A Big Narrative Change Reading List
A dozen useful insights and reports from the intersection of narrative, movement power and culture change.
Narrative change can be complex. It’s a practice that includes identifying and creating narratives, injecting and translating narratives across activities and coalitions, supporting networked narrative work with dissemination tools and training (not to mention content), and continually measuring and iterating.
Narrative change uses frameworks and skills drawn from multiple worlds of art and culture, facilitation and communications, organizing and politics. The learning is constant. And wildly distributed, which we find fascinating. We also recognize it can be difficult to find and sift through relevant thinking across the field.
Here, our team gathered together recent articles, essays and research pieces that caught our eye (and generated a lot of conversation on Slack). This builds upon a reading list we shared in September 2017. It’s not an exhaustive narrative change reading list. It’s a roundup of recent writing at an intersection we care a lot about. We’ll continue updating the list, and welcome your tips and input.
Rhiannon Roberts, Mobilisation Lab | May 2019
In 2018, the Europe We Want coalition launched a narrative framing project to develop a positive, hopeful vision of Europe that members could use to counter rising authoritarian populist and anti-Europe narratives. This story takes us through the process of developing a coalition narrative with multiple perspectives across the continent.
Liz Manne | November 2018
Liz Manne shows how strategic communications, cultural organizing, and grassroots and field organizing are centered on a deep understanding of the audience. Powerful stories drive these interconnected practices forward to win campaigns and drive long-term culture change. Full disclosure: Liz is now a Narrative Initiative Advisory Board Member.
Rashad Robinson | April 2018
Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color of Change, examines the practices and infrastructure needed for narrative projects to build and use power. He argues that campaigns need the capacity to follow through on narrative over time and at scale; more people at all levels need to be aware and capable of spreading narrative change work; and the field needs to better understand the power of brands.
Liz Manne | November 2018
This is a concise look at how marketing allows advocates to understand the wants and needs of an audience – one of the building blocks of creating a narrative that shows how change can meet people’s needs. Full disclosure: Liz is now a Narrative Initiative Advisory Board Member.
Grassroots Policy Project | 2016
Groups should place narrative work in context of the larger struggle to shift power in society. Understanding worldview, or the “battle of big ideas,” Sandra Hinson writes, provides us with a more comprehensive framework for engaging in a contest of ideas with corporate-conservative powers.
Power and Movement Building
Mary Joyce, Stanford Social Innovation Review | Summer 2019
In her review of Jen Schradie’s The Revolution That Wasn’t: How Digital Activism Favors Conservatives, Mary Joyce writes that conservatives are focused on freedom and use social media primarily to distribute information. Meanwhile, progressives focus on fairness. Their goals include behavior change, a much bigger challenge for digital activism, and the messaging supporting it.
Jamilah King, Pop Culture Collab | March 2019
A look inside how Color of Change, Define American, Harness and other organizations are bringing expertise and support to television writers. Their goal is to create storylines that reflect America’s diverse television audiences and open doors for writers from those audiences.
Black Futures Lab | 2019
With a sample-size of 31,000 the Black Census Project surfaces and distills perspectives from black communities across the United States, revealing issues critical to activating and engaging Black communities in the years ahead.
Blueprints for Change | 2018
Narrative change needs scale to have impact. That often means working with coalitions and aligned networks of partners. Here, a group of campaigners and strategists with experience building coalitions and networks share guidance and insights into setting up and sustaining nimble, scalable coalitions.
Center for Cultural Power | Spring 2019
The newly launched Center for Cultural Power gives us a look at how artists shape narratives, culture and social movements. The concept paper provides insights into how artists can engage in social change and the infrastructure needed to create impact with art and narrative.
Opportunity Agenda | Spring 2019
Social media has reshaped the role of cultural influencers in public conversations about current events. Opportunity Agenda provides ten tips for working with cultural influencers. Guidance is based on The Case of Cultural Influencers, a social media analysis project examining the role of Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Kimmel, MeToo and other social media-driven events.
Jeff Chang, Liz Manne and Erin Potts | June 2018
A series of conversations between groups of cultural strategy practitioners led the authors to sort through the role of storytelling, narrative practices and cultural strategies in the ecosystem of culture change work. They also identify values underlying cultural strategy work, values we see in effective narrative projects. Full disclosure: Jeff and Liz are now Narrative Initiative Advisory Board Members.
Top photo by Nong Vang via Unsplash.