By Antje Dun
A collection of research and recommendations for narrative and messaging on a range of issues.
Looking for research on how to frame an issue on a certain topic area? Here is a collection of reports, articles, videos and podcasts on a variety of issues including climate, crime, equality, nature, poverty and health.
It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world. – Ben Okri, Author
Note: The brief summaries of each report have been taken from the source documents with some minor edits. Click on the heading of each item to access the full resource. Some clicks will result in a download of a pdf while others will direct you to another website. You can also download the full report from the box at the bottom of the page.
Please note: guides related to the Covid-19 pandemic are included in Progressive Framing of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Thomas Coombes, 2020, [Article]
How can civil society groups and charities apply narrative work in practice? Based on our work with migration groups in the UK during the pandemic, we believe a crucial step is more narrative synergy between organisations that share the same values. Scroll right to the end for practical steps and more information about how you can get involved in collective narrative change.
Public Interest Research Centre PIRC, [UK], 2018, [Report]
Social movements across Europe face some common framing challenges. PIRC asked over 200 campaigners—environmentalists, feminists, anti-racists, new economists, and many more—what we’re up against, analysed the trends and pulled together the key lessons.
Anat Shenker Osorio, Center for Community Change, [US], 2017, [Guide]
The rise of Trumpism has challenged progressives and is an existential threat to economic justice, racial and gender equality, a livable planet and global peace. The message and narrative challenges of the moment are critical and foreboding. This handbook is the culmination of a set of trainings, technical support and coaching for a talented array of communications professionals across the progressive landscape. Watch this video about the guide.
Working Narratives, [US], 2016, [Guide]
A guide for organizers, organizations, activists, artists, storytellers, social entrepreneurs, and anyone else who wants to create positive social change. The guide is bookended by an introduction and an afterword. In between, you’ll find thirty-two short chapters divided into four color-coded sections. The strategy section is about how to use storytelling to best effect in service of your cause. The storytelling section offers ideas on how to tell a good story. The methods section covers some techniques in storytelling. And the structure section looks at practical questions of how to incorporate storytelling into your everyday work. Following these sections is a series of case studies of foundation and nonprofit partners from the first edition of the guide.
The Opportunity Agenda, [US], 2013, [Toolkit]
This kit provides guidance for developing values-based messages that engage core audiences, disrupt dominant narratives, and help shape the public dialogue. In addition to big picture thinking about communications strategy, you will also find tips and examples of a range of tactics, and concrete messaging guidance in the form of “opportunity flashcards” which provide short and easy-to-find advice and sample language on a range of social justice issues. This resource is for those working to influence public thinking about social justice issues over the long-term while also crafting effective short-term campaigns.
Brave New Words, [Ireland], 2019 [Podcast]
The Together For Yes coalition was able to broach what many in Ireland saw as an untouchable topic by listening closely to their target audiences and rewriting the playbook on how they described abortion and the people who have them. The podcast probes into the various pitfalls and messaging challenges inherent in not just debating abortion, but driving voters to turn out in support of it.
Citizens’ and Farmers’ Framing of ‘Positive Animal Welfare’ and the Implications for Framing Positive Welfare in Communication
Belinda Vigors, Animals, 9 (4), [Scotland], 2019 [Journal article]
Human perception can depend on how an individual frames information in thought and how information is framed in communication. For example, framing something positively, instead of negatively, can change an individual’s response. This is of relevance to ‘positive animal welfare’, which places greater emphasis on farm animals being provided with opportunities for positive experiences. However, little is known about how this framing of animal welfare may influence the perception of key animal welfare stakeholders. Through a qualitative interview study with farmers and citizens, undertaken in Scotland, UK, this paper explores what positive animal welfare evokes to these key welfare stakeholders and highlights the implications of such internal frames for effectively communicating positive welfare in society.
Emily Buddle & Heather Gray, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (32), [Aus] 2019 [Journal article]
Analysis of media frames can reveal how issues are being made public and identify the cues that audiences are given to help them make sense of complex ethical issues. The researchers analysed articles published in the mainstream press in Australia between 2014 and 2016 related to farm animal welfare, and identified two dominant frames: that governments and the farm animal production industries cannot be trusted to ensure good farm animal welfare; and that consumers can act to improve animal welfare through ethical consumption. These frames have implications for how the Australian public interpret and understand the roles and responsibilities of different actors in the food production system.
Miriam Sullivan & Nancy Longnecker, 2010 [Conference Paper]
Animal welfare organisations use multiple communication frames, but it is unclear which ones are most effective in promoting attitudinal and behavioural change. This paper reviews framing techniques that draw on shocking imagery, measures of animal intelligence, societal norms and celebrity promotion. Societal norms and celebrity promotions have the greatest potential to modify attitudes and behaviour as they are accessible and relevant to the general public, unlike frames promoting animal intelligence. Shock frames are also effective, but should be avoided as they may provoke audience backlash and reduce the credibility of the organisation.
Children – Poverty
The Workshop for The Policy Observatory, Auckland University of Technology, [NZ], 2018, [Report]
Telling a new story about “child poverty” in New Zealand explores common core stories or cultural narratives about child poverty. The report discusses why these stories and narratives may hamper efforts to convince the public and policymakers to accept expert solutions. Importantly, the report highlights the double burden our stories can create for children and parents living without enough. The key purpose of the report is to help construct narratives that are more effective in promoting policy change. The report presents alternative frames and stories to tell, ones that will help the public and policymakers act on the expert solutions that are needed to ensure all children and families thrive. It is written as a resource for those working in child poverty research and policy.
Communicating Connections: Framing the Relationship Between Social Drivers, Early Adversity, and Child Neglect
Frameworks Institute, [UK], 2015, [Report]
This Message Brief summarizes findings from a set of studies of how the British public thinks about child maltreatment, and lays out a powerful, tested narrative that communicators can use to reframe public understanding of how social conditions contribute to early adversity in general, and child neglect in particular.
Attending to Neglect: Using Metaphors and Explanatory Chains to Reframe Child Neglect in the United Kingdom
Frameworks Institute [UK], 2015 [Report]
This report details the results of a survey experiment testing the effectiveness of Explanatory Metaphors and Explanatory Chains for enhancing the British public’s understanding of child neglect: what neglect is, what causes neglect, and how neglect can be addressed through programs and policies. The results of this framing experiment demonstrate that the Explanatory Metaphor “Overloaded” and the Explanatory Chain “Equipping Parents” in particular increase knowledge about child neglect and increase public support for effective policy solutions. These framing strategies represent an important part of an emerging Core Story for communicating about child maltreatment in the UK.
Taking Responsibility for Solutions: Using Values to Reframe Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom
Frameworks Institute, [UK], 2014, [Report]
This report details the results of an experimental survey of more than 6,500 Britons that explores the extent to which values-based messages and narratives affect attitudes about child maltreatment and support for relevant policies. The experiment demonstrates the power of the value of Social Responsibility to move attitudes and policy support about these issues in productive directions. It also describes how this value is particularly powerful when paired with facts about child maltreatment and discussion of effective solutions.
Climate and Climate Justice
PIRC, 350.org, NEON [UK], 2021, [Webinar, Report, Presentation Slides, Website]
The Workshop [NZ], 2019, [Toolkit]
This toolkit is based on research conducted by The Workshop on behalf of Oxfam New Zealand. It is designed for people working to achieve meaningful climate action. Its purpose is to help us use more-effective strategies to create hope, improve people’s understanding of the causes and solutions of climate change and motivate people to act in meaningful ways.
The Workshop & Oxfam New Zealand [NZ], 2019, [Toolkit]
This toolkit aims to support the use of strategies that inspire hope, build connections between people, open doors to people developing more productive understandings of the causes of climate change, and encourages collective action on evidence-informed solutions, across local and international settings. The authors have drawn on on many disciplines from cognitive psychology, implementation science through to cognitive linguistics. The science of story takes us beyond repetition of the facts and framing of fears, and into the realms of storytelling with science.
Framing the Carbon Tax in Australia: An investigation of frame sponsorship and organisational influence behind media agendas
Darren Nelson [Aus], 2019, [Thesis]
This PhD thesis examines a dimension of framing theory that has long been acknowledged but not adequately explored – the influences of sources on media news stories and the concept of framing sponsorship. Using triangulated data from media content and textual analyses, source interviews and a public opinion survey, this study examines how the Carbon Tax was framed in its first three months as a policy direction in Australia.
Anthony D. Barnosky, Et al. [US], 2016, [Book chapter 9 from Bending the Curve: Ten scalable solutions for carbon neutrality and climate stability]
This book chapter discusses findings from recent research on communication strategies that suggest the need for appropriate framing of the issues for diverse constituencies that have not been effectively reached. The authors suggest that by targeting specific audiences with appropriately framed information, the societal balance can be tipped from the current condition of a majority who are apathetic to a majority who become receptive to the reality of harmful climate disruption and the need to avoid it.
Communications Hub, [US], 2016, [Toolkit]
Communities of color and communities with low-income levels and wealth have been unrepresented in the mainstream environmental narrative. Considering climate change is an issue of economic and racial injustice, it is critical that the solutions and vision come from the communities most. This toolkit puts forward a values based unified narrative to fill that gap. It includes talking points and strategies based on research and interviews with leaders and members from the community.
ecoAmerica, Et al., [US], 2015, [Report]
ecoAmerica’s climate messaging project develops and disseminates market-tested messages on climate solutions designed to engage Americans across political and demographic groups. The project employs qualitative and quantitative research methods to test specific words, phrases, and narratives that link climate change to mainstream American values and concerns. This project also tests narratives about climate tailored to people in faith, higher education, health, communities, and business.
The Workshop, [NZ], 2019, [Report]
This paper reports on the first phase of a larger research project looking at how to reframe the public conversation about crime and justice in Aotearoa New Zealand. This report summarise research undertaken by The Workshop to understand how experts understand and frame criminal justice, how the public also does so, and where the opportunities for building new, more effective narratives may lie. A short user friendly guide is also available: Expert and Public Narratives on Crime in New Zealand: A Short Guide.
Frameworks Institute, [UK], 2016, [Guide]
This strategic guidance outlines a set of practical framing recommendations for advocates working to build public support for a system-oriented to rehabilitation, not punishment. The findings offer insight into narrative structure, values that reframe the purpose of the criminal justice system, and Explanatory Metaphors that help the public appreciate the problems associated with a punitive approach and the promise of a more restorative approach.
Public Interest Resource Centre PIRC, Et al. [UK], 2018, [Report]
The PIRC, the New Economics Foundation, NEON and the FrameWorks Institute have launched two story strategies that progressives can use to shift thinking on the economy. They’re built on values and metaphors that encourage the hope that change is possible and increase people’s support for progressive policies.
Australia reMADE [Aus], 2020, [Presentation]
Want to know how to frame communication about the government and the economy in a way that will be of benefit? Here is useful research that was presented at the conference Virtual Progress 2020 (Australian Progress) by Lily Spencer from Australian reMADE.
Australian Progress [Aus], 2018, [Report]
Australian Progress analysed the language people in Australia use to speak about economics (and tax, welfare, aid, privatisation, work and more). These new messaging resources will be useful for communicators, campaigners and advocates for more progressive economic policy.
NEF, [UK], 2013, [Report]
The austerity story can be defeated, if its opponents identify and activate their own powerful frames. The frames must be developed from values and resonate with public opinion. They must be tested and refined based on what works. We outline some frames we believe could be used to build a new narrative and a story that brings them together.
Anat Shenker-Osorio, [US], 2012, [Book]
Anat Shenker-Osorio diagnoses economic discourse as stricken with faulty messages, deceptive personification, and a barely coherent concept of what the economy actually is. Cutting through conservative myth-making, messaging muddles, and destructive misinformation, this book outlines a new way to win the most important arguments of our day. The left doesn’t have to self-destruct every time matters economic come to the fore—there are metaphors and frames that can win, and Shenker-Osorio shows what they are and how to use them. Read a book review.
Public Interest Resource Centre PIRC [UK], 2018, [Guide]
This guide shows that our choice of words is just as important as any other decision we make in conservation. It explains what framing is and how use it can be used to create a better world for wildlife. Communication with an understanding of framing is more likely to convince, motivate and inspire people to help a cause. The toolkit includes exercises and examples to enable you to put framing into practice, whatever role you play in advocating for nature.
Australian Conservation Foundation [Aus], 2016, [Guide]
This handbook is the result of over a year’s qualitative and quantitative research on the discourses of the environment movement, industry, government, media and pop culture. The Australian Conservation Foundation’s (ACF) workshopped draft narratives with people from the ACF community and beyond and decided to share their important research and learnings with everyone through this handbook. It introduces some key principles, techniques and tools so you can craft a compelling narrative that will motivate and mobilise communities. It will help you create a coherent story that can engage and strengthen the values that will, over the long term, engage more people more strongly in our cause.
Common Cause [UK], 2013, [Guide]
The research is based in the analysis set out in Common Cause, drawing on social psychology and linguistics, showing that there are competing sets of human values within each of us which can be encouraged and discouraged by language and experience. The guide includes recommendations based on these findings: both for communications and for the wider experiences that NGOs create on a daily basis: at reserves, in volunteer schemes, and through advocating for policies that change society.
Equally Ours, [UK], 2019, [Guide]
This guide aims to equip campaigners and communicators to change hearts and minds on equality. There’s a growing body of evidence that we can move the needle on public attitudes if we understand what people really think and feel about an issue and why, and communicate by connecting with deeply held values. This guide applies a strategic communications approach to the challenge of showing inequality as structural – deeply embedded in our society and institutions, rather than the responsibility of individuals. It aims to shift thinking away from the belief that anyone can be a successful ‘self-made person’, and towards a recognition that there are still major structural barriers to equality.
ILGA Europe & PIRC [UK], 2017, [Toolkit]
This toolkit is a short guide to strategic communications, based on extensive research and building on the experience of activists and communicators from around the globe. It aims to provide a framework rather than a blueprint; helping you to ask the right questions rather than giving you the right answers. It’s designed to be helpful for anyone who communicates as part of their voluntary or paid work. It’s written with a focus on European LGBTI activists it will be useful to others with a similar vision.
Open Democracy, 2015, [Article]
This article outlines the process the US gay rights movement went through to reframe marriage equality. The marriage movement invested in a strategic communications operation, both nationally and in dozens of states. It was this data-driven communications machine—which was always turned on—that caused support for marriage equality to skyrocket 20 points in just a decade.
VicHealth, Et al., 2021 [Guide]
This messaging guide contains recommendations that will help you boost support for gender equality initiatives in Australia. It is based on extensive research undertaken by Common Cause Australia on behalf of VicHealth and the Together for Equality and Respect Partnership with the support of the Outer East Primary Care Partnership.
We envisage the primary users of this guide will be people working to create a more equal and just society for women and girls. This includes those seeking to build greater public support for systemic solutions to gender inequality through policy and organisational change as well as those working on individual behaviour change initiatives.
Vic Health [AUD], 2020, [Guide]
This message guide contains recommendations that will help you have more productive conversations about masculine stereotypes in Australia. It is based on extensive research undertaken by Common Cause Australia on behalf of VicHealth in 2019 and early 2020. The primary users of this guide will be people working to challenge unhealthy attitudes and patterns of behaviour that stem from adherence to traditional forms of masculinity, and who aim to shape healthier norms and behaviours for Australian men and boys. Whether you are engaging with men and boys directly or with the broader community, the recommendations in this guide should be useful to you. Here is a case study on how Macedon Ranges Health has used the new Framing Masculinity Message Guide.
Government / Democracy
Australian Conversation Foundation, [AUS], 2020, [Cheat Sheet]
This cheat sheet is a summary of research by an alliance of Australian civil society organisations, working together to achieve legislative changes that limit corporate influence on our political system. It is designed for people working across civil society who are advocating for change that involves democratic decision making and participation. Its purpose is to help us talk more effectively about government, democratic participation and reform, and to motivate people to get involved.
Australia reMADE [Aus], 2020, [Presentation]
Want to know how to frame communication about the government and the economy in a way that will be of benefit? Here is useful research that was presented at the conference Virtual Progress 2020 (Australian Progress) by Lily Spencer from Australian reMADE.
The Health Foundation & Frameworks Institute, [UK], 2019, [Briefing]
Despite extensive evidence for the impact of social determinants on people’s health, public discourse and policy action is limited in acknowledging the role that societal factors such as housing, education, welfare and work play in shaping people’s long-term health. There are many reasons for this, but one factor that merits greater attention is the way in which the evidence is communicated to and understood by the public. The FrameWorks Institute has identified a range of ‘cultural models’– common but implicit assumptions and patterns of thinking – that give deeper insight into how people think about what makes them healthy. Understanding which cultural models promote – or obscure – people’s awareness of the importance of social determinants is an important first step in developing effective ways of framing the evidence.
Frameworks Institute, [UK], 2018, [Report]
This research involved street interviews, face to face testing and a series of experimental surveys with over 10,000 people. It concludes that strategies exist to shift public thinking in new directions can be achieved by telling a new story about homelessness.
Frameworks Institute, [UK], 2017, [Report]
This report explores public thinking about homelessness in the United Kingdom and documents how the issue is framed in advocacy and media materials. It offers advocates an initial framing strategy to help expand public understanding of homelessness and build public will for solutions.
JustLabs and the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR), [Global], 2019, [Report]
Changing narratives about human rights requires bold changes in how we think about and do human rights work. Based on work with 12 organizations around the world, JustLabs and the Fund for Global Human Rights discuss the experimentation process for producing new human rights narratives and lay out tactical, organizational, and field-wide changes for making the human rights movement durable and effective.
Anat Shenker-Osorio, [US], 2018, [Report]
Using language data from advocacy, opposition, political speech and popular culture, Anat Shenker-Osorio analyzed why certain messages resonate where others falter in the human rights sector in Australia, the UK and the US. Complementing this written discourse were 53 interviews with advocates in these three countries in order to draw out what we wish people believed. Recommendations here also draw upon previous research and empirical testing across issues related to human rights.
OpenGlobalRights, [US], no date, [Guide]
A hope-based communications strategy involves making five basic shifts in the way we talk about human rights: Talk Solutions; What we stand for; Create opportunities; Support for heroes; and Show the “we got this”. This guide includes videos and action steps to spread hope about human rights.
People With Disability
People With Disability Australia, [AUS], 2019, [Guide]
This guide has been written by people with disability to assist the Australian general public and media outlets in talking about and reporting on disability. The choices people make about language have an impact on the way people with disability feel and are perceived in society. It is important that there is awareness of the meaning behind the words that are used when talking to, referring to, or working with people with disability. Disrespectful language can make people with disability feel hurt and excluded, and be a barrier to full participation in society. [Word document]
Poverty, Race, Class
Messaging This Moment: Mobilizing Our Base and Persuading the Middle on Policing, Protest and Racial Injustice
Anat Shenker Osorio Communications & Race Class Narrative Action [US], 2020, [Guide]
In this guide, you’ll find the “Do’s” and “Dont’s” of discussing protests and policing while effectively advancing a racial justice agenda. It offers high-level suggestions for activating the broadest possible range of support for desired policy solutions, inoculating against our opposition’s narrative, and contending with the understandable despondency we cannot risk from our base. The guide features overarching directives, full sample narratives and rebuttals to common objections.
See also The Race Class Narrative website for example videos and other resources.
The Opportunity Agenda [UK], 2020 [Tips]
This memo focuses on messaging with the primary goal of persuading them toward action and puts together some advice on finding entry points based on research, experience, and the input of partners from around the country. This is by no means a complete list, but it is a starting point for moving these discussions forward.
The Workshop [NZ], 2019, [Guide]
The Workshop undertook research to identify messages that: improve the New Zealand public’s understanding of the causes of poverty; improve their understanding of the role of benefits in overcoming poverty; and increase their willingness to act to do something about poverty. Rigorous methodology was used to test the effect of these messages. The findings identify the most effective messages. Recommendations cover values, metaphors, positive vision, and communicating a causal chain. A short user-friendly guide is also available: Talking about Poverty and Welfare Reform in Aotearoa: A Short Guide.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation & FrameWorks Institute, [UK], 2019, [Toolkit]
Compassion and justice are values that underpin our society – we believe in helping each other out when we’re having a tough time. We need to make sure those values underpin the way we talk about poverty too. This toolkit includes: how to build lasting support to solve UK poverty; a 10 step guide for communicating more effectively about poverty; 5 doodles that help make sense of UK poverty; and how campaigners can tell a different story. It draws on recommendations from the FrameWorks Institute’s research into public attitudes to poverty in the UK, involving 20,000 people.
Brave New Words Podcast, [US], 2019, [Podcast]
This podcast hosted by Anat Shenker-Osorio outlines how, through rounds of research and strategic implementation of findings, a coalition of grassroots and labor groups found a narrative that speaks to both race and class concerns. From a 43,000 person celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Adha, to carefully considered door-knocking operations, to interactive social media memes, the Greater Than Fear campaign showed that we can simultaneously drive turnout from our base and persuade the middle.
DEMOS, [US], 2019, [Report]
This research demonstrates how to energize and persuade a truly multi-racial cohort to vote for progressive candidates and policies. The key for cross-racial solidarity, voter engagement, and policy victories is mobilizing around the connections between racial divisions and economic hardship. Here, for the first time, is empirical data that support tackling racism as a divide-and-conquer tactic that creates distrust, undermines belief in government, and causes economic pain for everyone, of every color.
[US], 2018 [Video]
Anat Shenker-Osorio shows how to apply research findings around communicating about race and class to the increasing white nationalism, xenophobia and race-based attacks that punctuate politics around the globe.
Consumer Action Law Centre, [Aus], 2017, [Report]
‘People who help people’ gives a range of practical tips consumer advocates and financial counsellors can use to improve their messaging. Consumer advocates and financial counsellors change lives – by changing the way they use language, they can change even more lives.
Refugees and Migrants
International Centre for Policy Advocacy, [Germany], 2019, [Toolkit]
A set of resources for progressive campaigners working to put diversity and inclusion back on the public/policy agenda and counter populist narratives. Includes ten case studies.
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre [Aus], 2015, [Report]
In 2015, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) worked with Australian Progress’ Expert-In-Residence Anat Shenker-Osorio and Australian researchers to complete extraordinary new research into the words that work for talking about people seeking asylum. Despite many Australians from all walks of life arguing for more humane treatment of people seeking asylum, bipartisan policy has moved in the other direction and broader community attitudes continue to harden. It is clear that humane and lasting policy change will require changing how we make the case for it. This new research includes tested messages that could reach much more of the community, and our political leaders, to kickstart a new, more hopeful national discussion. The project is also outlined in the Brave New Worlds podcast People seeking asylum – Australia.
ASO Communications [US], 2015, [Report]
A report on the language analysis which informed the Words that Work report summarised above.
Anat Shenker-Osorio, [US], 2017 [Video]
Anat Shenker-Osorio, a communications expert and political pundit, has a few things to say about the way we talk about subjects as far-reaching as immigration and the economy.
Frameworks Institute, [UK], 2010, [Report]
This report illustrates the results of a cross-national study based on in-depth interviews from both experts and average Americans on Sexual Violence. This study comprises the following three components: 1) an analysis of the discourse on sexual violence from expert interviews, 2) one-on-one cognitive interviews with Americans, and 3) a comparative analysis that “maps the gaps” between expert and lay understandings of this topic. The report concludes with a set of recommendations that will improve communications practice around this issue and inform the next phase of research. Watch a video that summarises the report’s findings.
- Making the truth stick & the myths fade: lessons from cognitive psychology, Norbert Schwarz, Eryn Newman, & William Leach, Behavioral Policy Review, 2017
- A Progressive’s Style Guide, Sumofus.org, 2016
- Social Justice Phrasebook, The Opportunity Agenda, [US], 2015
- Communication - Messaging
- Framing - Guides_Manuals
- Story_Narrative - Guides_Manuals