Doyle Canning: Five Ways to Change the Story in 2016
So you’re a social change maker looking to shake things up this year? Here are some ideas on how to make your campaign stand out with story-based strategy:
1. Cast Your Characters
Who is the protagonist of this story? Can we see their face(s)? Hear their voice? Often times the most memorable thing about a message is actually the messenger. It is who the story is about, and that is *everything*. Are you lifting up the people who are most emblematic of the larger narrative? Are you amplifying the people who are most directly effected? What about your villain? If you don’t have one, now is the time to get one. Every story needs someone (or something) we can all love to hate.
[NOTE: I agree with this strategy up to the point where it tells us to “get a villain”. This is not a Buddhist approach to direct action. We don’t need to create enemies or provoke hate. Love and compassion for all, even our enemies, is our practice.]
2. Make it Meme-able
Not only does your story need to spark, it also has to spread. Do you have a symbol, slogan, or powerful image that will carry your narrative far and wide? How sticky is it, really? Hashtags so long that they make you squint are not going to get the job done. Choose a story signifier that is compact, portable and potentially viral. Is it something people can participate in shaping or creating? Is it a filter for a profile pic, a catchy chant at the rally, or a symbolic image that can be featured at upcoming events? Workshop out some ideas. Consider how people will interact with the meme in order to spread it, and what creative materials you will need to set an unstoppable fire.
3. Show the Stakes
Social change work is action packed, but often times the real drama of what is at stake is obscured by acronyms, policy wonkery or Lefty insider lingo. Put all of that aside and cut right to the heart of the matter. Tell us less and show us more. Show your supporters (and your targets) what is to be won or lost, what and who are at risk, and how their action can make the difference.
4. Shift the Power
Narrative Power Analysis is a process of deconstructing the dominant narratives that you are trying to change. By examining the narrative you want to transform and incorporating an understanding of the dynamics of that story into your strategy, you can aim to shift power relations in the story and chip away at the hegemony of your opponents frame. Its not as hard as it sounds! Just ask yourself, who are the characters in the story your opposition is telling? What is the defining conflict they are engaging in, or problem they are claiming they’re trying to solve? Peruse their websites, advertising, press coverage, etc. and note key words, images and people. This will give you some clues about how to frame your story in a way that challenges their story and the underlying assumptions upon which it relies.
5. Foreshadow Victory
Your key assignment in 2016 is to create the image of victory that we can’t un-see. If you were to succeed in your campaign goals, what would it actually look like? How can you create and recreate this image in everything you do? This could be the most difficult task of all, as we can become so consumed in the intensity of our work that we suffer from a crisis of imagination. But sharing our vision can also be the most joyful, powerful, and persuasive way to win. May this year be a turning point for new visions unleashed upon the collective consciousness!
Doyle Canning is a creative strategist dedicated to building movements for social change. She is co-founder of the Center for Story-based Strategy and co-author ofRe:imagining Change – How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements and Change the World (PM Press). She serves as a consultant to organizations, networks and movements for social justice and an ecological future.