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Recent News

Events of note in the world of strategic framing and communications – from the Topos perspective

Do You Know Joe?

Yes. This is Rocker Joe Grady.

But, wait, that’s not all you don’t know.

One of the co-founders of Topos Partnership and Cultural Logic, Joe recently added yet another title to his collection.

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University has announced that Joe is a new senior fellow there. We’re excited for Joe and thrilled at this recognition of his (academic) talent!

Joe Grady: Rocker, Topos Team member, and Fellow.

Labor Day Boost

Happy Labor Day! Celebrate economy-boosting jobs with our new video.

This “Simply-Put” video provides a brief illustration of how to make the core points emerging from newly released Topos research on communicating job quality, including minimum wage and paid sick days. We expect this video will be a great tool for sharing the research findings with colleagues, field staff, supporters, and others. It’s a terrific way to start a conversation – or to wrap up a presentation about building support for job quality initiatives. Check it out! And then read more about our findings.


New Job Quality Research Findings Build on Recent Success

Advocates and strategists around the country have achieved some recent successes on a range of job quality policies – especially higher minimum wages and guaranteed paid sick days. From one perspective, these successes indicate the potential to “turn the corner” on job quality debates, and achieve long-term improvements.

On the other hand, people involved in these struggles tell us that the battles are often fought “uphill” against stubborn resistance of various kinds – not just from self-interested industry opponents, but also from decision-makers and the public.

In a multi-phase research effort over the past year, the Topos Partnership has explored Americans’ thinking about these aspects of job quality, and ways of creating more support for policies that would improve our labor market.

In the course of this research we identified a set of persistent, broadly shared ideas in public discourse that can derail conversation about job quality policies, and have developed a practical communications framework that helps people think more constructively about the relationship between jobs, people, corporate actions and the economy.

Our intention was to help communicators in a number of ways:

  • Persuade some who are currently not on our side
  • Increase the confidence of people who are on our side
  • Offer decision-makers models of how to talk persuasively
  • Tie a number of issues together
  • Create a new common sense.

The Problem

Research with a diverse group of hundreds of Americans established that a handful of strong, default perspectives – that collectively feel like “the common sense” on the issue – often undermine support for job quality policies, even among progressive audiences. Importantly, each of these perspectives is based on (partial) truth, and is therefore reinforced by experience and can seem undeniable.

Two of the strongest default perspectives related to job quality focus, respectively, on what businesses need, and what individuals need. Opponents of the job quality agenda typically emphasize the former, while supporters often emphasize the latter.

The Topos research found that to succeed at important framing goals – including broadening the base of support and offering sympathetic audiences more compelling ways of thinking and talking about the topic – it is helpful to focus on a different set of needs: namely what we (collectively), our economy and our communities need. Essentially, to counter the argument that economic success depends on giving business what it wants, we need to reframe the idea of how the economy works. Rather than focus on either individuals or business, this focus ties the two together in a helpful way.

The following core story effectively reframes job quality topics in a way that shifts thinking and engages new support.

If jobs don’t pay enough for workers to afford the basics, the economy slows down. Profitable companies could compensate better but choose not to.

The essential contrast boils down to a choice between “economy-boosting” and “economy-busting” jobs. Some advocates have used versions of this organizing idea for a while now. Our research confirms the effectiveness of the frame for building broad support and new understanding among the public, and provides essential new points like the value of explaining that jobs need to provide enough for “the basics” — food, repairs, clothing, and more.

Conclusion – a “Big Idea”

Importantly, we set out to identify framing that can help not just with one or two specific policies, but promotes new attitudes toward the broader idea of improving jobs for all workers in our economy.

The recommendation is effective at this level, but goes even further. In the end, it offers an alternative common sense about how our economy works, what kind of economy we want and need, and how to achieve it.

If communicators succeed in conveying this vision – of a society that thrives when everyone has the means and the security to maintain spending on the basics – a lot of our policy debates will be less difficult in the future.

Interested in more details about the research? Add your name to our list to receive a toolkit for advocates and communicators.

The Power and Pitfalls of Talking Inequality

A new Congressional Budget Office paper reviewing income inequality concludes that the pattern of increasing inequality will continue for years to come — unless we decide to make some policy shifts or there is some other major economic change.

Many advocates will be inclined to reference inequality and this new CBO paper as they promote policy solutions, since it seems to present such a natural news hook for advocates to review and revive policy proposals, such as those that make it easier for employees to stick together in the workplace.

In this essay — part of the Topos Library of articles with framing advice relevant to many issues — the authors (Topos principals Axel Aubrun and Joe Grady) discuss inequality as an organizing idea for communications.

From one point of view, this focus on Inequality is justified and even morally essential. What could be more important than trying to address the many areas in American society where one group is disadvantaged relative to others? Observations about Inequality aren’t just true, they’re also at the heart of many people’s motivation to become involved. Much of the passion that drives activism and advocacy springs from people’s instinctive rejection of Inequality, and their commitment to working against it.

BUT, does a commitment to reducing Inequality mean that we know how to talk about Inequality? Years of research on how Americans understand and talk about social issues suggest that, depending on the audience, discussions of Inequality must overcome important and complex challenges. In fact, the findings show clearly that when we talk directly about Inequality, listeners often take away a message that is the opposite of what we intended, and despite our skill and our good intentions, the discussion can end up doing more harm than good. While there are certainly some audiences that respond exactly as hoped, communications that are targeted at “the general public” can often fall on deaf ears, or worse, when they focus on this theme.

The reasons have partly to do with American assumptions and values – and at an even deeper level, with the (universal) nature of “everyday thinking,” and the mental tools people everywhere use to think about the world.

The authors review a number of pitfalls communicators should try to avoid and offer advocates ways to work toward the goals the they care about while avoiding these unfortunate traps.

Read the rest.