Imagination Builds Power

October 29, 2017 |  By Design Action Collective |  Categories: Client Resources, Messaging and Strategy

Review of Re:Imagining Change, 2nd edition, by Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning

#BlackLivesMatter, #HealthyHoods, #NoDAPL, #WaterIsLife, #NoBanNoWall, #SanctuaryForAll


These are hashtags that have transcended memes to become movements. They are words and images that have emerged into everyday news and conversations, are reinforced through social media and now, are forcing the mainstream conversation to shift to discuss these issues.

Is this happenstance, or strategy?

Re:Imagining Change, when it came out in 2011, was the first resource on communications strategy I read that was truly geared to grassroots social justice movements. It contains real-life, accessible case studies for the organizations we serve. The tools for strategic communications are tangible and can be used right out of the box (or the book).

The new edition of Re:Imagining Change by Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning, contains all the fundamentals of story-based strategy, and is updated to include case studies and learnings from some of the most exciting movements that have popped off since the first writing. It is interspersed with reflections and tools to use right away in our work to reinforce the content.

The new edition addresses the immediacy of the situations we face now— set in the current political context of systematic oppression and “power over.” The writing is rooted in current struggles, from Trump resistance to the Muslim ban, Climate Justice vis a vis Standing Rock, and Black Lives Matter.

This book argues that our movements must prioritize narrative as a lens to shape our strategies.

Clarity focuses creativity and with story-based strategy the point is not just to be creative, it is to be strategically creative, so that you can win.

Basing narrative strategy in story allows us to speak our truth, using our own cultural references, our own stories and histories. It is your story; you decide who to elevate, who is the hero or the villain. By analyzing how narrative is spun in the media, you learn to read between the lines to understand basic assumptions which uphold status quo narratives. And, by learning how to don the hat of the opposition and get into the mind and strategy of their story in a “Battle of the Story,” you can challenge that oppositional story.

“Preachy is not persuasive.” We need to show, not tell, and let the audience draw their own conclusions.

In this time of unpredictability and instability, the grassroots has the opportunity to take control of the narrative and create new visions and strategies. Narrative strategy complements organizing. The time is ripe for psychic breakthroughs, a shift in consciousness, a new way of seeing. We are poised to control the narrative. We can use books like Re:Imagining Change and story-based strategy tools to challenge old assumptions and provide new frames. One of the fundamentals of telling a good story is to foreshadow what is to come, that is, to offer a place for people’s imagination to travel to.

Re-imagine change. Re-frame the issues. Re-create the possible.

When it is time to escalate the narrative, we need to consider our points of intervention. Our role as designers is to offer creative interventions that accompany protest, advocacy and organizing. We change the terrain and the narrative by intervening at the point of assumption, which is the domain of ideas. By analyzing narrative power, understanding the foundations of your goals and audience, and digging into the battle of the story, you can bring your narrative to action by intervening at critical junctures as a tactic in your overall campaign strategy.

We have learned that facts don’t shift people’s beliefs. Meaning does. By identifying underlying assumptions, we can intervene to shift an ideology. With creative interventions at the point of assumption—in the ethereal land of ideas—we will see a psychic breakthrough, an “a-ha” moment, a shaking up of the ideologies. With strategic interventions, we can show that the ideas that people hold onto are in contradiction to their own values. There are moments in time that do that, but most of the time it is achieved by people collectively working on strategies, analyzing the dominant narratives and mythologies, and strategically intervening when the dominant powers start to fray. Through advocacy efforts or direct action, we can disrupt that dominant paradigm that controls us and bring about real change.

Re:Imagining Change: How to use story-based strategy to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world. By Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning

Design Action has been collaborating with Center for Story-based Strategy and integrating story-based strategy tools into our own discovery and implementation processes to enrich the stories we are telling through visual communications.

This is a work in progress and we will continue to update the blog with case studies.










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