Case Study: Inside a Lexicon Project

Advancing Social Change Through the Impact of Language

A foundational assumption of the Lexicon Project™ is that language is living and breathing, and constantly in flux. Through this service offering, we work with clients to understand the key elements and find the rhythm of that flux, so they can integrate it into their approach to communications. The following case study highlights our Lexicon work with a key actor in the nonprofit arena dedicated to climate action.

Climate Change: Speaking to our Current Moment 

As a global platform that convenes philanthropic actors funding climate change solutions, our client wanted to ensure they were embodying cultural awareness and authentic equity principles in communications to their distributed workforce, grantee and stakeholder audiences across 50 countries. They retained The Wakeman Agency to develop an organizational lexicon to meet this goal. The organization was navigating a leadership transition while also examining practices related to their organizational values of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI). From external events and some key trusted advisors, the organization identified areas needing more effective action to implement the JEDI principles within their programs and processes. The realization offered a moment of opportunity for organizational change.

The Wakeman Agency collaborated with the client’s Communications and JEDI teams to target organizational language and messaging. We know that how our clients communicate about their work influences advancement on strategic goals. Therefore, our process was tailored to scan current communications and identify narratives and language to better align the client’s organizational communications with their aspirations.

The Solution:

From the start of conversations with our client, we knew that the Lexicon Project was uniquely situated to provide insight and an actionable framework to meet their goal of implementing meaningful language shifts. The organization aspired to:

  • Prioritize the experiences and insights of individuals and communities currently most severely impacted by climate change, to focus on partnering with them to build organizational approaches.
  • Foster greater authentic rapport-building with communities most severely impacted.
  • Address challenges in their current communications approach that were already known within the organization to hinder the building of or expanding these relationships.
  • Facilitate greater inclusion and a stronger sense of belonging for staff given their globally distributed teams across multiple time zones and cultural environments.
  • Identify how language can help them proactively grow from a US-centered organization to a more globally-minded force within the sector.

Process and Deliverables:

Although tailored to the particular needs of our client, each Lexicon Project integrates three phases: Discovery, Engagement and Application. This process is akin to a communications, messaging and narrative audit, used to identify language patterns:


Through in-depth qualitative analysis, based on our Narrative Justice approach, we identified the key elements of narrative and language under current use within the organization’s ecosystem.

From this rich and detailed data account of the current organizational use of language, we produced a Findings Report, which outlined the major insights gained from the Discovery phase, and guided the crafting of organizational JEDI Definitions and Value Statements.


Through a process of iterative discussion, identifying group norms and listening to feedback, we worked with the client’s team to accurately interpret the meaning and relevance of findings from the Discovery phase. From this analysis, we created their organizational Lexicon. The Lexicon provided a detailed report including a glossary of key terms of note that were actively present in the organization’s narrative, terms to avoid, and other terms to adopt. Each entry included guidance on the context for and application of the specific recommendation.

The Lexicon is the heart of this work. The language recommendations and findings report provided key insights to support the organization in operationalizing JEDI. It is common that this exploration will raise challenging or even thorny questions that organizations and staff have been grappling with privately, or in small informal groups. Our process allows for open discussion of these dynamics, identifying what produces them, and providing an opportunity and context in which to think concretely about how to shift to new possible pathways. Many prospective clients wonder about what happens if the audit uncovers information that is hard to deal with, unexpected, or reveals internal disagreements. It likely will as that is the nature of this work. It is also the results of this challenging process that can produce meaningful change.

The Wakeman Agency is experienced in managing these barriers in support of strong realignment of communications narratives and language, and more effectively meeting the organization’s aspirations moving forward.


This stage equips your team with the processes and thought partnership to build your own language expertise, and increase user adoption throughout the organization. It also provides support to the internal owners of the process to ensure sustainability beyond the period of engagement.


The Lexicon Project provided the following outcomes for this organization:

  • Leadership gained a strong understanding of the current challenges and opportunities for language shifts, and the specific impact current messaging had on engagement with grantees, partner organizations, stakeholders, funders, and staff.
  • Deliverables provided a detailed reference guide and actionable next steps for the client’s leadership team to integrate these findings into organizational life.
  • Through training sessions and consultations, The Wakeman Agency accompanied the leadership team through the first stages of execution, aided in the navigation of challenges that emerged through the process, and helped acclimatize additional team members to the organizational changes inherent in the Lexicon work.

Impact & “Ah-ha” Moments:

Through a commitment to language and narrative change facilitated by the Lexicon Project, this organization has taken meaningful steps toward shifting language habits and communications practices in order to more effectively communicate about and conduct their work. Staff indicated strong support for the recommendations that emerged from the process, which fostered greater buy-in for continued organizational progress. The client has adopted the Lexicon and Manual into their daily work practices. Transformation was evident as participants gained an understanding of the impact of their current narrative—the stories they tell through the course of their work. Responses to the post-training survey were overwhelmingly positive as team members embraced the opportunity to communicate with audiences with increased fluency and consistency across the organization.

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