national reframing initiative

Background & Intro


Expert Word Cloud Public Word Cloud

The Expert View of Human Services

The Public View of Human Services

The image above tells the story of human services from the perspective of professionals in the sector (left) and the public (right), as told to FrameWorks researchers in a series of interviews. 


To create a thriving society, we believe that everyone should be able to reach their full potential. Human services provides a complex and vibrant set of approaches that ultimately benefit all of us, promoting well-being at every stage of life.

Yet the human services sector is experiencing deep funding cuts and flat charitable giving that leaves providers ill-equipped to address the complex issues facing their communities. The value and rich potential of human services is simply not resonating with the public. 

With the generous support of the Kresge Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Assembly launched the National Reframing Human Services Initiative to build public understanding of human services in order to encourage more vibrant civic participation and deeper support for effective programs. We engaged the FrameWorks Institute (FrameWorks), renowned for their rigorous, evidence-based approach to communications, to take our field through their Strategic Frame Analysis® process. In doing so, FrameWorks uncovered the deeply held assumptions that people rely on to think about human services, and identified an effective narrative that the sector can use to elicit deeper engagement from the public.

About Reframing

According to Strategic Frame Analysis, an effective story on a social problem “widens the lens” beyond individuals. Instead of seeking to merely “put a face on the issue,” a reframing narrative “puts a frame on an issue.” It establishes why an issue matters to society by invoking a widely-held Value that connects people to the issue in a productive way. It uses explanatory techniques such as metaphors and examples to fill in public thinking on an issue, making expert assumptions accessible to the ordinary person.

Phase 1 (2012 - 2014) – Understanding the Current Human Services Story

Our first step in the reframing process was to gain a better understanding of how the public currently views human services. FrameWorks conducted studies to uncover the deeply embedded cultural models – the understandings, assumptions, and patterns of reasoning – that the American public brings to thinking about human services issues. Through interviews with leaders in human services and with members of the public, researchers identified and distilled key differences between how the field and how the public understand human services.

The resulting report, Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Human Services, offers incredible insights into the differences between public and expert thinking on human services.

Mapping the Gaps

Phase 2 (2015) – Identifying a New Narrative for Human Services

The Assembly next worked with FrameWorks to identify a new narrative for human services that captured and conveyed the rich and complex work of the sector. Between February and July 2015, FrameWorks developed a set of potential reframing strategies and systematically tested them. Researchers conducted qualitative and quantitative experiments with close to 5,000 Americans across the country to validate a new frame for human services.

Through this rigorous process, FrameWorks identified an overarching story that significantly improved the public’s understanding of what human services are and why they are important.

We call this evidence-based frame the Building Well-Being Narrative. Find out more here.

Phase 3 (2015 - Present) – Implementing the Building Well-Being Narrative

The Assembly is leading efforts to facilitate the human services field’s implementation of the Building Well-Being Narrative. We have a number of resources available to guide our members and colleagues through the reframing process.

The Building a New Narrative on Human Services Toolkit: This free resource includes talking points, tips for professionals looking to increase their comfort level with communicating within the new frame, FAQs, and background information on the research informing the reframing recommendations.

Publications & Presentations: Check out our library of Reframing Human Services resources, including the research underpinning the initiative, past webinars and presentations, and media coverage.

Get Involved: Sign up to receive the latest news on the Reframing Human Services Initiative, or to request a training or technical assistance.

 Get Involved


Contact Us:
For information on how your organization can join the Reframing Mobilization, contact Bridget Gavaghan.

This initiative is generously funded by The Kresge Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation.