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/beyond-game-rigged-finding-new-story-economy/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 15:29:57 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=5744 Read more]]> “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.

It starts with a common agenda

In the summer of 2015, just after the Conservative Party won the general election in the UK on a straightforward ticket of security, and when Labour’s reputed economic competence was at rock bottom, the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) embarked on a process of interviewing their membership about the political economy they wanted to see. The NEON network, broadly brought together under the banner of replacing neoliberalism with a political economy based on social and economic justice, houses activists from different schools of thought. There are social democrats, left-libertarians, deep green environmentalists, liberals, anarchists, socialists, the list goes on. But despite differences in approach, almost everyone could agree a certain vision of the economy—for instance, that it should be run on the principles of:

  • Collective provision of basic needs, outside the market
  • Redistributing power (not just wealth) through active liberation and economic democracy
  • Democratic and common ownership of resources,  like land and energy

Principles like these illustrate what ‘progressive’ means to us, and the work to find a common agenda in NEON was an all-important first step in the strategic communication work that has followed. NEON teamed up with the British think-tank New Economics Foundation,  research charity Public Interest Research Centre (where I work), and American framing experts the FrameWorks Institute to support civil society groups in the creation and communication of a new economic story.

We will be sharing everything we find in October, so no big spoilers here (sorry folks), but if, like me, you’re as interested in the process of framing projects as the findings, read on.

Framing the Economy: a participatory process

Our project draws on FrameWorks’ Strategic Frame Analysis Method, and the logic runs thus:  

  1. Draft the ‘movement’s message’. First, we must have some idea of the kind of economy we want to see and not, as is traditional, spend all of our time analysing what is wrong with it at the moment. This is what we got by interviewing people in the NEON network, above, and FrameWorks call it the untranslated story because it’s raw material of what we want to say, without any consideration about how we are going to say it. Our untranslated story contains the values and principles of the economy we want to see, as well as some of the more specific mechanisms of how the economy should work (for instance, how wealth is created and the role of public investment).
  2. Involve aligned spokespeople.  A crucial step in this project has been to identify the people who already communicate on the economy, and bring them into the design and running of the project. We’ve approached this by recruiting a Network of more than 30 people – activists, local councillors, journalists, press officers, and so on – to  help develop the frames, and a Steering Group to advise on a strategy to mobilise them.  We’ve looked for people that work in different areas and have a diversity of life experiences to contribute wisdom that we wouldn’t get if we just sat round the table trying to figure it all out.  The network is absolutely integral to the project, and without their participation, the impact would not stretch much further than a few shares of a PDF report.
  3. Find out *how* people think about the economy. This is the part where we listen to the people we want to talk with. Important and often, strangely, overlooked. We have done this in two ways. First, we did a short scope of existing literature (polling data, focus groups results, academic papers) to get a sense of public opinion, then we ran 40 of FrameWorks’‘cognitive interviews, across the country, with a representative sample of the British public. These interviews were carefully designed to open up conversations and allow us to see not just what people think (e.g. attitudes towards tax), but how people think (e.g. beliefs about the way the economy works, how taxes fit into that and why). Our audience has been broad, the ‘general public’, and our interest is in the ways of thinking that are culturally strong across Britain.
  4. Map the gaps. This is the stage we’re working on, as I write, where we compare our untranslated story to the results from the interviews and findings, above, with the goal of identifying what the two have in common and where they diverge.

  5. Develop re-framing strategies. Time to take stock and decide what direction to go in. To do this, we’re holding a retreat with the Network and Steering Group where we can all look back at our untranslated story in light of the findings. We want to identify a framing approach that’s true to our principles and likely to resonate with what the general public already think. This is a chance for us to think about not just the message itself but also some of the other considerations of messaging, for instance, mediums and messengers.

  6. Test new frames. The last six months of this project are packed with several cycles of testing and reflection. We’re going to do another round of interviews, this time on the street in public spaces (with a video team) to capture snapshots of how passers-by respond to the frames we’ve come up with.  We’ll follow that with a series of focus groups, then workshops with activists and eventually a series of national survey experiments. Each step will be designed, with our network, to build most usefully on what we’ve found so far.

  7. Develop new progressive projects and infrastructure.  Working with the Network, the final stage is to communicate these frames as widely as we can.  A couple of years ago, NEF and NEON set-up a spokesperson network which has trained and booked more than 400 media appearances.  We’re currently researching what aspects of progressive infrastructure to work on next, because having the right story is no use without the capacity and training to communicate it well.  With an honest assessment of what is needed – training, investment, access to knowledge, support of institutions – civil society groups can begin the work of building up infrastructure, potentially setting up new organisations and training programmes.

This is the work we are doing to build up a new economic story, with many of the people who can eventually be its storytellers.  

We think this kind of work is necessary, but not sufficient. It’s necessary, in that progressives will only influence public debate, and ultimately economic practice, if they have something to say that is compelling, coherent and plausible. But it’s not sufficient, in that no message, however beautifully crafted, has the power on its own to turn the tide of the political economy.

‘The system is rigged’ may be the message of the moment on all sides of the political spectrum, but progressives will fail if their communication strategy is centered on a string of populist frames.

The work that needs doing, in this project and beyond, is the work of aligning people behind a good story of the economy, and developing the long term capacity of progressives to get their story heard.


Framing the Economy is a project hosted by Public Interest Research CentreNew Economics FoundationNew Economy Organisers Network (NEON) and FrameWorks Institute.  To find out more contact Bec Sanderson:

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Can you help reframe the economy? http://publicinterest.org.uk/can-help-us-re-frame-economy-call-literature/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/can-help-us-re-frame-economy-call-literature/#respond Tue, 24 May 2016 10:33:48 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=5302 Read more]]>

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: http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-economy-literature/

And if you want to chat about this project,

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Come and work with us! http://publicinterest.org.uk/work-with-us/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/work-with-us/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2016 16:23:35 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4951 Read more]]> 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.

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Framing LGBTQI Equality http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-lgbti-equality/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-lgbti-equality/#respond Wed, 02 Mar 2016 14:35:12 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4943 Read more]]>  


Why did a group of people in Russia want to ban LGBTI groups from using the rainbow flag (stolen from nature and the children, apparently), and how have movements like La Manif Pour Tous in France, protesting that sex education must ‘leave my gender stereotypes alone’ (not a joke), gained any serious support?

We’re working with ILGA-Europe on a project aiming to better understand the narratives around LGBTI equality across Europe, and how we can tell new stories that shift the way we think about family, gender binaries, and sex. We know that the way anything (such as the myriad issues involved in LGBTI equality) is framed shapes the way a person will respond to it: whether they respond positively or negatively, and what type of solution they believe is appropriate.

This is an exploratory project and we’re interested to understand what cultural and other contextual differences there are across the region.

Our research currently falls into three main areas of questioning:

  • How do people in Europe currently think about LGBTI equality? Here, we’re particularly interested in attitudes and beliefs about LGBTI people and related issues that will help us understand the models that people use to reason about these issues.
  • How is LGBTI equality currently framed in Europe? How do advocates, opponents, and the public currently talk about LGBTI equality? What can this tell us about how people think about these issues? Which issues are most contentious?
  • What do we currently know about the effectiveness of communicating LGBTI equality? What has and hasn’t worked in advocating for (or opposing) LGBTI people? Has research been done prior to or following particular campaigns or advocacy to measure their effectiveness?

Do you know the answers to any of these questions?

Get in touch! The project is being coordinated by Valeria of ILGA-Europe &  Elena of PIRC and we’d love to hear from you.

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Framing Nature http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-nature/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-nature/#respond Wed, 02 Mar 2016 14:13:18 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4941 Read more]]>

PIRC’s follow-up project to Common Cause for Nature

We all share values that are associated with justice, compassion and environmental concern, and we also all share values associated with image, competition and self-interest. These two sets of values are psychologically in conflict. This means that reading about the beauty of nature – or the experience of being in a park – can engage environmental values and at the same time suppress self-interested or materialistic values. It also means that being encouraged to think about profit and image will suppress environmental concern.

How can the conservation sector – and all nature lovers – seek to encourage our better selves and those of the wider public? Framing Nature (and Common Cause for Nature before it) seeks to explore this question and find practical, unifying techniques for doing so. We do this in the firm knowledge that we can create a greener, fairer, more wildlife rich world if we work together.

The project is in its second phase.

Phase 2: Framing Nature

Framing Nature builds and expands on the findings of Common Cause for Nature and is focused on practical advice and implementation. The project aims to bring the sector together through:

  • Providing tools and resources to enable conservation practitioners to understand and apply framing and values in relation to their work
  • Providing real-time support and advice to partners
  • Piloting new approaches to engaging the values associated with our better selves through engagement with conservation.

Get in touch

If you’re interested in a workshop or would like to find out more about Framing Nature contact Ralph: .

Phase 1: Common Cause for Nature

Thirteen UK conservation organisations, including WWF and RSPB, came together in 2012 to commission this project. Tom Crompton of WWF-UK, Ruth Smyth of RSPB and Catrina Lennox of MSC were key to initiating the project which was subsequently led by PIRC. Original linguistic analysis was carried out by academics at Lancaster and Essex Universities of six months of external NGO communications. Through this analysis, and supplemented with input from interviews, workshops and surveys, Common Cause for Nature explores the values the sector promotes in its communications, campaigns and activities.

By learning from what works, and reforming what doesn’t, the sector can ensure its work cultivates the values that inspire lasting action.

The research built on the work of Common Cause. Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values, was written by Tom Crompton and published in 2010 by COIN, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and WWF-UK and has since led to extensive debate within the third sector.


Find the Common Cause for Nature reports at the Common Cause website:

Download the Practitioner’s Guide | Buy a copy.
Download the Full Report

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Open Framing http://publicinterest.org.uk/open-framing/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/open-framing/#respond Wed, 02 Mar 2016 13:58:39 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4936 Read more]]> Civil society creating powerful, shared stories

“Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Author

What we’ll do

Through our work and many conversations with people across civil society, we’ve seen a need for a better understanding of strategic communications: on how to build stronger movements with the capacity to tell stories that create a better society for all. And we also know there is a lot of knowledge and creativity within civil society.

We aim to harness this potential through providing accessible tools for understanding story, such as:

  • Exciting workshops where we explore narratives and create new ones;
  • Cool, open-source online tools and printed resources;
  • Connecting with multiple movements and sharing learning;
  • Researching the best ways to frame stuff.

Why we’re doing it

“It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”
Ben Okri, Author

In the past year, we’ve definitely witnessed the power of stories. The mainstream media cast the already marginalised as undeserving: disempowering people and deepening divisions within communities. But we’ve also seen stories that transform society for the better. During Ireland’s equal marriage referendum, the ‘Yes’ campaign told a powerful story of the Irish people as generous, inclusive and fair. Its authenticity and the engaging methods used to tell it resonated, bringing about an historic ‘yes’ to equality.

We believe that social change requires deep shifts in thinking. We must still reform laws and technology – but neither is sufficient in solving entrenched social problems. Rather, we need to change public and political discourse: the stories we tell ourselves. We can easily get trapped in a story that restricts the possibility for change. A new story – a new way of thinking – can help new worlds come into being.

To address poverty, inequality, exclusion, conflict, and climate change, we need new stories. These must connect rather than divide, explain rather than obscure, and offer hope rather than fear. Yet civil society is often surprisingly ill-equipped to navigate this terrain. Many of the largest and best-resourced organisations have become overly-technical and risk-averse, struggling to tell authentic stories. Those with the best stories often don’t have the resources to develop or share them. Strategic communication – ‘framing’ – has been an expert-led field, requiring large consultancy fees and research budgets, inaccessible to most. Further, stories are at their most powerful when they’re shared and told widely: an organisation can’t shift stories on their own. Civil society must connect and support each other.

Through the Open Framing Project we want to better equip civil society to tell world-changing stories. We’ll forge partnerships and networks across organisations, movements and borders, and create open, collaborative and accessible tools and resources.

“Narratives and melodramas are not mere words and images; they can enter our brains and provide models that we not merely live by, but that define who we are. Language is an instrument of creativity and power, a means of connecting with people or alienating them, and a force for social cohesion or separation.”
George Lakoff, Cognitive Linguist & Author

And we’d love it if you wanted to be involved.

We’re interested to hear from you if you have ideas, want to hear more, or want to work with us. We’ve loved working with the European LGBTI movement, international development organisations, people from the sexual and reproductive health and rights sector, economic justice campaigners, environmentalists and many more in developing this work so far, and we’re keen to take it further …

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Developing Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals http://publicinterest.org.uk/developing-discourse-or-stunted-growth-taking-the-sustainable-out-of-the-sustainable-development-goals/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/developing-discourse-or-stunted-growth-taking-the-sustainable-out-of-the-sustainable-development-goals/#respond Thu, 11 Jun 2015 10:28:03 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4453 Read more]]> 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.

How do the SDGs frame poverty?

Poverty in the SDG documents is consistently framed as a disease. The authors of /The Rules’ report suggest that given that eradication is unlikely with disease, the best we can hope for is to manage poverty rather than rid ourselves of it altogether. This would be in direct contradiction to the Goals themselves.

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The metaphor also suggests that poverty is naturally occurring and something to be expected. The question of where poverty comes from is thus never addressed, and the result is clear: we lose any reference to the structural changes that might make a genuine impact on poverty.

How do we solve poverty?

The architects of the SDGs are critical of the growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a tool for eradicating poverty, but then fail to suggest an alternative, revert quickly back to using GDP as a measure of progress, and are constrained by a very particular model of how the world economy should run. How development is connected to the environment is confused at best. Instead of moving beyond the current, narrow model of economy and progress, as the authors of /The Rules’ report suggest, ‘it passes this challenge to future generations’.

This is inescapably ironic.

Perhaps most worrying, there’s a glaring omission of any reference to the role of corporations. But we know how much power and influence corporate interests wield; and we know that they have been involved in shaping the SDGs. That they aren’t included as a relevant political actor raises concerns that we might not like how corporations are going to be involved.

How do we really solve poverty?

If we don’t tell the real story of poverty, we’re stuck at the first hurdle. So we first need to tell a clear story of how poverty was created: through our colonial and imperial histories, and through stories of domination, control and the linear nature of ‘progress’.

We need to talk about how poverty is maintained through unjust trade laws, tax rules and labour practices. And we must acknowledge the interconnection between the wellbeing of human and non-human nature.

The solutions fall out of this understanding. We must strengthen the bonds between people and the natural world: no targets we make can be truly sustainable without doing so. We must rethink the meaning of work and purpose so that we can adequately sustain the full spectrum of human needs: not just financially but in having time to enjoy, garden, and spend time with loved ones. Lastly, we must fix the rules of the game so they’re fairer, such as by implementing progressive taxes that begin to redistribute power and resources.

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Strivers and skivers? We’re all in this together http://publicinterest.org.uk/strivers-and-skivers-were-all-in-this-together/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/strivers-and-skivers-were-all-in-this-together/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 09:11:34 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4419 Read more]]> 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.

You don’t deserve the same basic things as other people—the strivers—like a bedroom if you have a disability, or enough money to live reasonably well. You’re a scrounger; you’re scrounging. Unemployment is immoral, and you must be punished for it.

The moral choice, clearly, is to be employed. But don’t go resting on your laurels—having a job isn’t enough. You have to be a striver: you must strive.You can’t just work: you must be hard-working. Your worth is based purely on your continued commitment to the rat race.

If there’s a destination, it almost doesn’t matter. Whether or not your job is making any kind of contribution to the functioning of society is irrelevant. You’ve just got to aspire to be more than you are. Your worth is dependent on it.

Behind these aspirations—the need to prove ourselves, to achieve greater social status and material wealth—are a highly destructive set of values which underpin rampant consumerism and discriminatory attitudes. They lie behind the arrogance that puts profit before planet. They fuel anxiety, stress and depression. And, as the writer David Graeber asks: “How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?”

Both strivers and skivers are cultural representations of the belief that we aren’t enough. This belief is the foundation of shame. The welfare state is really a state of shame. And the not enough mentality is bolstered by a host of other fears that we’re reminded of daily: not enough jobs, money, not enough international cooperation or environmental action to name but a few. The mainstream media and a noisy chorus of commercial advertising only serve to fuel this culture of fear and shame.

It’s difficult to avoid absorbing this mentality. It runs deep in our narratives and spills over into our policies, seeping finally into our souls. And it’s one of the most destructive emotions, with a vast ripple effect.

Shame stifles creativity and innovation, and erodes relationships with friends, families and communities. Shame creates vicious cycles. Researcher Brené Brown describes one aspect of these cycles in two core thoughts: what’s wrong with me? And who’s to blame? We quickly move to pass our shame onto other people: we criticise, we’re cynical, and we’re violent in our words and actions. If I’m not worthy, then you definitely aren’t. The oppressed become the oppressors.

In other words, and somewhat ironically, believing that we’re not enough actually makes us worse.

So how can we be better?  Brown says that the opposite of shame is empathy, and calls the compassionate and courageous acceptance of yourself and others ‘wholeheartedness.’

Placing wholeheartedness at the center could build much more virtuous cycles between personal change and political action. But what might wholehearted attempts to change the economy of shame look like in practice?

One radical shift would be to decouple human worth from our economic role or employment status. We could just call ourselves people, and let that be enough. “We are the party for everyone who lives here,” we could say.

We could give people the dignity of a citizen’s income rather than subjecting them to a punishing benefits system—an income given to every person, universally and unconditionally. No scrounging: we’re all in this together. No need to strive. We’d be freed from the need to serve capital. We could view all of our activities—childcare childcare, creative practice, nurturing our relationships with nature—as more valuable.

Mincome” for example, a pilot citizen’s income scheme carried out in Canada in the 1970s, found that women took more time on maternity leave and young people were likely to stay in education for longer.  But aside from these benefits, and busting the shame-fuelled myths of detractors, very few people stopped working as a result of receiving this unconditional income.

Another pilot scheme in the United States did show a small reduction in working hours, but alongside a significant increase in health, wellbeing and educational attainment. Which would you prefer to strive for?

The cultural shift afforded by such schemes could be huge: if people are told that they are enough as they already are, they will be better. When we feelworthy we are more creative and supportive of others—we care and we love and we look after one another.

To support a more compassionate economy, we can also introduce empathy into other institutions like schools, something that’s already been tried in thousands of classrooms across the world by an organization called Roots of Empathy. A baby is brought into the classroom for a number of sessions, and children are encouraged to think about what the baby is feeling. The learning that takes place is described as “caught rather than taught” by the programme’s founder, Mary Gordon.

If you only care about the economic contribution of your citizens, says Gordon, then teaching technical subjects like maths and science would be enough. But, she says, “If you look at the developmental health and wealth of a nation, it’s undeniably dependent on the emotional health of its citizenry.” Empathy lies at the heart of our emotional health.

Children who go through the programme are often happier, more connected, less angry and anxious, and more aware of each others’ feelings. Imagine the domino effect of those improvements on the rest of the society.

Building society around understanding and compassion? Facing shame head on, with self-acceptance and compassion for others? Now that could be revolutionary.

This was originally posted on Open Democracy’s Transformation.

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