MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

FrameWorks Institute

Washington, D.C., | 2015 Award Recipient

Improving how we understand and talk about complex social issues

Despite myriad communication tools and an explosion of new media, Americans still fail to understand and engage with the important social issues of our time – a key ingredient to strong democracy.

The FrameWorks Institute identifies the most effective ways to talk about complicated social issues such as criminal justice, education, climate change, and immigration by developing a deep understanding of public attitudes and thinking. It does so through rigorous cognitive and social science research into how Americans view these challenges and what information might help ordinary people better understand and engage on critical issues.

FrameWorks has pioneered an approach to communications it calls Strategic Frame Analysis, which yields clear and actionable insights into how the framing of issues affects people’s sense of efficacy, urgency, and appraisal of public solutions. The approach integrates the cross-disciplinary work of anthropologists, linguists, political scientists, and sociologists who research public attitudes through surveys, in-depth and “man on the street” interviews, media analysis, and expert study groups. From this deep and broad set of inputs, it produces communications and framing materials designed to help the public understand complicated issues through comprehensible metaphors and examples.

The Institute makes its research and messaging guidance publicly available for use by scientists, policy leaders, and advocates to help them involve the public in deliberative processes addressing critical issues.

Working with neuroscientists at the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, the Institute developed the term “toxic stress” to describe the biological impacts on children of chronic exposure to adversity. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians have issued policy statements on toxic stress. FrameWorks also developed the term “heat trapping blanket” to help the public understand the underlying mechanism by which greenhouse gases warm the planet and create climate change. This metaphor is now used by several nonprofits and the Environmental Protection Agency in explaining the science behind climate change.

The Institute will use its $1 million MacArthur Award to establish a reserve fund, create an experimentation fund to develop new communications research methods, conduct strategic planning, and create new partnerships with universities to incorporate its methodology into academic curricula.

Grantee Profile: Learn more about FrameWorks Institute

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