Open Framing

Over the past five years, we have worked for a more connected, aligned and effective civil society through Common Cause, Campaign Lab and a number of other initiatives. We’ve published reports, created toolkits and run hundreds of workshops and training sessions for charities, think tanks, trade unions, artists and grassroots activists. And we’re eternally grateful for all the collaborations, support, and inspirations we’ve had on this journey!

Now, we’re developing a new branch of work and we’re hoping to be able to draw on, build on, and further strengthen these collaborations to create something great …

The Open Framing Project* seeks to give civil society powerful, participatory tools to change cultural stories and achieve lasting, transformational social change.

*Working title!

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). 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 …

Latest Open Framing posts:


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?

poorerandpoor

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

Money talks: the impact of economic framing on how we act and feel

We’re ‘consumers’ or ‘taxpayers’ and we care about things like ‘pay-off’, ‘return on investment’ and ‘growth’: that’s the bottom line. Right?

Well, I’d put my money on it.

But, actually, when did that happen? When did we start to pepper our meetings, our work, and even dinner conversations with such words and phrases? Sometimes, our use of economic framing has an obvious trigger; take ‘credit crunch’. In one of the recent economic crises, journalists repeatedly used it (with a straight face), and then before you knew it, the 2008 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary carried a new definition of the word ‘crunch’, as meaning “a severe shortage of money or credit”. It was always pretty difficult to pass that particular term casually into everyday conversation, but now we officially associate crunch with economic recession, as well as biscuits.

Economic frames easily creep into everyday language via news media, or advertising, or political rhetoric, but we have little awareness of the effect that might have on the way that we think and behave. Psychological research is finally shedding light on this.

bride and groom Read more