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Elena Blackmore

Org Work

Why?

In our experience, the work of social change is often misaligned with its own values and vision. We definitely felt as though this was the case for our own organisation.

We’re committed—personally and organisationally—to helping to build a more equitable, liberatory, sustainable and connected world. Our work is all about the ways our culture shapes us: how the stories we hear and tell affect how we understand ourselves and the world around us; how the values promoted by our society can make us more fulfilled or more depressed, more or less connected with the natural world. And yet neither our vision nor our theory of change have always been reflected in our own working practice.

Looking around, we can see that this is a common problem. We become divided: our moral and emotional selves left at the door when we go to work. The harmful, oppressive and unsustainable systems that we are seeking to dismantle in the wider world are reproduced in our own organisations. There’s a dissonance between what we practise and what we preach. And ultimately, this is damaging both to ourselves and to the work we’re trying to do.

What do we mean by this?

We reward values that aren’t aligned with our causes

The Common Cause work has powerfully shown how the values that we engage affect how we behave towards each other, how we feel, and how we approach problems. More individualistic, money-oriented values tend us towards caring about each other less, behaving in more domineering and prejudiced ways, and looking for short-term results. More compassionate, human-centred values encourage our more caring sides, in which we are more likely to look after each others’ wellbeing, behave with concern for the environment, and approach problems holistically and with an eye to the longer-term.

While our organisations are filled with passionate and caring people, the values that are rewarded (i.e. those that are given validity or legitimised) often tend us towards individualism, and tangible and quantified results over wellbeing.

We demand too much of ourselves

We know that our neoliberal economic system requires that we overserve (listen to Desiree Adaway talking about this about ten minutes into this podcast). Social justice movements are not immune to this: in fact, a ‘culture of martyrdom’ and the precarity of the funding environment may exacerbate this, and lead to an unsustainable culture of burnout.

A summary of the impacts of burnout caused by emotional labour, which may sound familiar:

“Burnout is related to serious negative consequences such as deterioration in the quality of service, job turnover, absenteeism and low morale…[It] seems to be correlated with various self report indices of personal distress, including physical exhaustion, insomnia, increased use of alcohol and drugs and marital and family problems”.

Doesn’t sound like the a manual for how to create a happy and productive workforce or a sustainable movement, does it?

We reproduce oppressive structures in our organisations

The diversity of the charity sector is a (questionable) starting point, but more importantly, we need to talk about the power structures in our organisations. We know that oppression is structural, and at an individual level humans are biased, and therefore our experiences of life are different. We also know that if we can acknowledge that there is an imbalance of emotional labour in our personal lives, we can probably extend that into our working lives.

We can change the way we organise

Having spent some time interrogating and redesigning our internal structures here at PIRC, we know that this can feel difficult.

But we know that our movements are filled with passionate, caring, thoughtful people. The wealth of knowledge in our various experiences is vast.

So as we continue to develop these systems internally, we’d love to build a community of practice around the work of organisational cultures. We’d like to share, and learn from others, and so this has also become a core part of our strategy.

Some of our goals:

  • Build a community of practice. We’d like to build partnerships with others who are already working to organise better, and to support each other in continuing to do this work.
  • Review the current organisational challenges of the movement. We’ve worked with a really large range of organisations and groups, but a lot of what we know is anecdotal. We’d like to get a clearer picture of what we’re all up against!
  • Create and share resources and tools for healthy and effective organisations. Sharing the learning and tools we develop through carrying out this work.

If you’d like to talk to us about any of this, get in touch!

Some more resources & bits of inspiration:

Richard Hawkins

Framing Nature Toolkit

About the toolkit

It builds on the work of Common Cause for Nature concentrating on the practical application of communication tools in conservation.

The content was created during the framing nature project and has come from working closely on projects with the Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Fresh Water Habitats Trust and ZSL.

Download

The toolkit is be available for download here.

Order

Framing Nature Toolkit: Order for £8.

 

Richard Hawkins

Charity Governance Awards We won an award! 2020 Board Diversity and Inclusion Award

PIRC is delighted to have won the Board Diversity and Inclusion 2020 Charity Governance Award.

We were honoured to have been considered alongside two such amazing organisations as Happy Baby Community and Irise International.

PIRC works alongside civil society organisations for social justice. We have recognised for some years that in order to live our values, we must also look squarely at our own working practices, and particularly at power, diversity and liberation. Since 2015, we have built a non-hierarchical management structure to start to address power imbalances in the organisation. We have prioritised anti-oppression, not just in the recruitment, but also the subsequent training and induction, of new staff and Trustees. This means both seeking diverse voices and stretching the organisational understanding of accessibility beyond inclusion and into liberation and justice. Diversity and inclusion are not just check-boxes, and we recognise that to truly embed the value of equality is the work of a lifetime. Read more

Dora Meade & Bec Sanderson

Pandemic Response: Part 6 Resources Regularly updated

Action is the antidote to despair. Joan Baez

Resources for solidarity, support & mental health:

Resources for communicating about COVID-19:

For understanding the psychology of pandemics:

Wider opinion pieces:

Elena Blackmore

Pandemic Response: Part 5 Virus as beast or crime 2 Why episodic and thematic framing matters

There’s a 2011 study in which researchers tested the effects of framing crime using the metaphors of either crime-as-virus or crime-as-beast. Participants in the study read one version of the story below:

“Crime is a {wild beast preying on/virus infecting} the city of Addison. The crime rate in the once peaceful city has steadily increased over the past three years. In fact, these days it seems that crime is {lurking in/plaguing} every neighborhood. In 2004, 46,177 crimes were reported compared to more than 55,000 reported in 2007. The rise in violent crime is particularly alarming. In 2004, there were 330 murders in the city, in 2007, there were over 500.”

It reflects the distinction between episodic and thematic framing: encouraging us to either see crime as a single event (beast) or as a wider issue (virus)1.

It is now 2020, and the very model of a thematic frame—the virus—is itself an episodic frame. 

Why does it matter?

Read more

Bec Sanderson & Dora Meade

Pandemic Response: Part 4 Pandemic Metaphors 21 Tracking the narrative

Analyses of language reveal the extraordinary fact that we use around one metaphor for every ten seconds of speech or written work. If that sounds like too much, it’s because you’re so used to thinking metaphorically – to speaking of ideas that are ‘conceived’ or rain that is ‘driving’ or rage that is ‘burning’ or people who are ‘dicks’. Our models are not only haunted by ourselves but by properties of other things.—Will Storr, The Science of Storytelling

This is an evolving resource and we are keen to hear from you, if you have spotted other metaphors, or can add to this analysis get in touch!

Metaphors help us make sense of complex or sensitive information. By offering us a structure for how to think, they point us towards what the problem is, and therefore what the solution should be. Often they slip in unseen. We can use them, repeat them and extend them without even realising it.

If you are communicating about the current pandemic and you are trying to build the case for a responsible, caring and proportional response, then your use of metaphor can either help or hinder.

In the past week, on either side of the UK Government announcing a ‘lockdown’, we’ve been paying close attention to the metaphors being used to talk about COVID-19. We read through a selection of the most read articles in the most read online news media outlets—the BBC, Sky News, the Guardian and the Daily Mail—and have come across the imagery of apocalypse, acceleration, burden, tsunami, invasion, fortification and bottlenecks.

There are many metaphors flying around, but two of the most widely used at the moment are war and crime. Below we examine the implication of these prominent metaphors—alongside some other metaphors to watch (some helpful, some not) over the next few weeks.

Read more

Bec Sanderson & Dora Meade

Pandemic Response: Part 3 Pandemic Beliefs 1 Understanding the narrative

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Milton Friedman

So what are the ideas that are lying around?

You may not share Milton Friedman’s opinion of the ideas we need lying around. But our response to COVID-19 will depend on what they are. At the moment, narratives about COVID-19 are competing for some of our most deeply held beliefs about the way the world works. If we are communicating about COVID-19 we need to be careful about which of these we are appealing to, and which we are avoiding.

Our piece The Narratives We Need goes more deeply into some of these core beliefs, and what they mean for our communications.

Here we outline some of the specific helpful and unhelpful beliefs about COVID-19. This is about framing: the core concepts to leave in, or out. It is not a list of messaging dos and don’ts. But you can use it to help develop a messaging strategy, or as a checklist to evaluate your ideas against. Read more

Dora Meade

Pandemic Response: Part 2 Messages of Hope 1 From across civil society

When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people [in some ways at least], we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us. bell hooks

We have in the past week been grateful to receive several beautiful messages of hope from our colleagues and friends around the world—affirming both the need for immediate mutual aid and for challenging unhelpful narratives. 

We pass on their wise words below… Read more

Dora Meade & Bec Sanderson

Pandemic Response: Part 1 Unimaginable times 1 An evolving resource

Just a few weeks ago, this moment was unimaginable. We would not have believed the headlines, or been able to picture how the high street looks today. COVID-19 has abruptly pressed pause on anything that resembles ‘normal’ day-to-day life.

This is a moment of anxiety. We are fearful for our health and the health of those around us. We are all trying to make sense of what is happening and calculate the true impact of this crisis. This virus will affect us all, but we know it will not be felt equally. It will leave some people more exposed and vulnerable than others, laying bare the reality of existing inequality.

But this is also a moment of connection. 

The shared experience and interconnectedness of being human has been brought sharply into focus. Our health is inextricably linked to the health of our neighbours. Our resilience is community resilience. In the face of this crisis to cooperate and collaborate is not a choice, it is the only way to respond. In our illness, anxiety, solidarity, concern for loved ones, boredom and need for light relief we share in this surreal and scary collective moment. Read more

Bec Sanderson

Election Guide Talking climate justice this election 1 Four things to consider

Climate change is featuring in this election like it has never featured in any British election before. Barely mentioned in previous election cycles, this year we have seen it front and centre of manifesto pledges, and Channel 4 hosting a climate debate for the first time. Awareness and concern about climate change is now at an all time high, and we are at a critical fork in the road: We vote for a government that will act on climate change, or we don’t and face the consequences.

For many campaigners, this is also a critical moment to make sure we are talking about climate change in the right way. Specifically, it’s about putting global justice into our frames, and not allowing the debate to focus so narrowly on emissions targets. It’s about framing climate change with reference to historical injustices, such as colonialism, acknowledging that those who are most affected around the world are the least responsible, and advocating solutions that redistribute power and centre the communities on the frontline.

But it’s not necessarily straightforward to talk about climate change in this way.  Read more

Dora Meade

Election Guide Three ways to make difficult election conversations easier Make the last week count!

Download the PDF version.

Fear, anger and confusion are the overriding emotions people feel about the upcoming election. According to a recent survey, only 5% of us are excited and just 1% feel pride. We often hear that we are divided as a country—but we are also worried.

In the run up to December 12th, many of us will be having difficult conversations. Whether it is on the doorstep, over a cuppa or during a phone call with our grandma, we will be trying to understand what is driving people’s decision in this election in the hope that we will be able to change people’s minds.

The way we frame any issue reinforces some ways of thinking, and feeling, over others. Last year, we pulled together years of research to identify the key framing challenges we are up against, and how to overcome them. In the run up to this election, we have selected three of these recommendations to give you a framing informed way of approaching conversations ahead of the election. Read more

Guest

Don’t parrot… 1 A short guide to avoiding common communication pitfalls

A guest blog by Ralph Underhill, PIRC Associate and Director of Framing Matters. Framing Matters and Health Poverty Action have just published ‘A Practical Guide for Communicating Global Justice and Solidarity’. Here he introduces common communication traps.

President Nixon famously said, “I am not a crook”.

With those 5 words, he managed to reinforce the idea, in the minds of millions of Americans, that he was, in fact, a crook. What he should have said is “I am an honest man”. When he used the word ‘crook’, he was parroting the language of his opponents, and simply reinforcing that negative association in people’s minds.

This is the first communications trap, which I call the… Read more

Guest

Aid is just a sticking plaster… Why we need a new way to talk about international issues

A guest blog by Ralph Underhill, PIRC Associate and Director of Framing Matters. Framing Matters and Health Poverty Action have just published ‘A Practical Guide for Communicating Global Justice and Solidarity’.

Giving to charity is supposed to be a good thing. That is pretty uncontroversial, most people accept that. But what about the word itself? What associations does it bring to mind? And most importantly, are these associations actually helpful to your cause? Read more