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Harnessing the Power of Values to Advance Narrative Change

Jessie Landerman, Senior Consultant, Integrated Initiatives

Stories are the most powerful tools we have to connect with others, be remembered, and inspire action.[1] A single story can create empathy, challenge beliefs, and change hearts and minds. From Aesop’s Fables to Biblical parables, stories are often embedded with “lessons” about the way the world works, and teach us from a young age that kindness is a virtue, hard work pays off, and vanity and greed have dire consequences. Narratives are stories like these that reflect shared interpretations about how the world works, which are reinforced by what we hear and share every day, from media pundits to Hollywood films to dinner table conversations. Science tells us that these stories and narratives shape our mindsets as well as our actions.

To create a more just and equitable world and advance our social change goals, we need narratives that elevate and enhance values like unity, equity, and resilience. For example, when we tell stories about immigrant families celebrating milestones like college graduations and homeownership, we challenge harmful narratives that portray immigrants as dangerous or “not like us.” When we tell stories about hard-working domestic workers who have two jobs and still can’t afford decent housing, we challenge the “bootstraps” narrative that in America, economic success is a direct reflection of hard work.

Narrative change is a values-based communications strategy that involves intentionally centering core values and telling stories that explain the way we believe the world can and should work.[2Our new primer on the critical role of values in advancing organizational success, Leading with Values: Why Values-Based Communications Should Power Our Organizations shares how they strengthen relationships and maximize potential for impact.

What does this look like in practice? We at TCC Group have had the opportunity to partner with values-driven organizations to strengthen and advance narrative change on a range of issues, including:

  • Promoting HIV Prevention Among Black Women. The dominant narrative around HIV is steeped in fear and stigma. Alongside our client, a major healthcare funder, we created an initiative to talk about HIV with Black women, healthcare professionals, media, and public health leaders without spreading fear or amplifying harmful stereotypes. We used a trauma-informed, design-thinking process to collaborate with Black women of cis and trans experience and identify core values of self-love, self-care, empowerment, and desire as healthy reasons for HIV prevention. The resulting Risk to Reasons initiative changes the narrative around HIV and its impact on Black women by creating and strategically disseminating content, funding community action, and connecting advocates across the country through a commitment to Black women’s health and wellness.
  • Amplifying Caregiving in AANHPI Communities. Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) struggle against myths and stereotypes that undermine their ability to be seen as a vital part of the American fabric. TCC Group helped Advancing Justice – AAJC amplify narratives centered on caregiving in AANHPI communities by supporting the design and development of an RFP investing $500,000 in grassroots organizations to lead narrative change in their local communities, foster dialogue on how caregiving is practiced in their myriad of diverse cultures, and build communications capacity so that stories from communities are seen and heard.
  • Strengthening Advocacy Coalitions. When we examined the role of coalitions in systems change for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we found that clearly articulated shared values are critical to effective coalitions. The most successful advocacy coalitions took time and resources to articulate and commit to shared values, such as developing a statement that members signed when joining the coalition. Without shared values, coalitions increase their chances of disagreement about goals and tactics.
  • Accelerating Narrative Change around Poverty and Economic Mobility. Promising new narratives that reveal systemic causes and elevate shared humanity are helping community organizers, journalists, and cultural influencers challenge deeply held beliefs and stereotypes. We worked with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) to convene and connect funders, field organizers, movement leaders and narrative change experts in order to co-create a strategy and roadmap to help funders scale economic mobility narrative interventions.

As these examples illustrate, well-executed narrative change strategies grounded in values can drive progress toward a more equitable and just society. TCC’s approach to narrative change involves 4 phases:

  • Deep Listening: Identify the values, aspirations, and core stories of community members most impacted by the issue at hand.
  • Creative Activation: Craft a narrative that invokes uplifting values and can be repeated through diverse stories in a range of thoughtfully chosen settings while centering community experiences.
  • Intentional Amplification: Weave your narrative into all of your communications, organizing, and advocacy, and share it with partners, allies, and the media.
  • Sustained Engagement: Make a long-term commitment and ensure you continue to monitor progress, listen in community, and iterate on your narrative and strategy.

We believe that equitable systems change will happen only through effective narrative change that includes community stakeholders in every step of the process above. Values are the key to ensuring that your narrative change strategy has the most robust chance of making the change you seek.

If you’d like to learn more about how narrative change strategies grounded in values can help your organization advance its social change goals contact us here!

[1] See; and

[2] Liz Manne, “Narrative Strategy: The Basics.” 2022.

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