Framing the Economy

What is the story of the economy in Britain? Who gets to shape public opinion about what it’s for, how it’s broken and why?  We want to help civil society communicate and organise more effectively, to help bring about the changes needed to move to a sustainable, equitable and democratic economy.

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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:

Latest Framing the Economy posts:


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?

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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,