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Beneath the surface-level chaos of news, messages and opinion, our social concepts and culture have a structure and relation that set the terms of debate and determine what is seen as relevant and important. Together, these stories that we tell about how the world works, construct our reality and inform what futures we see as possible.

These ingrained cultural understandings and mental models are sometimes called ‘narratives’.

Levels of Narrative

‘Narrative’ is a widely used term, for everything from simple stories to fundamental beliefs. In our work we make the distinction through five levels:

Stories & Opinion: the surface level of public discourse, reflected in everyday news, and captured through methods like polling and focus groups.

Collective Agendas: grouped perspectives and interpretations of the world. Most discussion and analysis of ‘narrative’ focuses on this level. 

Operating Assumptions: conventional definitions and understandings often unspoken, determining what is possible, relevant, and worthy of attention

Mental Models: deeper societal concepts and norms, mostly unconscious, around fundamental ways that the world works

Identities, Values & Worldviews: base cultural and psychological frameworks that inform and draw from our collective culture

For more on our five levels of narrative, see here> (link to be added)

Our ‘Power in Place’ report investigated the underlying assumptions about the relationship between land and people that justifies and perpetuates the continuing deprioritization of land reform.

Narratives and Social Change

Narratives play an important role in major social challenges, and as fundamental context for all efforts to address them. 

Many narratives reinforce a damaging status quo, through constraining the limits of acceptable discourse. Changing them provides a means to access and imagine better possibilities. 

Existing narratives must be fully understood to be changed, uncovering how they work at different levels, relate to each other, and appeal to deeper worldviews.

Only with this understanding can we develop effective strategies for short and long term change: assessing gaps, opportunities, and weaknesses within narratives as well as deconstructing how power and privilege come in. 

Shifting Narratives

In our work to create space for new narratives, we have developed a process where we first gather data on current dominant narratives and then analyse three main focus areas:

Concept: the Narrative’s logics, arguments and core frames; how it appeals to certain values, identities and worldviews

Power: looking at who is involved in maintaining and spreading the dominant Narrative; who is impacted by or opposing it; and the role of technology and media 

Affordances: looking at the gaps and opportunities for promoting alternatives, and the maturity of existing options

Possible Outcomes

Based on the mapping and analysis findings, we design and implement approaches for different needs and contexts, for example:

Strategies and positioning, to help organisations fully understand the narrative ecosystem they exist in 

Messaging and framing guidance and materials, to support more effective communication and campaigns

Long term narrative change projects, often collaborations between several organisations to shift deeper barriers

Explore some examples of our work here.

Contact us at info@futurenarrativeslab.org to get involved or learn more about our current Narrative Change projects.