National Human Services Assembly

Background

Learn About the History and Focus of Reframing

Overview

To create a thriving society, everyone should be able to reach their full potential. Human services offer a complex and vibrant set of approaches that ultimately benefit all of us, promoting well-being at every stage of life. Yet the human service sector is experiencing deep funding cuts and flat charitable giving that leaves providers ill-equipped to address the complex issues facing their communities. Research shows that the value and rich potential of human services are largely invisible and simply not resonating with the public.

With the generous support of the Kresge Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the National Human Services Assembly launched the National Reframing Human Services Initiative in 2012 to build public understanding of human services in order to encourage more robust civic participation and deeper support for effective programs. The National Assembly 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 when thinking about human services, and identified an effective narrative that the sector can use to elicit greater 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

The 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. Researchers conducted expert interviews in March 2013 with 12 leaders in the field of human services and with members of the public in three states to identify and distill 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 graphic

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

The National Assembly next worked with FrameWorks to identify a new narrative for human services that captures and conveys 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 this new frame for human services.

As a result of 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. This evidence-based frame is called the Building Well-Being Narrative. The most effective way to use the Building Well-Being Narrative is to invoke the recommended values (Human Potential), metaphors (Constructing Well-Being), and examples (Across the Life Cycle) in the proper order. Furthermore, the new narrative focuses, in part, on avoiding terms such as “vulnerable” and “needy” that can alienate the public by exacerbating beliefs that the sector is for “other people,” rather than something that benefits all.

Building well-being narrative steps

Image used courtesy of the FrameWorks Institute

Evidence shows that reframing with the complete Building Well-Being Narrative succeeds in giving the public a more accurate understanding of what human services are and increases public support for the full range of human services (see graph). Read more about using the new frame.

Source: FrameWorks Institute, Talking Human Services MessageMemo, 2015

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

The National Assembly is leading efforts to facilitate the human service field’s implementation of the Building Well-Being Narrative. The National Reframing Initiative has disseminated the findings and implementation strategies widely across the sector through the Reframing Network Newsletter, written reports and products, webinars, and in-person presentations. The Initiative also seeks to partner with individual organizations or associations to achieve a deeper and more lasting engagement on reframing. Examples of the Initiative’s foundational partners include the Human Services Council in New York City, Illinois Partners for Human Service, One Voice Central Texas in Austin, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, and Volunteers of America. If you are interested in receiving technical assistance or becoming a partner, read more about getting involved.

Using the New Frame

Overview: Explore steps for integrating the Building Well-Being Narrative into your communications, as well as some helpful tips, tricks, and samples for implementation are outlined here.

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Peer Learning

Are you a staff member of an organization that is a member of the National Assembly? If so, check out our Peer Learning Councils.