Convening #5 Narrative Change


Objectives and Outcomes

  1. Define narrative change and discuss how communications strategies are a component, but not sufficient, for deep narrative change

  2. Identify the dominant narrative that inhibits our work and opportunities to build a new narrative

  3. Identify strategies to effectively communicate new narratives, without reinforcing gendered and racial tropes

  4. Learn from fellow GICP member pilot programs focusing on narrative change

  5. Begin to build common language among guaranteed income advocates to center racial and gender equity within guaranteed income pilots and policy while shifting to asset-based narrative frame



After reviewing the pre-reading please consider the following questions before the convening:

  1. What is the dominant narrative that inhibits our work? What is the scale and power of this narrative?

  2. What is the replacement narrative? What assets and power do we have to change the narrative?


  1. Framing the Conversation

Anne Price and Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Insight Center

Making the case on why we’re working on guaranteed income

  • In past sessions we’ve talked about poverty being a policy choice: we could choose to eliminate it if we wanted to, but what gets in the way of that are narratives — deeply embedded mental models and cultural frames of reference that help us understand the world.

  • In the U.S., we’ve created a set of narratives particularly around deservingness: who we see as fully human/capable; and we all absorb that living and growing up here. These are embedded in racism, sexism, xenophobia, white supremacy and get in the way of policies (e.g., guaranteed income) that could address policy. So you can’t shy away from these narratives when talking about economic justice policy. “Narratives eat policy for breakfast.”

  • You can pass the best policies in the world but if you’re not actively addressing narrative change you’re still perpetuating the same policies if you’re not fixing root causes.

  • This is why you can’t simply talk about poverty and only talk about class — you can’t ignore how racism/sexism/etc. are embedded in poverty itself. That’s being passive and ignoring the narratives about who is deserving.

  • Anne: Ultimately, what are we trying to change? Are we embedding lived experience in our policymaking and decisionmaking? These are all so important when it comes to narrative — because ultimately we’re trying to change, transform, and harness public will.

  • We know that this [GI] is emergent – and that we are having to come into this without expertise. Even if you’re ready or not wanting to address some topics (e.g., deservingness) head on, you need to be aware of how you are perpetuating things, and be aware of even small changes you can make (e.g., language choices) that can make a difference in your work.

  • Jhumpa: Folks often say: “polling says people say we don’t want to talk about race” – but we have such an opportunity here to push people toward things that are uncomfortable. If we shy away from racism (especially because it makes white people but also some people of color uncomfortable) we will not actually make real change.

  • In this exciting experimentation around pilots — it’s an opportunity to sit in a place of discomfort and help to move people where we want them to be.

  • Whether you like it or not, you are in narrative work by working in GI pilots because it is ALL about deservingness, who we believe deserves to be poor and who does not. In the U.S., women and people of color are disproportionately poor. So if you’re working on this, you HAVE to center these narratives because that is a fact.

  1. Narrative Change – Provoke, Legitimize, Win

Natalie Foster, Economic Security Project

  • Let’s take a minute and reflect on how far this community has come when it comes to narratives about guaranteed income: what does it mean to take this in a way that’s actually centered and situated in racial justice. A year ago a lot of the narrative was mainly “robots are taking away your jobs” and Silicon Valley-focused.

  • Question will be: how can we make sure this is here and now and centered on racial justice? Actually, we KNOW that this topic (from Dr. King to Black Panthers) has been present in Black activist/organizer thought and spaces for a long time.

    • Shoutout to Aisha and Magnolia Mothers Trust for centering these narratives in their work. Same with Michael Tubbs when we spoke to a number of mayors for a demonstration in a city/mayor/families and were deciding where to start.

  • That said: still some unanswered questions strategically: How much do we spend time dismantling racist stereotypes versus charting out a future we want to see?

  • But we are on the doorstop of something big: Child Tax Credit. No strings attached. Real opportunities to push the conversation.

  1. Understanding How Narratives are Built and Shifted

Facilitated conversation led by Rinku Sen, The Narrative Initiative

  • Goals:

    • difference between strategic communications and narrative shift strategy and the relationship between them

    • helpful vs. harmful narratives

    • elements of crafting and implementing a narrative strategy: what are the capacities you need and what kind of people are well-suited to this kind of work

The introduction was followed by a 15 minute presentation and 20 minute small group exercise. 

Narrative Change Work on the Ground

  • Abundant Birth Project, Dr. Zea Malawa

    • Why the focus on women of color?

    • Pregnancy income supplement for Black and Pacific Islander pregnant people in the Bay Area.

      • “Why only these communities? Don’t other parents deserve this, too?”

    • Work is rooted in targeted universalism. We want all the flowers in the garden to bloom, so we are focusing water on the flowers that aren’t already blooming.

    • We know what it takes for women to have healthy pregnancies. Not everyone has access though, so we’re going to work with the women who do not have the access.

    • Countering stereotypes about Black women – even the name Abundant was intentional of that regard, both in our words and imagery

    • We name racism and name it every time. Because we don’t want to cede control of the narrative and imply that Black and Pacific Islander families don’t know how to make ‘proper choices’ about their own families

    • There’s an impact when we don’t name racism. When we focus instead on class, we are erasing the historical and modern day impact of racist policies. If you think you’re being apolitical by being “race-neutral” you’re making a political choice

    • Be clear about who your actual audience is – we don’t focus on the racist trolls, we focus on the people who have the ability to make decisions and communities ability to shift

    • Need to hear from different voices: e.g., we have doctors, community researchers, mamas of color, research partners

  • Magnolia Mother’s Trust – Dr. Aisha Nyandoro

    • When we started our work we were intentional about goals we wanted to accomplish – not just GI. How can we change the narrative about how we talk about not just Black women, but Black women with limited financial resources in this country.

    • Not just about changing the narrative but changing the narrator. E.g., so the women impacted could be the ones shaping that narrative

    • A movement without those impacted isn’t a movement, it’s a collection of egos.

    • Anne Price says “policy moves at the speed of narrative”

    • Yes racists gonna racist, but also we need to think about how the narrative impacts the people we are hoping to serve as well.

    • “Danger of a single narrative” – that includes who in our programs are able to shape and tell narratives / hear and receive them

      • You have to be intentional about supporting your storytellers. You need to make sure your folks have the training and platforms to have the skills and confidence to do this work. (E.g., our moms do webinars and training). We never send folks out there before they personally feel prepared.

    • Narrative is how we move from program to policy.

    • Being respectful to folks who show up to tell their stories – and shedding respectability politics

  • 37208 Demonstration – Jamel Campbell-Gooch and Read Ezell

    • We root ourselves in history; want to give you the narrative we are giving to community members to educate folks on what is happening, but also to educate donors.

    • Highest incarceration rate in the country (often due to inability to pay for fines and fees)

    • Years and years of anti-Black racist policies / but also experiencing effects of gentrification

    • Trying to show Nashville that it’s worth investing in North Nashville – beyond the nonprofit industrial complex

    • Trying to change a model for narratives for communities elsewhere in the city – so that despite being focused on one zip code, it’s a sustainable narrative for other places going forward

    • Grassroots led – no public official leading this; going to community members and asking how they would like us to advocate for them / raising small donations ~ skin the game from small donors who donate what they can

    • Want people walking away understanding how GI can improve real and material conditions in a meaningful way – it’s not just about “claiming a policy win” but about getting people involved and organized to grow political consciousness

    • Links from Jamel and Reed: