Hall of Frames

FrameWorks research helps advocates communicate more powerfully on social justice issues.

Reframing Aging

Using FrameWorks' research on aging and noting that "language matters," the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society announced a new style guide that changes policies about how to refer to older adults. Guidelines include avoiding crisis language, like the aging “tsunami,” and instead talking affirmatively about changing demographics, and using neutral and inclusive terminology, such as “older people” instead of the elderly and “we” and “us” instead of “them” and “they.” Other major geriatric journals have followed suit--and a leading beauty magazine published a powerful essay about why editors will phase out the term anti-aging.

Communicating Hope about the Climate

How can advocates educate children about climate change without “turning off” skeptical adults? Billy Spitzer, vice president of programs, exhibits, and planning for the New England Aquarium, answers this and other questions in an interview with a New England news program in which he draws on FrameWorks’ frames and messaging guidance, such as the metaphor Heat-Trapping Blanket to explain how the atmosphere absorbs carbon dioxide and warms the planet, and emphasizes solutions to the problem, such as solar and wind power. “What we’re finding,” he says, “is that when you talk to people about that, and when they see that solutions are possible, they’re not freaked out, they’re excited.”

Explaining Climate Change

In a lead editorial on its homepage, editors of the Washington Post used Heat-Trapping Blanket, a metaphor tested by FrameWorks to explain the complex process behind climate change and its effects on the planet. The editorial was intended to build opposition to the president’s executive orders to reverse Obama-era climate policies: “When humans burn fossil fuels, they emit heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere,” the editors wrote. “Releasing vast amounts of these gases for decades changes the atmosphere’s chemistry, creating an ever-thicker blanket.”

Early Brain Development

Building a brain is a lot like building a house—in part because it needs a strong foundation. That’s how Blackpool Better Start—a children’s advocacy organization in the United Kingdom—put it in an interview with BBC Radio about how to support brain development in early childhood. The story featured Brain Architecture and other frames developed by FrameWorks such as Serve & Return (to explain interactions between children and caregivers) and Toxic Stress (to describe the physiological effects of severe chronic stress).

Expanding Paid Leave

The early weeks of life are critical to infant brain development, but many parents can’t afford to take time off from work to bond with newborns. Advocates for children and families mounted successful campaigns in California and New York to expand job-protected paid parental leave for workers, and drew on FrameWorks messaging recommendations to do so. National groups used the metaphor of Brain Architecture to explain the science of brain development to the public and show how paid parental leave supports healthy development. Advocates used the metaphor and other frames, such as Toxic Stress, in materials to expand job-protected paid parental leave in New York and California. The new laws take effect this year.

Measuring What Matters

High-stakes standardized tests are a narrow and imperfect measure of student learning—but it can be difficult for advocates to make the case for complicated-sounding alternatives. To broaden the public’s notion of what assessment is and how it works, the Association of California School Administrators uses the metaphor of a dashboard in its video to promote the state’s new, multiple-measure approach to monitoring progress. “You can’t drive a car by only watching the speedometer,” the narrator says. “You have to keep your eye on the road, check the mirrors, monitor the gas, and pay attention to the check engine light.” Assessment works the same way. This comparison, which draws on research conducted by the FrameWorks Institute, helps the public see more holistic approaches as practical, not pie-in-the-sky.

STEM Education

Americans tend to think of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as difficult subjects that should be reserved for the “types” of students who are drawn to them. FrameWorks researhers found that comparing STEM learning opportunities to “charging stations” that power up kids learning can shift this perspective. See how STEM Next, a national program at the University of San Diego, is using this explanatory metaphor to help the public understand the value of STEM learning opportunities and boost support for policies to increase access to them.

Early Childhood Development

Two documentaries about adverse childhood experiences use the Core Story of Early Childhood Development to explain how chronic, severe stress in early childhood undermines healthy development. Resilience chronicles the rise of a new social movement that is using new discoveries in brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction, and disease, and Paper Tigers tells the story of a high school that is using scientific breakthroughs to change its approach to student discipline—and is seeing “radically positive results.” Director James Redford hopes these films will make Toxic Stress a household term so that individuals and communities “are empowered to improve the health and wellbeing of this and future generations.”


How can advocates renew and reshape the public conversation about immigrants and immigration? One recommendation is to advance the theme of Shared Prosperity, the idea that we all prosper when everyone, including immigrants, participates fully in society. Welcoming America—a network of communities across the nation that are committed to supporting immigrants—is putting this value to work in its communications materials, declaring: “Our shared prosperity relies on the innovation and creativity of people who come from all over the world, all walks of life, and all faiths and cultural traditions.”

Children’s Development and Resilience

The previously dominant frame of child vulnerability is giving way to a narrative focused on resilience, and FrameWorks’ recommendations have helped thought leaders create this shift in perspective. A series of metaphors developed by our researchers is one way that the science of resilience has made its way into public discourse. In the June 2016 issue of The Atlantic, journalist Paul Tough uses FrameWorks’ Brain Air Traffic Control metaphor to translate the concept of executive function and explain how kids learn resilience. And in a May opinion piece in the New York Times, he uses FrameWorks’ Serve-and-Return metaphor to explain how young children’s interactions with adults support healthy brain development.

The Climate-Health Connection
When people think about climate change, they often think about its effects on our environment rather than on our health. But extreme weather and rising temperatures and sea levels can contribute to illness, injury, and disease. To help people make the climate-health connection, the American Public Health Association produced a series of fact sheets that incorporates FrameWorks research into how to communicate more effectively about climate and ocean change. These recommendations include clear, even-toned explanations, examples of public solutions, and metaphors like “heat-trapping blanket.”
Secondary Learning

How can Chicago’s education advocates communicate that all kids deserve to go to a good high school, regardless of where they live? One way is to compare neighborhood high schools to charging stations. Generation All, a Chicago initiative that is working to revitalize neighborhood high schools, put this metaphorical tool to good use in its recent action plan. It also follows other FrameWorks recommendations, like making a strong, big-picture case that all people, not just kids and families, benefit from good schools.  

Social Determinants of Health

The field of human services is shifting from outdated models of defining, funding, and assessing programs to newer, more effective ways of supporting Americans’ wellbeing. The big idea is to “braid and blend” efforts when it makes sense, rather than drawing artificial or unhelpful distinctions between program categories like health and mental health. The American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) is among the leaders in this field-wide transformation. In a major thought piece in Policy and Practice, the most authoritative magazine in the human services field, authors used the Constructing Wellbeing Narrative developed by FrameWorks. The frames reflect and advance an important shift from old-school “charity” thinking to a more contemporary view of human services.

Children in Conflict Zones

Since 2002, FrameWorks has partnered with scientists to develop the Core Story of Early Childhood Development—a broad framing strategy for elevating and explaining why the earliest years of life matter. Developed in partnership with the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, these framing techniques have become part of the shared vocabulary of advocates on children’s issues. UNICEF used Core Story elements, such as the metaphors Brain Architecture and Toxic Stress in a recent report about the long-term consequences and biological impacts of war, and this language—designed to be “sticky”—was picked up in the New Yorker magazine’s coverage about children living in war zones.


Climate Change

Most Americans believe that anthropogenic climate change is occurring but can’t explain why. As a result, they’re more likely to support mismatched solutions, like recycling, than those that address energy issues. FrameWorks has found that comparing the build-up of atmospheric CO2 to a thickening blanket helps people understand why we need to move away from fossil fuels. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association put this metaphor to effective use in a Facebook campaign. And recently, the renowned environmental activist Jane Goodall was spotted using Heat-Trapping Blanket in a lecture at UMass-Dartmouth.


Mass Incarceration

Criminal justice reform advocates point out that the United States incarcerates far too many people—but the public assumes that the growth of the prison population must be for good reasons. How can advocates productively point out structural issues? FrameWorks research found that comparing the system to a maze helped demonstrate the seriousness of the problem without cuing up anti-government sentiment that can follow from rhetoric about a “broken system.” You can see how the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice used this analogy in a HuffPo op/ed that shows how the system is rife with “dead ends” and “false exits.”


The Future of Learning

Many changes are needed if our education system is to prepare US youth for the world they will inherit—and education reformers will also need to change their communications strategies to build public will around the necessary reforms. Since 2008, FrameWorks has partnered with several major foundations to develop a powerful narrative for the field: the Core Story of Education. When leading education expert Linda Darling-Hammond announced the launch of the Learning Policy Institute, a new think tank focused on progressive policy, she made powerful use of Core Story themes, such as Future Preparation.   

Hands-on Learning

How can advocates for 21st century skills help people understand why active instruction is so much better than passive instruction? FrameWorks developed the metaphor of Cooking with Information to help illustrate the essential principles of hands-on, active pedagogy. Vox used this analogy in this explainer video, which unpacks how new math standards ask students to do more than follow a recipe. 

Cash Bail Reform
Roughly 60 percent of people in jail have not been convicted—they are awaiting trial. Most pose no risk but can’t afford cash bail. The Pretrial Justice Institute works to ensure more equitable and effective approaches to the pretrial system. Its 3 Days Count™ campaign makes savvy use of FrameWorks research on the communications aspects of criminal justice reform, avoiding ineffective appeals to Cost Efficiency in favor of the more powerful frame of Pragmatism, and infusing metaphors that channel public attention to systems, like Justice Gears and Justice Maze.
Since 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley have jointly sponsored Brain Building in Progress, a statewide campaign to raise public awareness and involvement in young children’s healthy development and learning. This thorough and thoroughly creative initiative—which includes an awareness week, “licenses to learn” distributed at the department of motor vehicles, children’s coloring books, and more – makes effective use of Strategic Frame Analysis®, most notably through the frame elements Brain Architecture and Prosperity.
Dr. Robert McCall, co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development and lifelong advocate for human services, applied some of FrameWorks' recent framing recommendations to an editorial appearing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A Cousteau Society campaign, The Oceans at the Heart of Climate Change, uses data visualization to build awareness of the connections between the ocean and climate change. FrameWorks research found that the Explanatory Metaphor Climate’s Heart was highly effective in filling in gaps in public knowledge on this issue.
The Afterschool Alliance has a rock-solid case for why America should expand opportunities for STEM learning to the afterschool hours. But the public is likely to assume that kids should “just recharge” once the school bell rings—and when the facts don’t fit the frame, the frame stays and the facts go, FrameWorks worked with afterschool STEM experts and practitioners to select statistics that could help to reframe the issue, then worked them into a narrative that was powerful enough to shift thinking. One result was an infographic and tiles that could be shared easily on social media.
One Small Thing and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies work to bring greater awareness to issues surrounding women in prison. This animated explainer from Lady Edwina Grosvenor uses insights from a Strategic Frame Analysis® to make a powerful, and accessible, case for prison reform. It’s being shared widely in the United Kingdom, under the hashtag #FixTheMaze.
When ordinary people think about the consequences of adversity in childhood, they are likely to assume either that “children bounce back,” or that trauma invariably creates “damaged goods.” The explanatory metaphor of the Resilience Scale can help the public appreciate the scientific view, which is much more nuanced. See how this frame element works in new resources from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.

Have you used FrameWorks research to shape your communications? Tell us about it.