Using The Science of Storytelling to Change the Narrative on Poverty and Wealth: Shanelle Matthews of Radcomms and Annie Neimand of Third Sector – Transcript
Kirk: Welcome to Let’s Hear It.
Eric: Let’s Hear It is a podcast for and about the field of foundation and nonprofit communications produced by its two co-hosts, Eric Brown and Kirk Brown. No relation,
Kirk: well said Eric. And I’m Kirk.
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Eric: So let’s get onto the show.
Eric: Hi folks, it’s Eric here with a very quick program note. When we recorded this interview. Annie Neimand was still at the Center for Public Interest Communications and she has since moved on to become Director of Impact and evaluation at Third Sector. We had tried to get this episode up in time before she changed jobs, but we failed. But no matter, every time we say Center for Public Interest Communications, think Third Sector. Now on with the show.
Kirk: And we’re back. You found us again. It’s let’s hear it, and as we wrap up another excellent chapter in the storied annals of, Let’s Hear It, we’re coming to the conclusion of another year. Mr. Brown, we’ve got another good one.
Kirk: Mr. Brown. We’ve got another good one.
Eric: The storied, annals, you say. By the way. Kirk. Hello, how are you? Hello. Hi.
Kirk: I’m doing just fine. How are you doing?
Eric: It’s great to see you. I just wanted to tell you a quick story before we get into this interview, my dear friend and our, I think our most our most inveterate listener, Marty Casella, I had a chance to, to see him this week and he said, you know, you guys are so interesting. I always listen to the show, but, but I have a question. Do, do you like Kirk
Of course. I like, I love Kirk.
Kirk: There’s a clear answer to that question and it will not be shared on this podcast .
Eric: So to anyone out there who thinks it, perhaps it’s just my own sort of New York shtick or something. But I love you, Kirk. I just want our listeners to know that I hold you in the world’s highest esteem.
Kirk: I love you right back. But it’s true that effective storytelling requires a protagonist and an antagonist.
Eric: And you’re the protagonist and you’re the hero. And I’m the asshole.
Kirk: No, it’s so great. Well, speaking of storytelling, we’ve got one. Okay. So I wanna say. If this is just a conversation, if nobody in the world listens to this, but Shanelle, Annie, you and me, I’m gonna have some methodology questions at the end of when we come back to talk about this.
This is a very important conversation that we’re about to listen to. I want you to set it up, but I, I want to propose to you, Mr. Brown, that this is not just disruptive work that we’re putting forward here, but it’s dangerous work. And I’ll tell you more about it when we come back, but Okay. Set this up.
Eric: This is a great conversation. Well, I spoke with Shanelle Matthews, who’s the communications director for the Movement for Black Lives, and she is the founder of the Radical Communicators Network. And for those, Marty will know this, but for those who don’t, Shanelle was a, a guest of ours, I think it was two years ago.
And, and she is our first repeat guest, and she’s joined by Annie Neimandd, who’s the research director at the Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida. And she is the first relative of a previous guest on Lets Here. And her Uncle Rich was a guest. Yep. And they have teamed up to create this new resource called Broke, how the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors are talking about poverty and how we can do better.
And I, I really have so much respect for, for these two people, and I very much enjoy the conversation. And
Kirk: let’s be clear, Shanelle is a star. Yes, and you’ll find Shanelle Hello Shanelle.com. Dr. Neimand, because Annie’s a PhD. Neimand Yes is a rising star, clearly, and you’ll find Dr. Neimand at the Center for Public Interest Communications.
But you’re gonna find the content for what’s discussed on this email@example.com, and we highly recommend that folks. Go to that site, download the document, read it, and use it as a study guide, as this conversation happens. Because Eric, you do some high-end work. Oh, you do some high-end interview work here.
Well, this is great hot dog. Well, let’s listen to Annie and Shanelle from Broke Chop bro project.org on. Let’s hear it and then we’ll come back.
Eric: Well, to let’s hear it, my guests, guests, plural. Guests today are Shanelle Matthews, the communications Director for the Movement for Black Lives, the founder of the Radical Communicators Network.
And the first repeat guest on, let’s Hear It. And Shanelle is joined by Annie Neimand, the research director at the Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida, and the first relative of a previous guest on, let’s Hear It. This is a lot of firsts we have today. Annie Shanelle, thank you so much for joining us on, let’s Hear It.
Shanelle: Thank you so much for inviting us.
Annie: Thank you. Excited to be here.
Eric: This is gonna be a great conversation today. We’re gonna spend a lot of time talking about an amazing new resource that they helped to create called Broke, how the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors are talking about poverty and how we can do better.
But first, I just wanted to get a little, little background for the folks who, who aren’t familiar, who did maybe hear your last episode. Shanelle, we’ll start with you, Shanelle, tell me a little bit about Radical Communicators Network or at rad Coms, as the cool people call it.
Shanelle: Yeah. Thanks so much, Eric. It’s so good to be back and I have honored to be your first repeat podcaster, so thanks for that invitation.
Rad Comms is a community of practice for social change communicators. We come from all different movements and backgrounds and the network. Created in part as a kind of repository for us to commiserate after the 2016 elections and to figure out what the role of the social justice, social movement, nonprofit communicator was to ensure that Trump didn’t get reelected, and it’s turned into so much more than that.
We’ve grown exponentially. We have 5,000 members and. every US state in 20 countries, we speak 45 languages. You know, we have folks who come from journalism, people who’ve come from philanthropy, some folks who still still work in philanthropy, digital strategists, strategic communications workers, you know, people who work on narrative and narrative theory, messaging research like the work Annie does, and so much more.
And we hosted the Narrative Power Summit this year with Reframe, which was really incredible, and brought together 500 social movement communications workers to talk about the 2024 and with the. Kinda get a landscape of what’s going on in the field. So yeah, RADCOM’s has been, you know, a political home for me and many other people to come together and think about how to advance our field in new and innovative ways, and also how to support each other and democratize access to information and knowledge creation, and frankly, to radicalize the field to a, using a power-based framework when we think about narrative and narrative, narrative power building.
Eric: Well, it’s incredible work. I’ve, I’ve admired you from afar and, and sometimes I get a chance to even talk to you personally, and I just love that work that you’re doing and thank you. It’s great to have you back. Welcome back. Thank you, . Now, Annie, so I wanna talk just a little bit about Center for Public Interest Communications, but also just how you are using.
In general to inform communications, cuz this is, you know, back in the day if you got a communications degree, you went into PR and you did something crappy. And now , I mean, you’re, you are helping to bring along a, a new generation of researchers who are helping to inform the work that the folks who listen to this show do.
Can you just give us a little bit of background around, around. I don’t know that trajectory of your career and the work that you’re doing.
Annie: Yeah, so you’ve had Anne Cristiano on the show before. She is our fearless leader at the Center for Public Interest Communications and first came to the University of Florida to build a field of public interest communications, which we define as evidence-based strategic communications designed in the public’s.
And in order to do that, she needed to identify the scholarship that could help build this field. And she found me as a frustrated graduate student in the sociology department, frustrated that there was so much research that I was seeing being published in journals, but were just sitting on shelves or in databases, untouched.
And I was frustrated because I saw how this research could actually be applied to solve problems, but there was nobody doing that translational work. And so my Uncle Rich Nemand, who is the person I’m related to that you talked to before, no New Ann Christiano and connected us. And, um, the rest is history.
We started working together, identifying that research, bringing it to the Frank Gathering, which is a conference that happens every February in Gainesville, which Shanelle will be speaking at this coming February. So buy your tickets. If you haven’t bought your tickets yet.
Eric: I will be there with bells on.
Annie: Yay. That’s great. And then we started writing about this research. So you may have seen our work into the Stanford Social Innovation Review. We had the article, stop Raising Awareness already, and then the follow up article, the Science of What Makes People Care. And then we’ve published a bunch since. But from those articles, we had organizations that started to reach out to us and say, can you help us solve this really hard problem?
We wanna know what the research tells us we should do. So we started doing that and we did it so much that we were able to fund our own center. We’re a self-funded center for public interest communications at the University of Florida. And we work with partners all over the world to look at what science tells us about how to design for social change.
And we translate that into strategies that are then. Across the world by organizations as small as grassroots community foundations to big intergovernmental organizations. And Shanelle and I finally got to work together. I’ve been such a fan of Shanelle forever because there was a call from the Gates Foundation to apply for this grant.
And so the Center for Public Interest Communications and the Radical Communicators came together and put together a proposal for this grant to apply the science of storytelling to this big challenge of how do we change the narrative on poverty and. , yada, yada, yada.
Eric: Here we are. So this is like a marriage for me anyway, in, in my own mind.
It’s a marriage made in heaven because we don’t do the kind of research that I think we need to do. I mean, I often ask people, we like, what makes you think mm-hmm that the thing you think is true. Mm-hmm. . And they go, cuz I think it’s true. Like, yeah, but what makes you think that? Why do you think that?
And they often don’t have an answer. They don’t have anything to fall back on. And, and it feels to me like what you do, Annie, is, is provide a really important set of checks against assumptions and Shanelle what you, what you bring to this and what radical communicators brings to this is, you know, like a real interest in moving in, in moving us towards a more just society.
And, and if you take these things together, you can make, you can make a lot of change I think. And you can help actually educate a lot of communicators about. About not just how to do what you need to do, but, but what this all means. And Shanelle, can you talk a little bit about how you basically made meaning out of talking around, uh, about poverty, about how to advance narratives that are productive, that can make a difference and that properly tell the story about poverty in America?
Shanelle: I mean, it’s been such an honor to work with Annie because I really value what she brings to these kind of political projects in terms of her research background. Not just because she’s a researcher, but also because she’s studies research methods that are rooted in feminism and. Bring an intersectional lens to how we do this kind of work.
I, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of movement workers are incredulous of the academy because the research methods are rooted in supremacist ideologies, or they’re not examined by the researchers in ways that are thorough and don’t need to like, you know, unnecessary bias in the output of the work.
So it’s just really nice to be able to work with people who understand how important that is. When we first took this project on, I’ll say like, it’s fun, it’s not like n typical for organizations to say like, we’re gonna actually create more work for ourselves by collaborating on a grant. That was like one of the, the first kind of conversations we had was the importance of doing this from both a scientific standpoint and a power building standpoint when it comes to the, this communications.
Um, The kind of backgrounds that we come from. And so that was a, that was like something that felt important to both of us, both the organizations and, and something that I really value in terms of the collaboration and the innovation around wanting to do it together, but also wanting to combine these two frameworks for how we do communications work in a way that we thought would advance the work and make it better.
And we were right. It was experiment and we were right. It, it’s excellent. So I mean, part of the, the initial process behind that was for us to do some political education for each other. So for the RADCOM’s team to understand what the sciences storytelling is and how the center develops that kind of work.
And for the center to understand what narrative power is and how a f narrative power framework would fit into this. And so, to get to your question, Eric, one of the. Kind of analysis that we had was like, what is the root of this narrative challenge people have around talking about poverty and wealth, who benefits from the existing, the status quo narratives on wealth and poverty?
And just, and actually just to say like we added the wealth part to it. This, the grant was really about narratives about poverty. And we felt in the beginning of this when we were talking about how the framework for how we wanted to come at the work was that it was important for us to also talk about wealth because there are two sides of the standard of the same coin.
And that it would be an incomplete story to talk about poverty without also talking about wealth. So, um, and then the other kind of line of inquiry that we had was really about why the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors were so important for us to, to focus on. And I mean, part of it is as social change makers and people who are being funded, With the leftovers, really, of capitalism, the capitalist project.
We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the messages that we’re proliferating, and we wanted to know how folks were doing it so that we could, you know, ensure the efficacy of our organizing efforts or of our communications efforts. And, and so that was also, you know, an interesting kind of conversation that we had to have in the beginning with ourselves about.
our ideal demographic was gonna be that we would be researching, we did some analysis, some you know, narrative analysis about the history of narratives on poverty and wealth. There’s a timeline on the broke website you can firstname.lastname@example.org that looks at all the way back to like, you know, 1300 BC about how we talk about narratives of poverty and wealth, and kind of comes up to the present.
And that gave us some ideas of how people understand poor people and understand people’s place in the world. And then I’ll let Annie speak a little bit more to the research and how we
Annie: got there. We had two questions. . Question one, what kinds of stories are the nonprofit and philanthropic sector telling about poverty and wealth?
And two, if narratives are made up of stories, what narratives are emerging from the stories being shared by the nonprofit and philanthropic sector? So to answer that question, we did do a look at the historical narratives as Shanelle mentioned. We also looked at peer reviewed research coming out of academia and we identified existing research that looked at those research questions and tried to answer them there.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t that much research. We identified five studies that we, we defined as case studies where we looked at the organization they were looking at and the narrative that they saw coming out of that organization. And. Talk about that in the report. And it was really interesting. Out of that literature review we found that organizations are sharing stories of individuals who are able to become contributing members of a capitalistic society by joining the middle class.
That’s the definition of success. We also found that people who live in poverty are often absent from those stories that are told about them. They’re a homogenous group of people. And that literature also told us that organizations are sharing partial stories about poor people only sharing aspects of their lives related to being poor or getting out of poverty.
And the other thing that we found was that organizations are not talking about wealth. and these organizations that are designed to be anti-poverty organizations are actually telling individual level stories, meaning they’re telling stories that show that change happens by individuals changing, not systems changing.
So that’s sort of what we saw in the literature. So then we wanted to see, well, what’s actually happening now in the world among the organizations working to address poverty? So we wanted to do a content analysis. So we surveyed the Frank Network of 3000 people and the radcom network of I think over 5,000 people.
And we asked them, Who are the organizations that are working on issues related to economic justice, anti-poverty, and other topics related to that. And they just gave us a humongous list of different organizations from charities, nonprofits, foundations, grassroots organizations, all different types of organizations.
And then we worked with the agency at the University of Florida, which is a student led ad agency to do a social listening to see which of those organizations had the loudest voice on social. relative to their size. And we wanted to use social listening because we were trying to figure out who had an out outside outsized voice in shaping the narrative on poverty and wealth.
And so through that process, we identified 10 organizations representing lots of different types of organizations, charities, foundations, nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and we analyzed content from them that was on their website or on social media that was labeled as a story or was under the story section of their website.
These organizations are Anan Anonymous. We do not wanna call anyone out. We just wanted to get a taste of what’s happening in our field. And of course, we only looked at 10 organizations. So the findings from this research isn’t generalizable to the entire field, but just a snapshot into what is the field doing right now.
But as our team has had a chance to share this at a number of different conferences over the past year, we’ve heard from practitioners who’ve been in the field for decades to people who are new in their field and, and observing the norms of the sector that what we found in the research is what they’re seeing day-to-day.
So that was a really good reinforcement of our findings from that research.
Eric: So after the break, we’re gonna get, dig into what you found and how we can learn. Actually transform how this narrative is, is being presented and including some, some pretty, I would say provocative, well definitely provocative findings about many of the organizations that you looked at.
So there’s the teaser for folks to stay with us. After this very short break. We’ll be back with Shanelle Matthews and Annie Neimand, you’re listening to, let’s Hear It, a podcast about foundation and nonprofit communications hosted by Kirk Brown and Eric Brown. Let’s hear. It is sponsored by the Communications Network, which connects, gathers, and informs the field of leaders working in communications for good.
Because foundations and nonprofits that communicate well are stronger, smarter, and vastly more effective. You can find, let’s hear it online at, let’s email@example.com or on Twitter at Let’s Hear at Cast. Thanks for listening. And now back to the show, and we are back. With, let’s hear it. My guests are Shanelle Matthews and Annie Neimand, and we’re talking about this really interesting project called The Broke Project, which you can firstname.lastname@example.org.
And a, Annie, you were just talking about this, how you had basic, you looked at these 10 organizations to get a sense of, of how they were using communications, how they were sh you know, and examining the narrative around poverty and wealth. And is it fair to say that, that some of the organizations that you looked at are really missing the
We, what we saw was very similar to what we saw in the literature review, but I wanna take a step back and say that the way in which we went about doing the content analysis, Or our way of assessing each individual story was that we created a rubric that we use to code or score each story that we read.
And this rubric was informed by narrative power analysis. So the, that Shanelle has been leading in our field critical race theory, intersectionality studies, and it really forced us to look at each individual story and say, okay, does this story, is the story actually a story? Does it follow the narrative arc with a beginning, middle, and end conflict and resolution?
Does it tell the story of, of structural conditions that are shaping the outcome of people’s lived, lived experiences? Does it feature characters with agency and power? Does it show characters as multi-dimensional, nuanced, and more than just their experience with poverty? Who is the hero in the story? Who is the villain in the story?
Does the story acknowledge the role of racism, capitalism? and the, and white supremacy in shaping the conditions that we find ourselves in today. So we use this rubric, it’s on rubric, it’s on the website. So I encourage you to download it and use it as your own checklist to go through the stories. And we found some, some really interesting findings.
Again, this is based off our analysis of 10 organizations, so it’s not generalizable, but we have heard. that this is what people in the field are seeing. So what we saw was that 75% of organizations are not actually telling stories with a beginning, middle, and end conflict and resolution characters and setting.
That’s really surprising because as a field, as a sector, we’ve said, okay, storytelling is the most powerful tool we have for driving change, and we know that in the research stories capture our attention. We’re more likely to be transported into stories and feel empathy for characters. And when that happens, that can change how we think about issues.
Yet these organizations are not actually gaining any of those cognitive benefits of storytelling because they’re not telling actual stories that transport people into the world or the characters. We also saw that 40% of stories represented poor people as a homogenous group of people. 41% of stories framed poor people as being in need of saving, and that was often because the organization was the hero in the story and the stories were told to justify their work as an organization.
often because these stories are for donors. We also saw that 70% of the stories featured organizations with power and less than half of the stories included characters as having power. And 31% of the stories included references to systems of oppression. But they actually didn’t say anything about race or racism.
And if we’re taking an anti-racist lens to this work, it requires us to acknowledge the role of racism in shaping everything and addressing racism in every fabric of our society in order to eradicate it. And again, this was based on 27 pieces of content across 10 organizations, but it’s a really interesting slice of the pie for us to think about what we’re doing as a sector telling stories about poverty.
Eric: Right. And these are folks, in theory, they ought to know better. It feels pretty sobering to me. But there’s also, there were some bright spots. Maybe I’ll, I’ll, I’ll ask Shanelle to talk about some of the, some of the good news. Can you, can you talk about some of the organizations that you feel are, are, are getting it, I don’t know if you wanna say getting it right, but, but are you using, are helping to shape a constructive, powerful narrative to that, that can build power around, around poverty and wealth and some of the organizations and, and why you think they’re, they’re doing it well.
Shanelle: I mean, I, yeah. To your point just now about folks who oughta know better, you know, the, the people working in nonprofits and in social movements, really our microcosm of the broader population. You know, we come from different class backgrounds. We’ve internalized a lot of these narratives that we’re seeing play out.
And that’s part of the reason that they’re playing out in our work is that they’re, , you know, when you go through public education, it’s not engineered to create people who are gonna rail against the status quo of class and power. So first we don’t necessarily have, like, there’s not a primer when you come into nonprofit or social movement work that you would’ve gotten outside of, you know, perhaps like some education in college.
But like a lot of people aren’t going through formal organizing school or anything like that. So there’s, you know, I think there’s also, it’s a reflection of just how human we are inside of these nonprofit ins and, you know, institutions that are working to, you know, de-legitimize some of these larger narratives about poor people.
And. and individual responsibility and, you know, not taking, not taking systems seriously. Systems approached seriously. And so, I mean, there’s a, yeah, there’s a challenge that we’re all facing, I think with reckoning, with our own ability to understand our current economic and political conditions and relationship to the work that we’re putting out into the world.
But yeah, so we saw, we, you know, we partnered with organizations from the beginning who we were doing a good job of having, you know, kind of a radical lens and approach at looking at class and all, and wealth and poverty. And some of those organizations include the coalition of ILI farm workers, who is a, which is a worker based human rights organization internationally recognized for fighting human trafficking and gender-based violence at work And.
Another organization is Southerners on New Ground, who, you know, works across L G B T Q Spectrum on queer liberation and, you know, black liberation and talks about class and ability. And some of the things, the interesting things that we learned from these groups is one, they don’t really talk about poverty and race or poverty and wealth explicitly.
They are poor and working class people who are working to liberate themselves, their communities, their families, people that they love. And so, you know, tend to be actively doing the organizing work as opposed to having conversations about, uh, you know, the narratives about poverty and wealth. They don’t even.
when we interviewed them, they were, you know, kind of saying they don’t even really use the term poverty when they talk about their work, they or their people. And so we’ve found that to be really interesting. Some other organizations that we worked with were, is Migrant Justice, which works to build the capacity and power of the farm worker community and the Aron’s Action Center on Race and the Economy, which is a campaign hub for organizations working at the intersection of racial justice and Wall Street accountability.
And so all of these kind of organizations took a racial justice and class-based approach to thinking about not just narratives, but like organizing and their, their kind of mission is really rooted in thinking about people first. And so a lot of the conversations that they’re having are grounded in people’s everyday experiences and they’re able to then articul.
How these systems of these class-based systems are impacting the folks in their communities. And that’s kind of storytelling that Annie talks about her research, which, you know, really is like helping us understand systems through the experiences of everyday people.
Eric: All right, so there’s, there’s one passage in the report that took me a little bit by surprise, and maybe I read it wrong, but maybe I didn’t.
You’re right. Women’s empowerment is a perversion of feminism and an individualist solution to gender oppression that does nothing to change structural notions of patriarchy and sexism, which, so I, I don’t know how read that, but I would love to better understand what, what you mean by that. So
Shanelle: part of, you know, what we were getting to in that is trying to explain the ways in which a neoliberal approach to economic.
Justice fails. So what we were referencing in that references one of these kind of multi-level marketing schemes that you know tells, you know, when, when in this instance, stay-at-home mothers, that they have a role to play in the household by earning money and they can do that while also being stay at.
moms by en engaging in this kind of pyramid scheme and they use the language of feminism to ensnare. These women who are really have been socialized to believe that their being a mother of be a staying at home mother is insufficient. in the labor market that they need to also be earning or contributing to the household income in other ways.
And so they’re excited to be part of this kind of community of belonging that encourages them to, you know, hustle to make extra money. And really at the end of the day, these things ultimately only make the people at the top very rich. And it’s very hard to actually earn any income. But the kind of perversion of the fem feminism there is that they’re using the language of power that you get to, you know, be empowered and, you know, take care of your family in this way while also devaluing the actual labor they’re doing as women or caretakers for their children.
And we see, you know, so it’s, it’s, we’ve gotta be careful about the ways in which that kind of neoliberal. Approach to thinking about economic justice does a disservice to more radical feminist approaches to, you know, ensuring class and gender equity. I parity. And it’s easy for us to kind of fall into those traps because the narrative around, you know, capitalist capitalism, capitalistic narratives are so strong and, you know, we all, we do wanna contribute.
We wanna feel like we’re, you know, Part of the family kind of fabric of what we bring into our, into our homes, however that looks. But you know, we don’t wanna be scammed into believing that we’re participating to, into something that we’re not.
Eric: Now I get it. Okay. And this also feels to me like it really does align with this notion of the individual empowerment in any way that the people, if you work hard and play by the rules and pull yourself up by your bootstraps, then you can achieve something in the face of a system that doesn’t want people living in poverty to achieve.
And if, if, if I understand that correctly, there’s a lot of alignment in that, that we are really looking about looking at a system that, in which individuals have done things to hurt others, to maintain their own sense of supremacy. And, and that this notion that, you know, individuals can pull themselves up by, by their bootstraps is, is not only just a myth, but it’s racist and it, it, it’s in fact disempowering.
Is that, , is that a reasonably okay,
Shanelle: Reid of that? Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, when we look at the deep narrative around wealth and poverty, there’s, I mean, there’s, there’s so many, but yeah, part of it is that the systems exist that, that exist are fair and everybody can use them equally, right? That’s like one mythology that we’re kind of tethered to.
The other is that like, you know, your race, your gender doesn’t have anything to do with, you know, how much you can or cannot access or accumulate wealth or that intergenerational wealth that’s been passed down, um, and was created through the mechanism of chattel Slavery doesn’t have anything to do with why you can afford to put a hundred thousand dollars down on a house and, and I can’t, or that our fam, our family’s had the same kind of equitable opportunity to be able to earn and accumulate wealth and all those things are mythologies.
But, you know, the way that the story is told is that, you know, we’ll just look at. Look at Kobe Bryant, look at LeBron James. Look at the, look at Oprah. Right. If, if Jay-Z can do it, then anybody can do it. And it doesn’t take into consideration this, the, the anti-black specifically, but also, you know, racist gendered, you know, transphobic, I mean, and on and on systems that exist to that.
Keep some communities and people from being able to earn at the same level as others. And you know, and we’re, there’s, I mean there, just to be fair, there’s so many economic justice organizations who are really trying and thinkers and scholars and activists who are really trying to change the way that.
This looks, but you know, we have to pass progressive policy. Like even looking at the Biden Harris administration and the student debt relief that they’re promising, I mean, $10,000 is not nothing to sneeze at. And I’m grateful for all the organizers who advocated for that. But it is incredibly insufficient, specifically for black students who bear the brunt of high interest rates on their student loans and no, no intergenerational wealth to fall back on.
And so then people are having to choose between whether or not they’re gonna, you know, have children or buy a house. And, you know, and I mean, anyway, so w not to say that people wouldn’t make those different decisions anyway. I mean, but economics play such a big factor in that and, and, and what people can and cannot do, and how they can choose to, you know, be self-determined in their.
Eric: Well, this part of the conversation is just, you know, the tiff of the iceberg of what I think this report, the kinds of conversations this report can inspire inside organizations across the country. Not just how do we use narrative or storytelling to advance con good practices or to, to produce a more just society.
But, but what are the underpinnings of that and, and what are basically the terms that we are currently operating under, and how can we begin to shift those terms? And, and I would say as, as, as we go out here with this couple seconds, minutes that we have left, I would ask Annie, how, how do you feel people should start to think about using the research and asking the kinds of questions that you have been asking that can underpin.
An organization’s work. So how, you know, how do they use research to advance their own narrative work? And so I’ll start with you, Annie, and then I’ll, I’ll ask Shanelle a kind of a concluding question.
Annie: Thank you for that question. So as part of the broke project, we actually interviewed all of these organizations that Shanelle mentioned that we identified.
through a systematic review that we’re, we’re telling stories really well based off of our rubric. And from those interviews we identified a set, a set of actionable principles that practitioners listening to this call can start to incorporate into their work that are rooted in the research, not only from this project, but from the research that the Center for Public Interest Communications does.
And we go deep into those different principles in the report, but I wanna leave you with just a few of them to start thinking about that you could start playing with as you’re telling stories for social change. So the first thing that we need to do is tell stories about individuals navigating systems and engaging in collective action to disrupt power.
So we need to tell fundamentally different types of stories where there are different heroes and different moral outcomes. Two, we need to create space for people to come together and talk about systems. So storytelling isn’t just the publication we put out from our organization, it’s also this space we make for people that.
are in our community, people that we serve, people we wanna build relationships to come together and build a shared understanding of the problem by sharing stories with each other and together develop a critical consciousness. Three, we need to problematize the current narratives by using Shanelle’s work around narrative power to look at the deep historical roots of the stories that we believe to be true and really deconstruct where those beliefs come from based off of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves.
Four, we need to use justice frames in our stories. So when you’re telling stories, the definition of the problem and the definition of the solution should be injustice and justice. And that way we’re all moving toward the same world where people can live lives of with dignity, love, belong. and have access to all the things they need to thrive.
Five. We need to build the capacity of communities to share their stories cuz we w when we hear from people with lived experience in ways that they feel comfortable sharing, that’s the most powerful type of story. We need to use visual images and language to engage people. We know that that’s the most powerful way that we can connect the memory to the, the way that people.
interpret information through visual and images is the best way for us to change how they think about issues. Seven, we need to be intentional with the language we use, so actually go to the communities and ask how they like, how they like to refer to the issues that they experience and use their language and af.
Lastly, we need to amplify stories ethically, so we need to ensure that the people that we’re partnering with to share their stories are cared for, that they don’t experience re-traumatization, tokenism, and they don’t feel like they’re being used. , good pr, but actually our partners in our this bigger strategy to drive social
Well, that’s a, a really great rundown. Shanelle, I’ll ask, I’ll, let’s leave, uh, our listeners with this question, which is, is there one thing that you came away from this project? I mean, these projects are so good for you to do them. They’re, you learn so much as you go. You don’t just want to teach, but you wanna learn.
Is there something that you learned in doing this project that you’re gonna take away that, that you’d like to share? Oh,
Shanelle: that’s such a good question, Eric. Yeah. And thanks Annie for going through what our takeaways and people can find so much more on the Broke project website at broke project.org/resources.
But yeah, I mean, you know, I think there’s, there’s this kind of concept around prefigurative politics, which is, you know, the idea that you need to behave in the ways that you want to, you know, see the. Exist in, and that means with each other it means like, you know, this project was so powerful. Not just because we, like, were interrogating our own people in terms of, you know, our colleagues and our peers in the field.
And, and we think like providing something back to them that was useful and not just useful, but shout out to Millie for making it incredibly accessible. We have a beautiful video and the resources and it’s easily accessible for very busy people. And that was kind of the point in this project. Like we, we went back to the drawing board a few times about how to approach it.
We, you know, treated each other well. We supported each other. We went through this, we built this project out through the pandemic. You know, we started it in 2019 and had. Be graceful with each other and how we were working around it. I had a a, a medical procedure. I had an abortion during this project, and the team really supported me.
And, you know, taking care of myself. There’s, you know, there was so much and we grew together. I mean, Annie and I like love working with each other. We, you know, have just such an affinity for each other. And our, you know, we fan girl off before I even started working with her, I shared all of her Stanford Social Innovation reviews article.
I teach them in my class, you know? And so when you get to work with people that you respect and you teach each other your frameworks, you come, we come from different disciplines, right? Like I’m, I’m rooted in a narrative power framework and he’s root in the science of storytelling. We, boom, we bring that together.
Like this is a model for how the nonprofit and social movement sectors can really look to, to say like, how do we create something powerful and useful? And then work with people like Millie who know how to design for these very busy people to deliver a, a project. That is not just useful in, you know, undoing harmful narratives about poverty and wealth, but also provides a liberatory scaffolding for how we build economic justice for the future.
Eric: Well, and you of course, you’re referring to the design firm called Millie and which, and the work is beautiful and the website is great. I, I, I totally agree that, that the work, the power of combining the research with, with narrative power and storytelling is, I think, still nascent. I think we’re still learning about it.
I think your work, Annie, has helped to advance that significantly, and your work Shanelle has is helping us all better understand how to do this well. And I just really, really appreciate your time. I appreciate your work and, and I hope that we’ll get to talk to you again. You’ll be the, maybe Shanelle, you’ll be the first person to be on the show three times.
Shanelle: That would be incredible. Thank you,
Eric: Eric. Well, Shanelle, Matthews, Annie, Neimand, thank you so much. Thank you.
Kirk: And we’re back. So, Eric? Yes. Have you ever heard the saying, if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu? No. Thank you. I heard that saying for the first time this week, and that’s, that’s what this whole conversation made me think about.
If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. So I have to start with this and I’m deeply, deeply disappointed in this concept. Why wasn’t this conversation on the Joe Rogan podcast? discuss.
Eric: I don’t know how to talk about Joe Rogan.
Kirk: Well, so let me, let me, let me take this a different direction. Okay, go.
And this is, let’s try this again. . This is, this is the part where I think this is dangerous work. Mm. I think Shanelle and Annie are actually putting in front of us. That if we aren’t doing systems level work, if we are not intentionally wrestling with systems level work, we are very likely unintentionally reinforcing negative systems.
What do you think of that song? Well, you’re exactly
Eric: right. This is interesting because I re-listened to the interview just a few minutes ago, mainly because I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. But more than that, is because it was such an interesting conversation. I wanted to hear it again. And you know, it dawned on me, I, I’ve been around a long time and I’m a little slow on the uptake.
And it just dawned on me that there are, if you wanna think about things in, in a binary, that there are two kinds of people, those who think that the system is fair. and those who know that it’s not. Yes. And so therefore, if you are one of these people who thinks that the system is fair, then the folks who didn’t get, didn’t deserve.
And, and that is so much of what the narratives around success and power and wealth and all those other things are about, and nonprofit organizations, a a as you alluded to just now, are inadvertently, I, I let, let’s just kind of be charitable and say they’re inadvertently perpetuating this notion that the system is fair by promoting people who are raising themselves up by their bootstraps or who are being saved by nonprofits or foundations.
That they are, that, that otherwise they’d, they’d be okay. But the, because the system’s ver otherwise, they would not be okay because the system’s ver so they’re, therefore they need saving or they need help. And that is a mindset that maintains the status quo to, to be really reductive. And that that sort of, it’s kind of smacked me on the side of the head.
You can kind of tell about where people are, by whether they think that this is a fair system. or it’s an not fair system.
Kirk: Well, and this is why I brought up the Joe Rogan thing, and it’s not for us to, you know, tread in somebody else’s name who has vastly more reach than, you know, our, our low enterprise will ever have.
But having listened to that conversation a fair amount, that notion, that tension of what’s the individual’s responsibility versus what’s the systemic result? That tension is so on display. Whenever you have, you hear this chatter from whatever category of conversation we wanna place that in. And it’s interesting that that conversation has so much appeal.
you know, that, that notion of wow, the individual versus the system and, and you know, anything that’s pointing to systemic challenges and this is a systemic set of issues to just make fun of that and it’s anti woke and all that kind of stuff. It just gets so much resonance. And, and, and it’s, and, and the crazy thing about it is that I actually think that’s a character like Joe Rogan, who in my world is just a character, actually think he would sit down and have a pretty reasonable conversation with us about all this stuff.
And I think there’s a perspective here that he simply doesn’t get because this dynamic of system versus individual, it’s so hard to tease out and it’s so hard to make plain. And the second we start having the conversation, we get into all the, what about. , right? And everyone has an anecdote and everybody has a person and it’s personalized and it’s individualized, and all of a sudden you’re off to the races and you’re, and you’re leaving this systemic critique that, that I think that Shanelle and Annie are really putting forward, and this is the part where I say it’s not only disruptive, but it’s dangerous because I think that Shanelle and Annie are really saying, at least that’s what I heard them say and, and correct me if you think this is wrong, but if we are not framing our work in what is just versus iJust, and if we are not challenging the core of some pretty important concepts, I don’t know, capitalism, , you know, white supremacism, you know, like if we’re not explicitly adopting an anti-racist approach, we’re actually reinforc.
Racism. Yeah. In a way, even, even though we’re not trying to be racist, and, and I don’t know, I thought it was really profoundly challenging and also incredibly important to be challenged on those
Eric: grounds. Yeah, I, I totally agree with you. And the real issue here is that, again, they did a, a survey of nonprofit organizations and their communications and how they’re using them.
And aside from the fact that they say that the people who think that they’re telling stories usually aren’t actually telling even just they’re not telling stories of any kind. And then many of the stories that they’re telling are reinforcing these, these concepts that are damaging mm-hmm. , that’s a problem.
And mm-hmm , that and within the sound of our voices are people working at organizations that are, like I say, probably unintentionally, almost certainly unintentionally perpetuating a system that maintains this state of being. And that has to stop. And if you think about the folks that we’ve had, On the show over the years, and I think we’re about to hit our fourth year Kirk, if I’m not mistaken, because why?
Kirk: This was an awesome idea. And you
Eric: love me. You love me. That’s why. Oh no. That’s why people think I don’t love you because you cost me 10,000 hours of my life , that I’ll never, you’ll never get back back. That’s right. But, but, but thanks to you, Kirk, I’ve learned so much the idea that we’ve been having conversations with folks like, I don’t know, Travion, shorters and John Powell and many, many, many, many others who are helping us generate or gain these tools for shifting the narrative, for acknowledging that our, the, the playing field isn’t flatter.
Whatever mat metaphor you wanna use. And, and I, I do think that you just have to ask yourself the question before you do any communication. Is my communication predicated on a system that is, that I believe is fair, or a system that I believe is unfair? And then yeah, obviously you take it further is, which is why is this system unfair?
And this. Yeah. And as we’ve just, we’ve discussed, we’ve discussed a lot. The system is racist, the system is based on history that is revisionist, it’s, it’s, and so on and so on. Is this based on slavery? It’s based on many of the, this understanding that the other, the outsider is, is to be hated or to be as, as Traian would say, you know, feared and destroyed.
Yeah. Those are, those are the things we have to, you like have to really look in the mirror and ask yourself do is do I believe that the system is fair or not? And cuz if you think that the system is fair, then anybody who fails inside that system deserves it. If you, if you really wanna just string out that logic and that’s, I, I don’t believe that.
Kirk: my Well, what’s interest? Well it’s interesting too, having this conversation about what’s systemic, what’s about the individual. It’s interesting then to look at these two folks. Such drivers in this project. You’ve got Shanelle, you’ve got Annie Shanelle coming from radcom, Annie come from, come, coming from the Center for Public Interest Communication, Shanelle Total Rockstar, you know, power-based frameworks for how we think about narrative.
Annie, evidence-based strategic communications designed in the public interest. I fell in love with that sentence. Yeah, yeah. Evidence-based strategic communications. Oh my goodness. Like that’s a, that’s a game changer, but it’s so clear that the individuals involved in this project. Are a key ingredient in its success.
Yes. And just hearing the two of them talk about it, and I was thinking about this, like the Gates Foundation puts this thing out. They submit a grant, and I don’t know if that was an explicit part of the grant making work, but the notion that radcom and the Center for Public Interest Communications would come together, they would marry these very different sets to create this kind of a framework for assessing the landscape.
I, I feel like of all the things that are in this project, that piece of it should be called out because it’s actually really cool, and it’s also very, very difficult to have organizations collaborate that way. Not to mention that this work happened during the period that Covid was rolling out well, too, I
Eric: thought was, I would say I, I really wanna send a, an extra super duper shout out to Annie.
and the work that they’re doing at, at Florida, which is that mm-hmm. , they’re creating a new discipline around research and, and public interest communications that exist. And we had, yes. I mean, we had Anne Christiano on who’s the, the director of the center a while back as well. And, but they’ve creating a discipline that didn’t exist.
But it needs to exist and it needs to exist in lots and lots of places. Every organization that wants to do a, an analysis of their own communications or their field or something, they can’t all call Annie, she’s busy. We, we , we have to distribute this. Right. I mean, we, we need to have a thousand of these centers around, around the country and that academia has to better understand how to use research to it, public interest communications, because, I mean, so much of our economy is based on, on, on nonprofit communications.
So much of how we exist as, as a, a society is centered around these kinds of relationships that are outside the strict business way. But anyway, we’re, we are not there yet. But I also would say to anybody who is about to embark on any old communications thing is what are your assumptions of what makes you so sure.
And, and that’s what Annie is there to attempt to address or to apply some kind of analytic discipline to, but you have to be able to say what you, why you think the thing is that you think. With some confidence other than it’s like, eh, cause I think so. So the , we, we need so much more of that and people may say, oh, it sounds wonky, or it’s too researchy or whatever.
Like baloney do it.
Kirk: Well, and it’s interesting how the evidence animates the whole conversation. And I will say, I love that discussion you had with them about how you assemble evidence. How do you assemble the information, how you cha use that to challenge assumptions. And you know, here you’ve got, you know, the team at the Center for Public Interest Communications creating brand new methodologies for how to conduct that research.
And they’re Shanelle at radcom doing that same kind of creative generative work, right? How do we do use power-based frameworks when we think about narrative? And, and I will say a, a little bit ago, I put you in the tough spot of asking you to define what narrative means. Oh, and that would be, yeah, that would be one quibble I would have for all of us.
I still dunno. That I think is so interesting cuz we will refer to the narrative. and it’s like, is the narrative the force? What is the narrative? And yet there’s so. Tangible stuff. So on page nine of their, of their report, there’s a great discussion, a couple paragraphs from the narrative initiative that actually defines the concept of what a narrative is.
And I think one of the really interesting things about it is that it has no beginning or end.
Eric: The force Kirk, the force Kirk narrative is . That’s what Yoga . That’s right. That’s what Yoda would say. That’s, I think that’s right. That’s right. Yes. And, or, you know, Potter Stewart. I’ll know it when I see it, but I, I mean, yeah, we are, I do believe.
Okay. I had this other conversation with, with Marty, as it happens, who has become very interested in nonprofit communications at playwright . So I don’t know why he listens, but he’s, he’s, he’s a smart person and he, he engages his brain. But the,
Kirk: it’s fun to hear you hold me over the fire. Literally, it’s fun to just, you know, watch me burn to
Eric: a Chris.
But the, I, he. The work that John Powell and Travion and others are doing are beginning, are not just beginning. They are, I believe, working their way into the narrative bloodstream. Cuz he was talking about an organization that he was engaged with and they were talking about belonging. And I mean, I really do believe that that is the result of nonprofit communicators shaping a narrative around what does it mean to be a part of something in a, in an equitable way.
And, and to have this sense of belonging, not just having been included and, and that mm-hmm. , that way of thinking makes me think that there is such thing as narrative shift and that is happening. Mm-hmm. , and it can be intentional, but it also has to be, nor we have to feed and water it and well that’s what we’re doing here,
But it’s, that’s what organizations across the country are attempting to do. And I think they’re, they’re getting there, but as Annie’s research reveals, there’s still a long way to go. And, and as well as Shanelle has. And, and then of course Shanelle was able to show us areas in which organizations are succeeding without even talking about poverty, for example.
But they’re pres, right? They’re presenting a reality about what, a world that is equitable, that understands how these systems need to change and what people are doing to, to engage that, that she’s presenting us with this, this alternative opportunity. And so you got these two sides of a coiner, whatever you wanna call it, working together.
And I think it’s really, really, really cool.
Kirk: Well, and it’s even, you know, let’s dip into how the project evolves, right? Because, so these two organizations come to Gates to get funding to do this work. Where did they start their research against their research questions? They look all the way back to 1300 BC
I also think it’s great how,
Eric: and you know, the websites were really crappy back then. . Yeah, no, I know.
Kirk: Really digging. It’s just, yeah, you have to go really into the way back machine and all that stuff. A lot of it’s been taken down. You can’t even fight it anymore. But, but you know. They also go to Gates and say, we actually are not just gonna analyze poverty, but we need to analyze wealth.
So even there, we have to start, you know, reframing our understanding of what are the topics that we’re wrestling with. And they have these very, these two very clear research questions. They, they start evaluating now this is the methodology piece. And so the only people that are listening now are Andy and Shanelle , right?
Eric: No. Oh, there are so many smart methodology people out there. They’ve just been unrequited .
Kirk: There you go. So the one thing, and I, and I looked for this in the report, but the one thing that I was missing in the analysis that I think would be telling, because I think that the point that they’ve made and the evidence they’ve accumulated is doing its job, it’s surfacing this key notion of, are we telling stories?
What a surprise most people aren’t. You know, if we are telling stories, how are pe people being represented or misrepresented? Oh my gosh, what a surprise. Mostly misrepresented. And then even, even other dynamics, like the heroes are often the white saviors, right? Like the, there’s a lot of stuff going on with the stories, but.
Even recognizing the need to keep the groups anonymous. I wish that they had categorized the nature of the missions of the groups beyond poverty alleviation, because what I pick up from the data is that some of the groups are actually service provider groups that are actually leveraging some of these old tropes specifically to generate dollars, because that’s the fundraising tool.
They’re the same, which again, gets. Right. Gets to the point. If you’re doing that to solve the problem, you’re actually reinforcing some of the larger problems. Right? Correct. And, and, and for the case study organizations that they pulled forward, those organizations are clearly, at least in my quick estimation, working at this level of systems level change all the time.
So they’re leaning into systems level narratives all the time. And I think to a certain extent that’s a little bit of the bridging that needs to be done here, you know, for all of us is how do you, regardless of your mission, because again, I was thinking like is one of the taglines from this report, your mission has to be the system.
Hmm. You know, your mission can’t be, we’re a food bank serving this community. Yeah. If we’re not, actually, whatever our intervention is, if we’re not pulling forward some of these systemic considerations, and again, The part of this that’s very, I’m gonna say, keep saying dangerous. There is a critique of capitalism woven into this and how it interlaces with these very systemic issues around race and equity and all of that that is putting on the table to be examined.
And I think it’s really co, it’s a call I would say, for all these organizations, foundations, nonprofits, from the trustee level, all the way through the staff level to have that conversation and to be part of it at a deeper level. That’s what I think is in this report. But what do you think about what I’m saying?
No, like, are, are
Eric: you with you? Yeah, I’m totally with you on this. It’s, again, I would say to these organizations if, uh, particularly foundations, cuz a lot of our listeners are from foundations and I used to work at a foundation, if you’re putting your foundation at the center of the story mm-hmm. don’t.
you know, don’t do that because the because then the, the, the money and the savior comes in and solves the problem, and that’s mm-hmm. not what we need. And I, yeah. And, and that’s like an easy don’t do that. Yeah. And, and it is hard. I, I mean, I understand that large foundations don’t wanna necessarily say that the system that allowed us to get so rich and to do the things that we do is corrupt and racist and needs to be torn down
That’s a hard thing to say, you know, to your board. Yeah. But we all, at the same time, we have to figure out ways to make it right to rightsize the, the assumption about whether the system is fair or the system is not fair. And if the system is not fair, you have to fix it and make it fair. And, and that’s harder work for sure than to hand out turkeys on Thanksgiving.
Kirk: and, and, and in some respects it’s hard to even sort out where you belong in that work. Right. And all of a, and, and, and I’m using the word dangerous intentionally from that standpoint, that this work is intentionally trying to cause that system and put it in danger because it’s trying to remove this broken system and, and replace it with something else.
And so, as we leave, I think that this articulation of myths that came out, cuz this is what’s implicit in all this, right? You know, the myth systems are fair and people can access them equally. That’s a myth, right? Correct. Right. Race and gender and other considerations don’t factor into whether or not you can access the benefits of the system.
Right. That’s a myth. Right. That’s not true. Intergenerational wealth that was passed down, it created by slavery, doesn’t contribute to your ability to make a down payment on a house more so than another person. That’s a myth. Right? Right. Or
Eric: even just redline such like, you can’t have a loan and you can’t live in this neighborhood.
Yeah. And then you can’t buy this house and then you can’t generate wealth and then you can’t pass it along. Right. Right. I mean that’s, and that happens. Our families kind of even de facto today, our families
Kirk: had the same opportunities to generate wealth. Yeah. So that’s not true. Shanelle and Annie. You have done, I think, and this is just one little voice in the wilderness.
Such a tremendous service in putting this forward in its really challenging work. I think it’s the best kind of very challenging work. And Eric, what a conversation that was a pleasure to listen to. And I hope we see more collaborations from these two organizations and I hope we see more collaborations of this kind.
Because you know, I wanna get Shanelle Traian, Annie on this podcast. You’re such a podcast, and I don’t wanna ask him a single question. I just wanna hit record. , you’re a podcaster man.
Kirk: know, right? But there’s just such good, and John, right? Let’s get John Powell Traian, Shanelle Annie on this podcast and just say you guys talk for 30 minutes, we’ll hit record.
I . We’ll
Eric: come back. All of our guests in one room at one time, all of our party
Kirk: guests, the Let’s Hear it party. Indeed. But don’t you agree, Eric, this is such exciting work. And again, it’s, it’s really so broke project.org, Shanelle Matthews and Annie Neimand, and we didn’t even talk about Rich. Can you imagine when Annie and Rich,
Eric: oh, there couldn’t be more different.
Annie is, she is thoughtful and measured and, and, and Rich is just kind of a nut. But I.
Kirk: Well, thank you Eric. Love you. Love you for this work. Shanelle and Annie, thank you so much for meeting in this way. What generosity you came into the podcast to talk about it. And that’s, let’s hear it. We’ll see you
Eric: next time.
See you next time.
Kirk: Okay. Everybody, that’s it for this episode, please let us know if you have any thoughts about what you heard today or people we shouldn’t have in the show. And that definitely includes yourself and we’d like to
Eric: thanks to Jon Beltrano, our enthusiastic production assistant
Kirk: John Allee, the tuneful and inspiring composer, our theme music,
Eric: our sponsors, the communications network, and the Lumina foundation.
Kirk: please check out Lumina’s terrific podcast. Today’s students tomorrow’s talent, and you can find email@example.com,
Eric: we certainly thank today’s guest. And of course,
Kirk: all of you and most important. Thank you, Mr. Brown,
Eric: Mr. Brown,
Kirk: till next time.