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 …