Why framing matters: ways to move forward.

Author:Evans, Tracy Wareing
Position::President's memo - Essay
 
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Chances are if you've read this column or heard me speak in the past couple of years, you've seen or heard the words "framing matters" and you know that I am a self-proclaimed "geek" of framing science and believe it is a key tool for anyone interested in moving system transformation in health and human services. In recent months, I have doubled-down on that belief, especially as we witness drastically different narratives playing out across our nation.

In prior issues of Policy & Practice, we have introduced you to framing and what effective framing can do to make our shared narrative more productive and impactful. We have also introduced you to experts, especially our friends at the Frameworks Institute, and the results of their research relevant to our field (see www.frameworksinstitute.org). At APHSA, we continue to be both eager students and practicing champions of framing. We are increasingly mindful of the pitfalls we all can fall into when describing why human services matters and what can be done to improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. In this column, I share two framing strategies that can help us avoid the most common mistakes and produce more effective frames.

First, we need to widen our lens.

Think about what happens when you add a wide-angle lens to your camera and turn to its widest position--what do you see? You capture as much of the landscape before you as possible within the frame.

In the human services space, when we widen our lens, it helps us avoid the fundamental attribution error--i.e., the predominant belief that we can "fix" an individual or family through a program or service without addressing the environmental factors in their lives. In our field, too often we tell an individual success story to policymakers or the public believing that it perfectly illustrates why a program or service works. Consider, for example, the story of a young mother who recounts the impact on her life when she is able to get a job with a meaningful wage. If the story focuses on her journey, it will likely be overwhelmed by the deeply embedded American value of hard work and grit. In other words, listeners will attribute her success to her resilience and fortitude alone, not also to the services around her. Too often, the story we believe we are telling simply isn't heard. What is heard is the story of someone who overcame the odds (what Frameworks refers to as the value of "self-making"), rather than how the...

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