Field Guide: Narrative Research Methodologies
The narrative change field is informed by an array of multidisciplinary approaches to craft narratives, test messages, landscape the narrative environment, and measure narrative change efforts. Our field guide presents a map to a number of traditional and emergent research practices in this space.
As part of our Understanding Narrative Research Methodologies project, Narrative Initiative worked with Spitfire Strategies to produce a field guide to narrative research methodologies. Based on nearly 20 interviews with researchers, practitioners and academics, this report explores the landscape of both existing and emergent narrative research methodologies.
We see this guide as a first edition, intended to spark dialogue. We hope researchers and practitioners in the field reach out to exchange learning and help us fill in the gaps. If you’re interested in further conversation, please contact
There are likely thousands of organizations and movements actively at work to promote fair and inclusive societies, trying to win justice and equity on a grand scale. These groups, including nonprofits, tap into our imaginations by organizing and by using visual and verbal language to open new pathways and possibilities. We understand this nexus of efforts as narrative change work. No entity does this work alone. Success is found when work is done in coalition and collaboration. How then do they uncover concepts that will move their audiences to action, build power and stickiness, and lead to lasting change?
Narrative Initiative commissioned Spitfire Strategies to learn more about the research approaches and methods being used to inform and advance the narrative work of social justice organizations. This Field Guide offers lessons from interviews with some narrative change research leaders. Our interviewees presented a snapshot of the field, identified barriers, and offered a starting point to deepening narrative change research.
Due to its emergent nature and the varied traditions feeding into narrative change research, a set of needs arose that we find noteworthy. Interviewees cited the need for boldly embracing equity and diversity, and for collaboration across organizations and disciplines sharing research tools, data, and insights. They also expressed a need for shared research ethics and standards of practice. Both the challenge and the opportunity in this work lies in drawing from multiple sectors that contribute to narrative change practice.
We see this Field Guide as the first edition of a tool for narrative change researchers and those interested in embarking upon the practices detailed below. We also frame this Field Guide as an invitation to dialogue and learning exchange wherein readers help fill in the gaps and point to strong examples of theory and practice informing their own approaches. Ultimately, we want to learn with you how research methodologies are being used to make justice and equity common sense.
This report was written by Inga Skippings, Mark Dessaury, and Alexander (Bob) Boykin at Spitfire Strategies; in conversation with Márquez Rhyne and Rachel Weidinger at Narrative Initiative. We want to thank the following for helping to shape the thinking in this Field Guide:
- Meg Bostrom, Topos Partnership
- Jeff Chang, Race Forward
- Brett Davidson, Open Society Foundations
- Kristen Grimm, Spitfire Strategies
- Hahrie Han, The P3 Lab
- Doug Hattaway, Hattaway Communications
- David Karpf, George Washington University
- Nat Kendall-Taylor, FrameWorks Institute
- Martin Kirk, /The Rules
- Richard Kirsch, Our Story – The Hub for American Narratives
- Liz Manne, Liz Manne Strategy
- Felicia Perez, Center for Story-based Strategy
- Rashid Shabazz, Color of Change
- Micah Sifry, Civic Hall and Personal Democracy Media
- Anat Shenker-Osorio, ASO Communications
- Tracy Van Slyke, Pop Culture Collaborative
- Brian Waniewski, Harmony Labs
- Rachel Weidinger, Upwell (closed)