5. Practicing Narrative Justice: Sharing

Over the last four weeks we have shared our thinking on what it means to adopt Narrative Justice as a communications approach for nonprofit organizations. This article discusses Sharing, the last of the five commitments that we highlighted in our white paper exploring what Narrative Justice means as an ethos and practice for more equitable communications. Our first article discussed increasing Awareness within your organization as a way to build a stronger foundation for asset-framing in your messaging. Our second focused on building effective and dignity-focused Engagement with people and groups commonly targeted by media tropes. Our third article discussed embracing Confrontation of one’s own track record of problematic communication frames, to strengthen critical engagement with narratives and remove problematic assumptions from our go-to writing habits. The most recent article on Incorporation provided guidance on how to integrate insights from the first three commitments into the processes and practices that allow you to execute your communications plans.

In this article, the fifth and final in our series, we address what we mean when we recommend a commitment to Sharing.

Commitment #5 Share industry knowledge to equip people experiencing injustice with further data to increase and sustain their ability to navigate the field in which you are working.

First, a note on the use of the term “data.” Our original white paper talked about equipping people with further skills. With some distance from that writing, we are choosing to shift our language from skills to data. This is important because we mean to avoid reinforcing the damaging assumption that is common in nonprofit messaging that people from historically excluded communities inherently need our organizations to teach them skills. The shift in language adjusts for a recognition that sharing information is a way to enact transparency and recognizes that individuals will deploy their agency in determining how to best use that information.

If you have led your organization through the first four commitments, Awareness, Engagement, Confrontation and Incorporation, you will have developed a wealth of information, insights, and take-aways. These tools can also be useful to people you are partnering with who are directly experiencing the dynamics you seek to end: racism, economic barriers, biased media environments, unjust legal environments, tech systems based on biased algorithms, etc. For example:

  • In the process of gathering information from families that seek low-cost childcare options, you may have learned that 60% of caretakers you engaged with were not currently aware of organizations providing transportation for child-care services to qualifying families. By sharing this information, and providing details on what services are available, you give your partners more options to navigate the current environment, and demonstrate that you listened to what was shared.
  • While confronting some of your organization’s past communications efforts concerning justice, you may have found that your organization has avoided addressing religious-cultural identity. However, religious cultural-identity has been challenged as recent events in Israel/Palestine have brought Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Arab, Israeli and Palestinian belonging and identification into mainstream media discourse and interpersonal interactions.

    Or, when increasing your awareness about historic power hoarding and the exclusion of communities from resources in your industry, you may find that some of the programs you currently run are focused or framed in ways that amplify those historic injustices. For example, let’s say you currently focus on reducing the stigma around opioid addiction, but your organization’s communications have not taken into account that although drug use is found in consistent levels across racial groups, criminalization of drug use is higher among communities of color while access to high-quality rehabilitation programs is substantially lower.

    By recognizing that these themes have been absent in your organization’s approach to justice work, you introduce safety for new conversations amongst people you are engaging with in all different spaces.
  • While changing internal policies to incorporate better, more active feedback mechanisms, you may find that staff and internal partners raise questions that require the organization to define more clearly what it means by equity or inclusion.

    By sharing this finding broadly, you create opportunities for your partners (both internal and external) to contribute as valued members of your ecosystem to a shared and mutual definition of these pillars. That will, in the longer term, strengthen your approach to your mission and vision.

Organizational willingness to share these types of insights broadly and with all stakeholders embeds an ethos of transparency within your communications. It also helps foster greater trust among those who engage with your organization by sharing their lived experience. This demonstrates that you value what they bring, and the impact on the organization becomes more apparent.

To do Narrative Justice well requires your team to build in time to their processes for analysis of the findings that emerge from enacting these five commitments. What is more, as discussed in our white paper on Narrative Justice, these commitments are best activated in an ongoing, iterative process that your organization can adopt as a way of approaching communications, rather than a set of tasks to complete once. This iterative approach, in and of itself, may require a shift in mindset among organizational leadership, which is sometimes part of what it means to adopt Narrative Justice as a guiding framework for communications equity. No matter what the learnings, your organization’s communications competencies will be strengthened by incorporating a habit of sharing your findings.

Schedule a confidential consultation to learn how our strategic communications offerings can elevate your organization’s impact.