Reframing newsletter

Seattle Human Services Coalition’s Big Policy Win with Reframing

September 5, 2019

We recently received exciting news from National Reframing Initiative partner, the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC), a long-time reframer. This coalition of coalitions — covering over 200 agencies and programs — led a successful advocacy initiative incorporating reframing to increase the value of city human service contracts. We talked with Julia Sterkovsky of SHSC to learn more about their “adjust for inflation” campaign.

Seattle Human Services Coalition LogoSterkovsky shared that the rising cost of living and doing business in Seattle is a significant challenge for the human service sector, impacting everything from staff recruitment and retention to service delivery. This challenge is exacerbated when city contracts do not account for increasing costs due to inflation. Prior to this campaign, decisions about including adjustments for inflation in human service contracts as part of the city’s budget were made on a year to year basis. Every year, SHSC and its partners would have to make the case for an inflation adjustment to the Mayor and City Council. The results were mixed. Some years, adjustments for inflation were included in the city budget, some years they were not. Sterkovsky explained that, last fall, SHSC and member coalitions made a strategic decision to push for a long-term sustainable solution by recommending an automatic annual inflation adjustment for all city human service contracts.

To ensure consistency of communications across organizations, SHSC crafted reinforcing messages using reframing strategies and principles, with technical assistance from the National Reframing Initiative. SHSC also had hosted a National Reframing Initiative training in the spring, which grounded members in the evidence-based communications recommendations that ultimately informed the campaign message development. SHSC and member coalitions like the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness organized members representing different human services, as well as recipients of services, to meet with Council members and present comments at committee meetings.

Teresa Mosqueda speaking at the SHSC rally

Council Member, Teresa Mosqueda, championing the campaign by speaking at the SHSC rally

Maintain what we have built together,” the campaign’s main theme, relies on the Building Well-Being Narrative and “we” language to establish the explanatory approach and sense of shared responsibility and benefits that would cascade throughout the campaign’s messages. A sampling of some of the well-framed messages that SHSC developed for the campaign include:

  • “Seattle’s ability to thrive now and in the future is dependent upon our ability to foster economic, emotional, physical, developmental, and social well-being for all of our community members. From youth development to senior centers, community clinics, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and response, food banks and meal programs, homeless shelters, housing, and prevention, human services build well-being. We provide the support for Seattle residents to reach their full potential.
  • “Our community has worked together to build the infrastructure to provide services that strengthen our communities. Facilities as well as skilled workers with different areas of expertise are all needed to work together to reach the vision and priorities we all share for a just and thriving community.”
  • “Like physical infrastructure, we must sustain this infrastructure as well: We need to keep up our investment in the quality materials and skilled workers needed to reach the outcomes we aim for. We undermine our capacity to reach our goals when costs to provide services rise, but investment does not.”

In July, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed and the mayor signed an ordinance requiring an automatic inflation adjustment on all human service contracts issued by the City of Seattle Human Services Department — those funded by the city, as well as those funded by state or federal “pass-through” dollars.

A human service provider speaking at the SHSC rally

A human service provider speaking about the positive impact adjusting for inflation will have

Sterkovsky reported that the messages resonated with Council members because the overall tone was reasonable and positive, and thus invited a sense of collective responsibility and an orientation towards solutions and action. As she noted, “The reframed communications embraced, rather than alienated, Council members, who were excited to be a part of the effort.”

Sterkovsky said advocates were excited and energized by the win and appreciative of Council members’ recognition and support. She explained that the next step in the campaign is to advocate for the Mayor and Council to order a comparable worth study to compare the value of human services work to other sectors to begin to rectify the historic underfunding of human service workers’ wages.

If you are interested in pursuing a similar campaign in your community, SHSC invites you to reach out to learn more about the strategies that led to this important win for human services by contacting Julia Sterkovsky.

SPOTLIGHT: Initiative Partner Leverages Reframing into Policy Wins

A flashback to another National Reframing Initiative partner policy victory underscores the value of reframing in addressing systemic challenges. Just last year, the Human Services Council successfully reframed the signature campaign it co-leads to Strong Nonprofits for a Better New York. That change, accompanied by reframed messaging targeting media and policy influencers, yielded big results in the state’s fiscal year 2019 budget for human services. Strong Nonprofits achieved results for two of three of its asks: an investment of $15 million to fund the minimum wage increase for government-contracted nonprofit human service organizations, and expansion of state and local government funding to include nonprofits as also eligible for capital investments.