Framing for Change
Naming and framing for change. Like a magician’s incantation, carefully chosen words can have spell-casting power and help us improve the world. Words evoke powers in different ways. Some phrases call us to take a certain action, live off-grid, have a designated driver, or to join a protest movement using nonviolence. Other phrases simply describe, like old-growth forest or endangered species.
Case-in-point: In recent years almost one-third of our bee colonies have disappeared due to pesticides and habitat loss. This loss seriously threatens our ability to grow enough food, and many now argue that the bumblebee be considered for endangered species status. This vanishing bee crisis has helped spread a new vocabulary including colony collapse disorder, backyard pollinators, urban apiary, raw honey. The terms reflect challenges and solutions, practices and products. Just understanding terms like these may have already caused you act differently: buy only local honey or even put a bee hive in your yard. Here are some things to keep in mind when framing for change:
- Choose powerful and persuasive language: Choose words that evoke emotions, inspire action, and convey urgency. Use storytelling to engage the audience.
- Identify and challenge existing frames: Counter biases and stereotypes by offering alternative perspectives and narratives.
- Highlight solutions and positive outcomes: Emphasize progress, success stories, and examples of individuals making a difference.
- Collaborate and amplify voices: Join forces with others, give voice to marginalized groups, and include diverse perspectives.
- Use a variety of communications channels: Use social media, traditional media, public speaking, and online platforms to reach different audiences.
With words, we can imagine new ways to do things, help people see more clearly, and spread a good practice. Thoughtful language can help determine the future.
“All big changes of the world come from words.” — Marjane Satrapi
Kim Fox Johnson’s documentary explores artist Douglas Gayeton’s information artworks, combining photo collage and narratives to showcase sustainability and justice. Framing for change. 4 min.
Lexicon of Sustainability, no one shows naming and reframing better!
With one delicious bite of a local peach from your farmers market you can take part in the still rapidly growing food movement. Farmers markets continue to multiply — from 350 in the seventies to more than 8,000 today. And movement vocabulary is keeping pace: Locavore, Fallen Fruit, Eat In, Cage Free.
Naming can be a powerful tool, changing the way we see — and act. For three years Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton traveled the country to explore the words and phrases of the food movement. They met with about 200 of its trailblazers, and their report is the Lexicon of Sustainability. The couple pulls together what they found to create magical “information art” photo collages.
You simply have to look for yourself. Spend some time scrolling and clicking. The site is itself an activist tool kit, with a lexicon of terms and a kit for a pop-up show.
Naming and Framing for Change
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter,” said Mark Twain. “It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Pay attention to the ever-changing lexicons that help us make better choices and use the power of language to boost your cause. Each of us has a unique voice that the world needs. Your words can change the world!
Describe new possibilities
A new practice starts somewhere. It’s then shared among neighbors, at conferences, in blogs or books. Someone along the way gives it a name that sticks: slow food, cage-free eggs, fallen fruit, foodshed, food miles. The practice of being a locavore (eating locally) often spreads once the term—and its implications—is understood. Author of Local, Douglas Gayeton says that change means learning a new language. “It all begins with words. By learning the words of this new language—the lexicon—you can start the conversation, even embrace ideas that had previously seemed foreign or irrelevant to your daily life. If you start by learning what the term food miles means, for example, the transformation begins.”
Frame the conversation
Amplify through naming
Language can raise questions about “business as usual” or shine a light on a bad practice. A term like fair trade implies an opposite: other coffees may somehow be unfair to the farmer. Equal rights implies a society where some folk’s rights are less than others’. Apartheid, the South African system of racial segregation, is Afrikaans for apart-hood. The anti-apartheid movement was able to globally brand apartheid as the horrific system it was. Through the power of words, practices that would have otherwise gone unnoticed are exposed. Ghost fishing was first brought to the world’s attention in the 1980s. It’s what happens when nets, abandoned by commercial fishers, continue to trap and kill fish, sea turtles, and marine mammals. Naming (and framing) the problem is a key step in solving it.
Create new paths
A new lexicon creates and reflects a new approach to an entire aspect of society. In reclaiming our once abandoned city centers, the New Urbanism movement has spawned walkable neighborhoods that attract new residents and shops and transform an area. The movement has also spawned a giant lexicon: bike paths, buffered bike lanes, walkability, pocket parks, pedestrian continuity, placemaking, and so on. A sharrow, for example, is the name of a road marking consisting of a painted bike and chevron. It indicates that this road is a priority bicycle route and is shared by both cars and bikes. The hope is to get cars to be better prepared to share and to encourage cyclists to go the right way in the lane. Since the symbol’s introduction in San Francisco in 2004, it has spread throughout U.S. cities.
Influence consumer choice
In the grocery store you face a colorful shelf of coffee bags. Some labels on coffee bags in the grocery store shelf may say Organic or Fair Trade Certified. They cost a bit more but they could be healthier for the planet and allow us to directly help the struggling farmers who grew the beans. These new lexicons invite us to shop differently. Our everyday choices give us power to create the world we would like to live in. We can boycott a company or store that discriminates against people or funds efforts we don’t like. When we buy local, our dollars stay in our communities (instead of going to distant shareholders’ pockets) to fund our neighborhood schools and roads and grow the local economy. We vote for the future of the world with our dollars.
More reasons — naming and framing for change
Inspire empathy: The #MeToo movement, started by Tarana Burke and popularized by Alyssa Milano, reframed discussions around sexual harassment and assault by encouraging survivors to share their stories. This movement created a platform for empathy, raising awareness of the widespread nature of these issues and demanding change.
Encourage collaboration: The March for Our Lives movement, led by survivors of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, reframed the conversation around gun violence by advocating for stricter gun control measures. Their collaborative efforts mobilized students, parents, and community members across the U.S. to demand action on gun safety.
Promote proactive solutions: The Farm-to-Table movement reframed the food system by emphasizing locally sourced, sustainable, and organic produce. By promoting farmer’s markets, community-supported agriculture, and farm-to-school programs, this movement encourages individuals to support healthier and more environmentally conscious food choices.
Break down complexity: The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization, reframes the issue of climate change by highlighting the interconnectedness between climate justice, economic inequality, and racial justice. Their advocacy and activism simplify the complexity of climate issues, calling for a just transition to a renewable energy economy.
Foster optimism: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, has reframed discussions around climate change through the Green New Deal proposal. By presenting an ambitious vision for addressing climate change while creating jobs and promoting social equity, she has fostered optimism and inspired a renewed sense of urgency in addressing the climate crisis.
Cultivate a sense of urgency: The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has reframed discussions around racial inequality and police violence, emphasizing the urgent need for systemic change. The movement’s protests and activism have brought attention to the ongoing racial injustices and sparked nationwide conversations on racial equity and police reform.
Challenge the status quo: LGBTQ+ activists, such as Harvey Milk, have reframed discussions around LGBTQ+ rights by challenging discriminatory laws and advocating for equality. Their activism has contributed to significant legal advancements, including marriage equality and protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Encourage personal responsibility: Lauren Singer, the founder of the Trash Is for Tossers blog and the Package Free Shop, reframed the issue of waste by promoting a zero-waste lifestyle. Through practical tips and alternatives, she encourages individuals to take personal responsibility for reducing their waste footprint and making sustainable choices.
Amplify marginalized voices: Native American activist and environmentalist Winona LaDuke has reframed environmental issues by advocating for tribal sovereignty and highlighting the impacts of resource extraction on Indigenous communities. Her work emphasizes the importance of including Indigenous perspectives and addressing environmental justice in the United States.
Troy, Michigan library faces closure due to lack of funds. Reframing the issue with a controversial campaign sparks global support, saving the library.
Beautiful Trouble's Tool Box
Resources include, theory, practices, tactics and principles. By introducing new characters, redefining the problem, or proposing a compelling solution, reframing aims to shift public focus and provoke a change in the conversation. Successful reframing can inject new ideas into media and policy discourse, leading to real impact and change.
Community Tool Box
This great resource emphasizes the importance of structuring and presenting a problem in a way that aligns with the attitudes and beliefs of the audience. You can explore the benefits of effective framing, such as shaping thinking, influencing mindsets, and increasing the chances of finding successful solutions. Learn about reframing to counter opposing views. Practical guidance is provided on framing an issue, including questions to ask and different framing approaches. And more online resources for further exploration.
FrameWorks Institute specializes in creating progressive social change by understanding and addressing problems, developing solutions, and building support for them. Their approach is rooted in social science research and the science of framing. With their methodology, they uncover people’s worldviews and assumptions, testing ways to activate more productive thinking about social issues. Resources include a 101 course, videos, and topic-focused toolkits.