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Project Process

This participatory framing project ran over 12 months, with 26 participants, 5 workshops and 3 research phases.

What we did

Over the course of the project we learnt about framing and communication techniques, carried out communications research, developed new ways of talking about climate justice, and tested them with people across the UK!
We also explored ways we could build a stronger movement, with justice at its heart.
Sound like your kind of thing? Want to give it a go?
Read on for tools & resources for doing just that...

What is framing?

Before we dive further into the details, here’s a brief introduction to the term framing, in case you’re new to this work:

Framing is about how communication shapes the meaning of information and the way we think about it: by what is included, excluded, and what associations are created. Framing is the choices we make in what we say and how we say it.
These choices matter.
They affect how people hear us, what they understand, and how they act.
Too often, we dismiss communications as an add on, or as something we do to further our other work. We fail to recognise that we are communicating our messages all the time. And whether we acknowledge it or not, this is shaping how people understand the issues we work on.
Framing is an approach that seeks to show how words, phrases and experiences bring to mind certain associations, and how these associations can then change the way we think and feel about something.
Diagram illustrating difference between framing, narrative and story. Story is the thing you tell. Narrative is what you understand. Framing is how you tell the story.
Based on the work of James Robertson (a NEON and PIRC Associate), illustration by Zsofi Lang.
Framing helps us to be heard and understood.

When we change the story and how we tell it, we can change the way people think, feel and act, which ultimately can change society as a whole.
Framing is about power, as much in civil society as in wider society.
What happens when a large NGO or funder commissions hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of framing research, but grassroots groups disagree with the findings? Or when research is used to justify existing positions that maintain the status quo, or worsen inequality?
Ultimately, we understand framing and communications work as strategy work—who gets to set that, and why?

Why frame Climate Justice?

For a long time, most communications from the climate & environmental movement have focussed on emissions targets, individual behaviour change, harm to non-humans (e.g. polar bears), biodiversity loss and techno fixes.
There has been a lot of effort to communicate that climate change is real, and bad, with appeals to science. There has not been a lot of effort to communicate the role of exploitative systems, the historic responsibility, or the unequal impacts on different groups of people around the world.
Talking about climate justice can be challenging because…
It connects concepts that aren't commonly linked in people’s minds, like climate & white supremacy, or climate & capitalism.
It can be uncomfortable to raise the question of historic responsibility.
It can be difficult to think about impacts in faraway places when we have climate impacts right here, right now.
But despite these challenges, we must do better in our climate communications.
We need to move on from simply convincing everyone that ‘humans cause climate change’ to → an understanding of ‘which humans, and which systems’.
We need to shift gears from persuading people that ‘humans need to act’ to → ‘who needs to do what, and why.’

STEP 01

Project Design

In Autumn 2018, following a summer of dangerous heatwaves in Northern Europe and increasing destabilisation around the world—accompanied by media outlets celebrating ‘staycation’ weather here in the UK—a few folks at 350, PIRC and NEON, set about this work of putting global justice into the centre of climate framing, and amplifying the work of those who have already been doing that.
The aim of the project was to:
Strengthen the movement for climate justice in the UK.
Build a more aligned community of activists, campaigners and comms experts.
Improve how we communicate about climate change and its causes and impacts.
We put out an open call for applications from folks who were keen to work together on this, and brought together an amazing group of people from across the climate movement, from grassroots groups and trade unions, to NGOs and think tanks.
Over the course of a year, we worked through the...
Project phases
01
Community building
Bringing together people from a variety of organisations, to work together through an intensive process of residential sessions, with action learning and discussions in between.
02
Our story
Mapping out our own understanding of climate justice together, exploring the problem in depth, our motivation for working on it, the solutions that we believe are needed, and the outcome—or vision—that we’re working towards.
03
Other stories
Carrying out audience research, including a literature review and running original focus groups, to understand the existing beliefs of people in the UK.
04
Objective setting
Building clarity on what we wanted our frames to do, based on our shared vision and the results of the audience research.
05
Frame design
Designing a set of climate justice frames to go out and test.
06
Frame testing
Using three methodologies to test our frame ideas.
07
Comms outputs
Creating a series of tools and resources, building on the work we’ve undertaken together, to share the learnings from the project with the wider movement.
Each step built on the previous, and the time between sessions allowed participants to apply their learning, and test out new frames and narratives.
To guide us through the emergent design of the project, we set up some...
Key principles
Liberation
We are working towards a more equal society. This requires that we dismantle the current interlinking systems of oppression (such as the patriarchy, heteronormativity, ableism, imperialism and white supremacy), both in the world ‘out there’ and within our own groups and organisations.
Connection
We believe change happens through people working together; building power through movements; and sharing resources and knowledge. This requires us to create new connections outside of our usual ‘bubbles’, to build and strengthen the networks and communities we already inhabit. This means communicating compassionately and in ways that are accessible, building trust, and sharing with and supporting each other. We work collaboratively and openly, in partnership wherever possible, bringing diverse groups together, and producing resources for wider use.
Participation
A more democratic society sits at the core of our mission and so we seek to build democratic and participatory principles into all of our work. The project design is based on a belief that participants can teach each other as much, if not more, than “experts” can! So we design all of the sessions for maximum participation– where every voice is heard and where we learn from one another’s experience.
Creativity
We cannot continue to ignore the structural issues within our society that maintain power imbalances, injustice, and exploitation. Our current systems are failing us. We need new ways of working, not tweaks to the old. We think this requires creativity and experimentation: trying new things and taking risks. We try to foster creativity, lightheartedness and humour in all of our work: in our workshops with other people, and in the resources and communications we produce. We try to be honest and celebratory about our failures as well as our successes.
Nature
We believe in protecting the environment for future generations and encouraging current generations to enjoy and appreciate nature more now. For project design, this means getting people outside in nature as much as possible; encouraging sustainable transport usage; choosing sustainable venues and caterers; and drawing on nature-connection facilitation tools.
Here’s some ways we put those principles into practice:
Participants that were not paid by an organisation to contribute were paid by the project, with expenses covered, including childcare.
Participants shaped and directed the research and testing phases, including what we asked and how we asked it etc.
And they also shaped our project outputs, which were pitched and voted on by the community, and funded by the project.

DIY

Design your own Framing Project

What principles would guide your work, and how could you put them into practice?
Download this worksheet to explore elements of project design in your group.
Worksheet coming soon!

STEP 02

Our Story

Having come together as a community, our next step was to map out our understanding of climate justice together, exploring the problem in depth, our motivation for working on it, the solutions that we believe are needed, and the outcome—or vision—that we’re working towards. We put this together into a guiding tool: Our Story of Climate Justice.
‘Our Story’ is a collective vision created by participants, with support from friends of the project: Guppi Bola, Meera Ghani, Asad Rehman and Majandra Rodriguez Acha.
This was not designed for public comms, but used as an internal signposting tool for ‘where we want to get to’ with our framing work, unrestricted by any comms packaging.
We believe that…
PROBLEM
Right now, the world is out of balance. Climate change is affecting everyone, but those who have done least to cause it are suffering first and worst. Those in power, the elites within our systems, violently protect the rigid norms of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism, heteronormativity and ableism, and climate change multiplies these systems of injustice and oppression for frontline communities.
MOTIVATION
To truly achieve climate justice, the solutions to tackling climate change will simultaneously unravel the systems of injustice that underpin our society with a culture of love, care and compassion. Whilst halting climate breakdown and restoring ecological balance, we will create a more equal world, of abundance, of community and equity.
SOLUTION
Solutions need to come from every level. With the decentralisation of power from the state and wealthy elite, into the hands of those most affected by systemic violence. The knowledge that leads the way will come from many sources, with a strong emphasis on the solutions of local and indigenous communities and those usually most marginalised and excluded. The cultures of these communities understand what it means to survive and thrive, to care for nature and each other and see the interlinking of systems of oppression. Solutions will redistribute resources, empower global communities and not facilitate new forms of colonial extraction for capital accumulation. Communities will be reparated for the violent experience of colonialism, giving them space to thrive and recover.
OUTCOME
If done right, we’ll transform our society into one of abundances, that enables people and planet to thrive. A society that allows freedom of movement and a climate that allows freedom to stay. Where no one has their freedom ripped away by unjust justice systems, where our work and lives are dignified and purposeful. One free from racism, from violence and discrimination with equal distribution of resources and a sense of place, freedom and community for everyone.

DIY

Define your story of Climate Justice

What does your vision of climate justice look like?
Download this worksheet to map out your vision in your group.
Worksheet coming soon!

STEP 03

Other Stories

At this point, it might feel tempting to start designing new communications tools.
Woah there!
To develop effective communications, it’s important to understand the key drivers and patterns in how people think about the world, and in our case, about climate justice. Without this understanding, we’re likely to default to our own biases, beliefs, values and understandings, and fail to build connections with people who may see things differently. We also need to spend time thinking about who our audience is and making sure they are involved in the framing process.
And so we searched for research about public thinking on climate justice, in a literature review of 41 sources… but we found very little. There was, however, a lot of research on whether people think climate change is happening, whether humans are responsible, how bad it is, what we can do, etc.
Literature Review findings:

Climate change is happening

Yes, people think it’s happening, here and now. Scepticism about climate change is very rare.

Climate change is caused by humans

Yes, people think humans are (at least partially) responsible. Most people (88%) think this, and that is changing over time. More people think it now than they did even in 2018.

Climate change is serious

Yes, people think it is bad. A majority agree we are in a climate emergency. And a majority think the following scenarios are likely: serious damage to the global economy; cities lost to rising seas; mass displacement of people, and small wars.

Climate change is fixable

Yes, people think that we could still address climate change, with widespread and drastic measures, but aren’t confident that we will do what is needed.

Awareness and concern about climate change is high in the UK, and at the time we did the project was reaching record highs. This holds true today, even during the pandemic.
We couldn’t find any research on where people stood on climate justice, on some of the pillars of Our Story, such as:
Colonialism and capitalism drove the climate crisis
The most affected are also the least responsible
Climate change multiples existing oppressions
We also learnt that, without insight, climate campaigners tend to assume the worst: that people don’t have any understanding or sympathy for these ideas.
Given how little research we found related to climate justice, we supplemented our initial literature review with two phases of original research:
Literature review
A review of existing academic and 'grey' non-academic research.
Focus groups
3 focus groups in London, Aberystwyth and Aberdeen with NatCen.
Online poll
A YouGov survey with a large nationally representative sample.
From our research, we can summarise the UK public story as:
PROBLEM
Climate change is happening, here and now. It has significant social impacts, though I’m a bit hazy about why some regions or social groups are going to be hit harder. Humans are the problem, it’s our industries and our greed and our consumerism.
MOTIVATION
I care about my kids and grandkids, and about not going extinct and all the bad things that will happen.
SOLUTION
Governments and world leaders are mostly responsible and should take a lead. What we need is cheaper electric cars and better tech. Reparations, WTF? And I don’t see why people in the Global South need a voice in this.
OUTCOME
While I think some of those solutions sound quite promising, it’s a bit late and the changes we need are too big. We’re looking at a world of scarcity, not abundance.
More on the research

DIY

Do your own Audience Research

Worksheet coming soon!

STEP 04

Comms Objective

Having mapped out Our Story of climate justice, learnt about Other Stories in the UK, and looked at the common ground and faultlines between those, we asked ourselves...
What’s the most important thing our communications need to do?
When working to reframe an issue, it really helps to focus our energies. To do this, we create objectives, setting our sights on one or more key areas that we hope to shift with our communications work in future.
So, at this point in the project, we could:
Lean into the common ground, creating framing ideas that might help us to expand this.
Take on the faultlines, and design frames that might help to bridge or challenge the differences in our beliefs and those of the wider public.
In the end, we decided to do a bit of both!
We want our communications to help people understand that:
1

Colonialism & capitalism created & continue to drive the climate crisis.

2

Climate change is increasing oppression and injustice.

3

We can solve the problem and lead better lives by redistributing power...

4

... and centring impacted communities (especially in the Global South).

As you can see, we decided to stay quite broad. You might want to get more specific, especially if you’ve got a particular audience in mind, or a clear barrier belief that you want to overcome.

DIY

Set your Comms Objective

Worksheet coming soon!

STEP 05

Framing Ideas

This is the stage of the project where we got our creative swagger on! Our mission: aiming to meet our Comms Objectives through framing ideas and new narrative tools which bridge ‘Our Story’ and ‘Other Stories’.
The way we communicate is never neutral. It will always tap into emotions, values and ways of reasoning, and thus contribute to how people think about this issue.
Remember a time you changed your mind about something? What motivated that shift?
Here’s a few top tips from PIRC's research The Narratives We Need...
Framing best practice
Appeal to people’s better selves
And emphasise how people are shaped by their environment.
Promote an expansive, diverse understanding of ‘us’
For example, by steering clear of charity framing.
Call for collective responsibility
Demonstrate trust for the people and institutions we call upon to make changes.
Talk about how the system is designed
And avoid getting stuck in zero-sum debates about where we allocate scarce resources.
Show that change is possible
Celebrate the changes we’ve made in the past and are making right now.
And so, with all that in mind, we put together a set of frame ideas—through a series of creative sessions—made up of narratives, values-based frames, metaphors and examples, which we would take into our testing phase of the project.

NARRATIVES

The essence of an issue: the Problem, Solution, Motivation and Outcome put together, to bridge a key faultline.

METAPHORS

Using a relatable everyday concept to convey something more complex and help people reason about climate justice in a more helpful way.

VALUES

Reminding people of shared values, and spelling out how these might affect our thinking on climate justice.

EXAMPLES

Events and cultural and historical references that can help you make a point and bridge a gap.

It’s also possible to design VISUALS (pictures, photos or graphics) that can convey your meaning without needing to use words. And you can try varying the MESSENGER (the person, group or other living beings) and test for who most effectively communicates your message, helping people understand it and be supportive of the outcomes.

DIY

Create your Framing Ideas

Worksheet coming soon!

STEP 06

Testing

Developing frames can be fun. But the real value comes from going out and testing them in the real world. So, having developed a set of framing ideas for how to tell our story, we needed to find out whether those framing ideas really worked with others.
We went tested our frame ideas using three methodologies:
Street interviews
Organised & led by participants.
Conversations
In-depth informal conversations.
Online poll
A professional survey experiment with 5000 respondents.
We tested out our different frame ideas by giving people a sample text on climate change, framed with different values, metaphors, or historical examples, and comparing the results to those who had not been given any text to read—a baseline group.
And what did we find?
Check out the Findings page for full details of our results and recommendations...
Read our full Findings

DIY

Run your own Frame Testing

Whether you’ve got big bucks or are running on a shoestring, this is something anyone can do in their work! Any testing is better than no testing.
Download this worksheet to figure out how you can test your frame ideas on any budget.
Worksheet coming soon!

STEP 07

Comms Outputs

For the final step of our project, we created a series of communications outputs, tools and resources, building on the work we’ve undertaken together, to share the learnings from the project with you and the wider movement.
The resources that we’ve created were shaped by the project community, pitched and voted on during our final residential session together—asking for collective resources from the group (time, money, skills) to make them happen.
And from that process, we set to work on putting together this website, a webinar, and a bumper set of resources to support you with your work on framing climate justice. All of which you’ll find here...
Go to the Resources page

And that’s a wrap!

Got any questions about our project process? Want to do your own climate justice framing work but unsure where to start? Need a hand with exploring this in your group?
We’d love to chat...
Go to the Contact page

FINALLY

A word of thanks

Having worked on framing for almost a decade, PIRC led the process of this project.
Over the years, we’ve developed our participatory approach to framing, drawing from the work of others from whom we take inspiration and learning.
We'd particularly like to highlight...
Centre for Story-Based Strategy
FrameWorks Institute
Narrative Initiative
The Opportunity Agenda
Stay awesome!

Framing Climate Justice

A 12-month project bringing together organisers from across the climate movement to tell the stories that matter, and strengthen our movement in the fight for justice.

Hosted by PIRC, 350.org & NEON.

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