FrameWorks research helps advocates communicate more powerfully on social justice issues.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Have you used FrameWorks research to shape your communications? Tell us about it.