Reframing newsletter

Rethinking Public Safety

July 9, 2020

Increased attention on police violence towards Black people in our country, spurred most recently by the killing of George Floyd, has sparked an extremely important national debate about how to dismantle the structures of racism within our justice system and other institutions. As part of this conversation, a movement to defund police departments and instead promote public safety and well-being through a more comprehensive and effective use of community-based supports is taking hold nationally and in communities across the country.

Human service advocates are being called upon to explain how human services work, the value they provide people and the community at large, what role they play in promoting safe environments, and how they mitigate against inequities in our society.

We offer some tips below for relying on the Building Well-Being Narrative to provide this perspective:

  • Use the Value of “Human Potential” – Orienting messages around this broadly shared value helps people better understand what’s at stake for society, not just for program participants. Recognizing the broader communal benefits makes it more likely the public will support human services. Example: “Our community will thrive if we focus on providing equitable opportunities for all of us to reach our full potential and engage with our community in healthy and meaningful ways.”
  • Rely on the Construction Metaphor to explain what human services do – This metaphor will help your audience understand how specific human services address particular social challenges and improve lives for segments of the population affected by those problems and create safer environments for us all. Examples: “building blocks for well-being,” “establishing solid foundations for lifelong growth and development,” “developing blueprints for safe and thriving communities,” “rebuilding after life’s setbacks.”
  • Extend the metaphor to articulate human services’ value in addressing underlying problems – Clarify how human services don’t just address symptoms of problems, but address the historical causes of inequities that have been maintained by our society’s systems, structures and institutions. The Construction Metaphor points the public towards the conditions that impede well-being and helps us avoid cueing up unhelpful stereotypes about personal behaviors. Examples: “shaky foundations,” “structural flaws,” “missing materials,” and “bad weather.”
  • Activate “Life Cycle” examples – Provide examples of the types of supports we need in early childhood, adolescence, as adults, and as we age. This will normalize human services by reminding the public that we all need support at different points in our lives. (See page 8 of the Message Memo.)
  • Offer solutions – As we’ve discussed in previous newsletters, weighting communications too heavily towards the challenges and problems, or “crisis” framing, can backfire by leading the public to believe that the problems identified are too big to solve. Match challenges with solutions so people see they have a role to play as advocates and supporters.

Read the National Assembly’s “Human Services are an Essential Part of Policing Reform” and Justice in Policing Act bill highlight.

SPOTLIGHT: New White Paper on Reframing

Bridget Gavaghan, National Reframing Initiative Director, recently partnered to develop a reframing white paper, Changing the conversation about human services, based on a webinar she held for WellSky, whose “technology connects the care continuum, so that communities can address the social determinants of health that lead to stable lives and vibrant families.” The white paper covers public perceptions of human services, gaps with experts’ understanding, communications implications of the gaps, common cultural models, moving people out of the swamp, communications traps, and steps in reframing the narrative. You can also register to watch the webinar.