Reframing newsletter

Interrupting the Current Narrative

March 9, 2017

The campaign-dominated national dialogue of 2016 continues to impact nonprofits in unhelpful ways, according to a recent article in the Nonprofit Quarterly by Nat Kendall-Taylor and Susan Nall Bales of the FrameWorks Institute. In “Your Nonprofit’s Role in Reframing the Post-Election Discourse,” Kendall-Taylor and Nall Bales provide a comprehensive analysis of the cultural models that are monopolizing public thinking following the 2016 campaign and offer recommendations for re-engaging the public in more productive conversations around key societal issues.

“What this past election did to the cultural landscape in which nonprofits operate is to pull certain ideas about how the world works forward and push others deeper into our subconscious, where we find them harder to ‘think’ and therefore harder and harder to access and articulate.”

The easy-to-think ideas right now, according to Nall Bales and Kendall-Taylor, include:

  • Self-Makingness. Our successes and failures are primarily dictated by our individual choices and effort. This model makes it harder to see the context and systems that shape the choices and outcomes that are available to an individual.
  • Separate Fates. What happens to an individual affects that individual and their immediate circle, but has no impact on the health and well-being of the broader community. It’s hard to engage people when they do not see how a particular challenge connects to their own lives.
  • Business Knows Best. This model assumes that business practices are superior to those of government, and should therefore be widely adopted by the government. This pushes into the background the different goals of the two sectors, and makes it harder to activate support for a robust civic role in fostering the well-being of our nation’s communities.

In the article, FrameWorks recommends that nonprofits “interrupt” the public’s quick reliance on these unhelpful models by “being ready to tell better explanatory stories that link values to solutions and use the power of metaphor to explain how the world actually works.” As Kendall-Taylor and Nall Bales put it:

“Remind people of the values they hold for their communities, of the places they want their children and grandchildren to enjoy, of the institutions that have served people well in the past, and the responsibility we share in building well-being for all Americans.”

For human services, that explanatory story can best be told using the Building Well-Being Narrative:

  • Lead communications with the widely held value that our communities benefit when everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Learn more about the Value of Human Potential.
  • Explain how human services help us live up to that value by building and maintaining well-being, and repairing it when it breaks down. Learn more about the Construction Metaphor.
  • Describe how human services build well-being over the course of a lifetime using specific examples that include research, advocacy, prevention, and intervention. Learn more about Life Cycle Examples.