Framing Equality

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 think it’s got a lot to do with framing.

Framing Equality Toolkit!

Download our new toolkit for Framing Equality here!

It represents the learning we’ve done over the past two years, working with ILGA-Europe, on a project aiming to better understand how to interact with the narratives around LGBTI equality across Europe. Why? Because we’ve repeatedly been confronted with the reality that change is not a linear process; neither does it come with a lifetime guarantee. Just as slowly as narratives of acceptance and togetherness are normalised; narratives of division and hatred spring up suddenly. So we’ve been interested in how you create change that lasts. How not to just win the single campaign, but the long-term cultural shifts. The types of shifts that require changes in the way we think about issues: changes that can only occur when we change the narrative.

What have we learnt?

We’ve boiled it down into three (deceptively) simple steps:

1. Define task

What are you framing for?

It may sound ridiculous, but it’s unbelievably easy to lose sight of your vision. We can get so focused on the tasks at hand that we forget why we’re doing it. Reconnect with it! And then connect that vision with how your audience currently understands your issue in order to define your framing task.

What the hell does this mean?

For Intersex Awareness Day, 2016, IGLYO, OII and interACT produced a video called We Are Here, showcasing five young intersex people talking about their own experiences. It was strongly connected to their vision: an end to pathologisation, discrimination, secrecy and isolation; and an informed, empowered, connected intersex community. The video is centred on the voices of young intersex people, talking informatively (‘the issues are…’) and positively (‘you are perfect’), expressing clear goals in advance of this vision of empowering its audience—particularly other intersex people—both through clear information and through creating this sense of community. IGLYO also use a participatory process to shape their campaigns: several days of intensive work with young people in which participants reflect on their own lived realities and find ways to share their story that not only benefits them, but can help others or progress a cause.

2. Create frame

How do you inspire and motivate your audience?

It’s easy to think of other people as really other. But most people are driven by really similar motivations: wanting a nicer society and a better life for themselves and those around them. We need to find ways of finding common ground & speaking to people’s best selves. Make it real, and talk about how change is possible.

What does this actually look like?

Campaigners in the Yes Equality campaign in Ireland built common ground with their audience by talking about an Irish society that many could relate to: with strong families, full of generosity, and with a concern for fairness and equality. They had spokespeople from across Irish society: from grandmothers to children. The acceptance of equal marriage was painted as part of the collective Irish future, representing their generosity and fairness. It was a positive campaign, built around real stories and voices.

3. Test & refine

How do you know your frames work?

Your newly crafted frame is just a beautiful idea until you see how it works in the real world, with people outside of your closest circle. Seeing how people actually respond to what you’re saying is an irreplaceable part of framing development, whether it’s in a focus group or big survey run by a research agency, in the pub, or at a place of worship.

We’ve got a whole separate guide on testing (coming soon) if you want to read up on methodologies; including how to do it at low cost.


We think that any testing is better than no testing. Obviously, the more time and other resource you can put into it, the more certain you can be of your results. But it’s good practice to test, and then once it’s out in the world for real, reflecting on how it went. This helps you to keep learning and iterating.

We worked with Legebitra (Slovenia) on developing and testing some message frames late last year. They ran focus groups and the staff all watched them with popcorn. They were fascinating, and infinitely helpful. Their refined campaign has just launched: see the video below.

Download the toolkit now

This toolkit is the result of two years of conversations, workshops, research, and thinking with ILGA-Europe and its members, and inspired by activists and campaigners across the globe. Read more about our methodology in the toolkit.

Latest Framing Equality posts:

New Publication Testing Comms Guide

Download our new guide!

Testing tells you whether your choice of framing (the emphasis you put on particular concepts) is likely to affect the change you were hoping for.

While working on the Framing Equality Toolkit with ILGA-Europe and LGBTI campaigners from across Europe over the past few years, we found that doing any kind of comms testing was really rare.

Campaign messages are often developed under huge pressure, in a small team, and sent straight out into the world. These messages are based on assumptions rather than evidence of how an audience will react and they are therefore likely to be hit-or-miss.

When messages miss, they can leave a lasting negative impression on how people think about your issue. This can set you back in time and resources, and make it harder to realise your vision.

And when you do test, it can be a useful learning experience for both the short- and longer-term about how people understand your issue and what kind of framing works.

Our aim, then, is to make testing common practice on any budget.

The guide focuses on three methodologies: surveys, focus groups and interviews, and follows the steps illustrated in the example above.

  1. Know what you are looking for: form the right research questions and hypotheses before you begin.
  2. Choose your methodology: decide whether focus groups, interviews or surveys are the best match for your research question.
  3. Prepare your messages to test: follow some basic principles to get your messages ready to test and compare.
  4. Find the right sample: find out about different types of samples and how you can recruit them.
  5. Look for what works: know how to make sense of your results.

You don’t need any expertise to understand this guide.

We hope that this guide will help you work with researchers or agencies to test your messages; or even to have a go at trialling some low-cost methodologies yourself.

Using testing to improve campaigns: an example

Using the process in this guide, we worked closely with an LGBTI organisation in Slovenia called Legebitra. Together we organised some low cost focus groups to test their messages about LGBTI discrimination, and we used the results to develop the final campaign. Testing helped Legebitra to find effective and humorous ways of appealing to shared identities and emphasising the common ground between LGBTI people and non-LGBTI people.

This campaign is already proving successful in Slovenia, with the film getting 50,000 views in the first few days of its release.

Download the guide now

If you want to talk about testing, please get in touch!


New Publication A new framing toolkit for equality activists across Europe

LGBTI Flag and Symbol

Download our new toolkit for Framing Equality here! 

Interested in attending or hosting a workshop in the UK in the new year? Get in touch!

We’re in Poland in the unpredictable summer of 2013. Progressive movements are collectively rolling their eyes at an attack on gender equality from the fringes of the religious right. It looks ridiculous: an attempt to discredit what they call ‘gender ideology’. The gender equality ‘agenda’ is denounced as a threat to social order; sexuality education, they say, is a tool used by paedophiles. Members of the progressive movement—including feminist and LGBTI groups and academics—are writing sneering responses in the media: teaching gender equality in schools is about improving the prospects of young girls; and no, masturbation lessons are not on the agenda. Read more

Pride & Prejudice Six framing lessons from London Pride

This month, people marched across London in the culmination of Pride. But in the lead up to the festivities, the organisers faced some pretty fierce criticism for this year’s Love Happens Here campaign. The PR company behind the campaign apologised after receiving complaints about the centring of straight people’s voices, the use of homophobic slurs and stereotypes, and the exclusion of trans* stories.

Sounds kind of like the opposite of Pride, right?

There are some juicy lessons in this experience for a framing geek like me. And they chime pretty well with a lot of the lessons we’ve learnt over the past couple of years in our Framing Equality project (read more here). Read more