Reframing newsletter

Administration’s Reorganization Proposal Brings Framing to the Forefront

July 12, 2018

On Thursday, June 21, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a proposal, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century,” to reorganize the executive branch of the federal government. At a time when our sector is trying to bridge the gaps in the public’s understanding of what human services are, why people need support, and how society benefits, the proposed departmental name changes and consolidation not only rely heavily on but also stand to deepen current misperceptions that we know limit engagement, support, and collective action.

The National Assembly has taken a stand against the proposal and has utilized a reframing lens in our responses and advocacy. We encourage organizations responding to the proposal to integrate the following reframing strategies, which are proven to increase the public’s knowledge of the full scope and value of human services.

Graphic of people building a house1. Build Well-Being. Across all discussions of this topic, rely on the Building Well-Being Narrative, including the Value of Human Potential, and the Construction Metaphor. For example, the National Assembly’s Response Statement begins with the following quote (emphasis added):

“The organizations that comprise the human service sector share a common mission: to help realize the full potential of everyone, so that all can contribute to our communities in meaningful ways. Because no one can build well-being alone, the sector helps people access and arrange the elements and materials essential for social, emotional, physical, and financial well-being,” said Lee Sherman, President and CEO of the National Assembly. “The Administration’s proposal to change the name of federal departments and consolidate agencies, among other problematic recommendations, would undermine the sector’s shared goals.”

In addition, emphasize the collective benefits by make the arguments about everyone’s well-being rather than challenges just for those working in the sector or benefiting from receiving services.

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2. Promote Explanation Over Crisis. Resist using crisis language and tone, which can backfire by leading people to believe that the problem is either exaggerated or too big to be worth fighting. This includes avoiding blaming statements that make it easy for people to divide along partisan lines. Despite the alarming nature of the potential changes, it is important present objections to the proposal in clear terms while maintaining an explanatory, pragmatic tone. In the case of changing the name of the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Health and Public Welfare, the National Assembly offers an explanation of why the language used matters, particularly in policy settings. Supported by the FrameWorks Institute’s research on the human service sector, the statement released asserts:

“Replacing human services with welfare terminology reduces human services to its most narrow stereotype – that of emergency-only food or monetary donations that result in dependency – rather than show the rich and vast scope of human services available to all Americans across the lifespan… Using “welfare” and its cousin the “safety net” is a return to outdated language that drives the perceived divide between “givers” and “takers” and creates an atmosphere of “othering” that can erode support for essential human services and increase the likelihood of harmful policies and budget cuts.”

3. Be Consistent. Maintain fidelity to framing strategies and reframing concepts while modifying responses based on the audience and particular medium. Whether in a statement to members and partners, an op-ed, a social media post, or a podcast, the utilization of the Building Well-Being Narrative and exploration about the impact of language and name changes should remain consistent.

For other examples of how organizations implement reframing within their advocacy communications, see the following resources:


We love highlighting great reframing in the media, and this week we have a wonderful example courtesy of Family Service Madison, Inc., a local human service provider and member of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance). On July 5, In Business Madison published an article online, “Unlocking The Power of Human Services to Build Strong Families And Communities,” that utilizes the Building Well-Being Narrative. Written by the CEO of Family Service Madison, Inc., the piece highlights the “National Imperative: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America” report by the Alliance and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA).