Monday, 6 November 2017

How powerful stories effect political and social change

Why do some civic organizations succeed in their political and social goals and others don't?

Consider that organizations with a powerful narrative (such the National Rifle Association) achieve their political goals more readily than those that don't. 

There are some excellent insights about this in Professor Hahrie Han's book, How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press) 

It's obvious that narrative has the power to engage and inspire people to action, but for activists, storytelling goes far beyond that. Narrative is decisive in helping civic organizations find their path to power. 

Han points out that the narratives ("interpretive frames") organizations tell themselves have a decisive role to play in the organization's structure and strategy: 

“Framing is central to how leaders strategize because it identifies both challenging groups and adversaries and suggests potential allies. Framing specifies the unjust conditions that must be changed and the appropriate strategies and tactics to achieve the desired ends.” 

Example: after weeks of organizing an event and pulling it off successfully, the narrative of how that was done and what was achieved shows "how we do things" and the way forward. Stories about past victories and defeats show "how we won (or lost.)"

Narrative gives meaning to challenges, constraints, opportunities and change.

Stories also help organizations identify how to allocate scarce time and resources. "100's of people came to our event" vs. "we wrote a killer analysis" are very different paths to power and require very different resources.

Narrative helps us understand "which kind of organization are we?"

And: stories encourage sustainability. Individual experiences ("narratives") contribute to the collective identity of the organization, which is passed on from person to person.


1 comment:

  1. So true. Relate to people and real-life incidents. A politician in an interview may finally click into action and say , "Why only the other day one of my constituents said to me...." Logically, of course, that is indeed just ONE voter, but the power of the tale will be inversely proportionate. The story may explain the issue in practical terms and offer a comprehensible explanation beyond all the "politico or tech speak". Such a simple strategy. Journalists beware of how it can be abused! Your politician may have been supplied this solitary tale by the PR, or he may have only spoken to one constituent in his entire research effort...or there may have been no research effort...