As the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) moves into the post-Recovery Act era, telling its story is more important than ever. To maintain funding levels and staffing, the network needs to attract new partners and the best way to do so is to show that the WAP is a proven, cost-effective and ultimately very successful program. NASCSP has many tools available on the WAPTAC website to assist with this goal, primarily found under the Public Information tab. However, our colleagues on the CSBG side have gone farther and published a Storytelling Manual with the assistance of Economic Opportunity Studies. This manual provides guidelines and strategies to most effectively communicate your message to the wider world – that Weatherization Works. Below are some tips and guidelines based on research about how the public understands poverty and how to create a narrative that will have the most impact.
Frameworks and Frames
A person’s framework is a complex structure of personal beliefs. It influences the way he or she sees any story you frame in your own narrative and how he or she tells his or her own story. The following fleshes out some of the more common frames and how to address them.
- Poverty and Poor People
Since hard work and family are still fundamental American values, Americans identify with a person whose work ethic is unquestionable and who strives for a better life for her or his family. Our strong individualistic bias leads us to value work, perseverance, and also ingenuity. Experts advise that advocates for low-income Americans use the term economic insecurity instead of poverty and to refer to low-wage workers instead of working poor or poor. Most people can identify with terms that suggest insecure employment and hard work, but they find “poverty” and “poor” to be ambiguous.
Opportunity is a valued American concept. The WAP creates opportunity through job creation and training, among other things. Americans generally believe that if your work facilitates opportunity, the economy is fairer. Showcase how your program has helped create ways for people to become self-sufficient and valuable members of the workforce.
- Government Programs and Organizations
Americans tend to be skeptical of “government” and “programs” per se. They are uncertain about what works in government and also how their taxes are spent. Many are discouraged by experience or propaganda that says government can never work. At the same time, most Americans generally support the categories of government initiatives offering opportunities for education, training, and employment; that provide some security for people in old age; or for those who are ill or disabled. Therefore, the most effective success story for an organization, according to research findings, is one that showcases the responsible, informed leadership and management behind a program. Responsible leaders are seen as those whose goals are building new jobs and strengthening the economy for the long term; they focus on strengthening the community as a whole.
Create Your Narrative in Five Strategic Steps
- Choose stories that illustrate frames and focus on the values and goals of the WAP. Be sure they reflect shared basic values, such as supporting working families, supporting the economy, opening new opportunities, and expanding economic security;
- Begin with a widely-shared framework, a broadly shared concern;
- Continue with a description of the problem itself, in this case energy efficiency and jobs for low-income Americans; frame it in terms of the categories people recognize and respect;
- Lay out the well thought-out and effective solution as implemented; and
- End with a description of the outcome, and if appropriate, future expectations.
This five-step strategic approach to story-telling may seem counter to many conventional communications practices. For example, many stories in the network focus on an individual’s history. Using this five-step approach will strategically frame your story so it is more likely to connect with the audience in ways that will help them understand what America should be doing to address economic insecurity, energy efficiency, and job training in this country.
This is just a taste of the much wider ranging document, which can be found on the NASCSP website. Additionally, we will be updating the document and tailoring it to meet the needs of the WAP network and you will be advised when it is available. Thank you for all of your hard work and let’s get the story of our success out there!
by Rebecca Stewart