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#Narratives

Storytelling strategist Liz Manne on content-forward narrative change for health equity

"There is not a human being alive that doesn’t have personal experience and personal standing on healthcare. Part of the problem with healthcare is it’s hard to get people to understand that it is riddled with structural racism that regardless of class, and geography, and income, and wealth, Black and brown people are systemically, repeatedly disadvantaged and ill-treated by these systems. Because people have their own problems with the healthcare system, it is hard to get white people in particular, and professionals who run these systems, to understand how traumatizing and woefully inadequate these systems are for Black and brown people living in America.” -Liz Manne

As strategists and storytellers, we must think about audiences that aren’t necessarily familiar to us and find out what motivates them. And, most importantly of all, we must tell a story that involves them—a story that gives them a role in the future.

Dismantling structural racism in America’s healthcare systems requires activating people in the U.S. toward a future of health equity, work that is rooted in narrative and culture change. The culmination of our year-long project with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in pursuit of this goal was storytelling. Using the foundation of our audience-narrative architecture, we partnered with Story Strategy Group to generate story hypotheses with experts and creative strategists who would make real media that we could test for audience effects. The full results of our findings are available in this public report, and in this conversation, our Science Director Riki Conrey sat down with Story Strategy Group principal and co-founder Liz Manne to talk through all things creative within narrative strategy.

Highlights include:

  • The complexities of joining research with creative practice
  • The difference between “strategic communications” and narrative change
  • How narrative strategy gets embedded in legal and policy work
  • Issues that feel ubiquitous and personal can make it hard to see the larger picture of how others are being harmed
  • The necessity of creating content that simultaneously engages AND transports people
  • How to hold onto the future, not the “tomorrow,” to imagine growth more successfully

You can listen to the full recording above, and a transcript is available below. We invite you to read the findings from the full report and, in the coming days, look for an interactive version of this research launching at the Narrative Observatory. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to talk about how our audience-narrative architecture might be helpful to your creative work.

 


[00:00:00] Riki: My name is Riki Conrey. I’m the science Director at Harmony Labs, and today I’m speaking with Liz Manne, one of our partners at the Story Strategy Group to talk about a recent project on which we’ve been collaborating almost two years now for RWJF, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in which we’ve been exploring how we can move America toward a narrative that centers equity in health care.

[00:00:25] I’m talking to Liz Manne, one of our partners at Story Strategy Group, she’s co-founder and principal there, about the process of understanding what works in narrative shift and measuring how it’s working. So, Liz, before we jump into talking about health equity and the stuff we tested and how it moved people, let’s talk about you.

[00:00:46] Can you talk a little bit about your background? Because I am a data scientist, and so we always partner with people like you who are not data scientists, but are experts in joining up research with creative practice.

[00:00:57] Liz: Sure, sure. So I’m going [00:01:00] to start since this is on audio by explaining that I have a vocal disorder, which sounds, it’s a strange thing called spasmodic dysphonia for the technically inclined, but it makes my voice sound squeezed, so I assure you I’m perfectly well. It’s just how my voice sounds.

[00:01:20] I come to social issue advocacy, storytelling, and communications work out of the entertainment industry. I worked in the music industry when I was very young, but the bulk of my career was as a film and television executive and producer, primarily a marketer.

[00:01:41] Being a marketer in the motion picture and television industry is a bit meta, right? Because you’re telling stories about storytelling. And because even though I worked in the arthouse or indie film end of things, it’s a commercial [00:02:00] industry. So the measures of success are extremely clear.

[00:02:07] They may be different for the company that is the distributor from the filmmaker, the storyteller. Often storytellers, they want to have commercial success, but they also really want to have good reviews and awards and things that will give them the opportunity to have more freedom to make more things that they want to make going forward. As a marketing and distribution executive on the corporate studio side, your job is to make money. And if you get awards and good reviews, that helps you make money, but it’s but it’s that kind of flow.

[00:02:51] And probably around 2008, I flipped, right? So my vocation became my avocation and my avocation [00:03:00] became my vocation. I made this shift from marketing movies and television to using what I know about strategy and audience to advance support for, and investment in, solutions to address some of our most pressing social and environmental issues.

[00:03:23] So that’s my background that I bring to this kind of work. And that’s when you and I met, four years ago, five years ago at this point, beginning to do this work together.

[00:03:35] Riki: I feel sometimes, like we’re still just beginning to do this work together. We can’t have a conversation about narrative where we don’t spend some time on definitions.

[00:03:42] We will try not to take up all the time with it. But from your perspective, having been in every part of the process, what’s the difference between narrative shift work and strategic communications or messaging?

[00:03:53] Liz: So strategic communications is very similar to PR [00:04:00] and advertising in the commercial sector. It’s a very important piece of advocacy’s work, so I’m never one to, you know, underestimate its power and its importance. But it’s quite instrumental and it’s quite immediate. And it can be quite transactional and you’re doing a lot of very precise, very immediate measurement.

[00:04:27] Largely because, particularly if you’re doing large ad campaigns — think about political campaigns — media buying can be just so tremendously expensive and particular, and you don’t want to waste that money. So you want to really, really optimize.

[00:04:45] When you’re trying to raise money for a nonprofit organization, you’ll see all this A/B testing to, you know, optimize yourself for efficiency, to raise the most amount of money. So strategic communications is [00:05:00] actually about finding magic words in magic doses to maximize your efficiency for your near-term win and your near-term return.

[00:05:12] Narrative change work is a lot fuzzier and it’s a lot longer term. You absolutely can use the skills and the techniques of strategic communications and content production and content testing to measure near-term progress towards narrative shift. So they’re not unrelated.

[00:05:36] But you’re not trying to find, you know, optimized words and phrases … you’re actually trying to do this sort of — a fancy, slightly pretentious word — but you’re encouraging polyvocal storytelling … many, many voices telling many, many different types of stories with many different tones [00:06:00] in conversation with many different types of audiences to collectively shift narrative in our culture, in our media, in our individual brains, and as narrative is embedded in our policies and programs. So one [strategic communications] is pretty straightforward and pretty near term and pretty transactional. The other [narrative shift] is more of a tapestry that is collectively made over a very long period of time.

[00:06:36] Riki: The thing that really strikes me about the difference between strat comms and narrative is obviously it’s not a choice between them. You need strat comms, because you do have short-term goals, but if you don’t do the narrative work …

[00:06:47] Liz: Strat comms is part of narrative work. It’s an absolute key to it.

[00:06:53] Riki: The problem is that if you don’t do narrative work, then it’s only going to be you doing strat comms about every single [00:07:00] time this needs to come into the world ever again.

[00:07:01] The only person, whoever tells a story about X is going to be you because there’s no narrative in your audience’s mind to support them generating those stories themselves. And we are certainly seeing it play out in some of the main social issues here in the US that there isn’t a meaningful narrative that helps people put together how they should feel about new developments on major social issues.

[00:07:25] Liz: I would say for, I mean, as you well know, because you and I worked on a gender justice project together, I am firmly pro-choice and on the slide of progressive policies and beliefs and practices relating to gender and reproductive justice and rights and health.

[00:07:44] But if you think about opponents to abortion, for example, there is a very clear narrative goal that they are pursuing [and it’s] embedded completely in [00:08:00] laws that have something called a, you know, that are called heartbeat laws and legislation. Right? That’s a really good example of something that’s not strat comms. It’s a legal and policy example, but it’s a really sharp example of how narrative strategy gets embedded in legal and public policy work.

[00:08:25] Riki: Let us shift on that example to health equity and what we’re talking about here. One of the other things that really separates strat comms and that sort of instrumental, tactical, in the moment stuff from narrative is that the goal of strat comms is to give an instruction, like, “vote for this” or “vote at all.”

[00:08:43] The goal of narrative is to help connect people with the future that they want. But to help illuminate a corner of that future that in this case is equity for everyone in our healthcare system. So before we talk tactics on testing, can you talk about how you [00:09:00] interpreted what we learned about how different audiences in the US encounter health care and think about health care in general?

[00:09:06] Are we trying to turn everyone into a particular mindset or perspective on health care, or what do you think of as the strategic core of that process?

[00:09:16] Liz: So Riki, you and I have worked on a number of different issues over time and one of the things that occurs to me about this health care project, that is parallel to the gender project we worked on, is that there is not a human being alive that doesn’t have personal experience and personal standing on gender, and doesn’t have personal experience and personal standing on health care. We live in human bodies. We have human body foibles. We started this at the top. I started talking about my vocal cords. so this is an important piece of relevance for this kind of work, right?

[00:09:59] Which is [00:10:00] like, everyone’s going to have an opinion about it. Whereas people might not have an opinion about something that’s like, kind of complicated, like you know, the mechanics of climate change or what causes forest fires, or other issues. This [health care] is something in which everybody is an expert and everybody has stories and everybody has, for the most part, unsatisfying relationships with the healthcare system.

[00:10:25] The other thing that I found really… You know, because things that are so ubiquitous, you don’t, you kind of automatically process them. I’m sure you can explain the brain science and the brain schema around them. But if you really pause and start thinking about it, health care: you have insurance, you have providers, you have patients, you have wellness and exercise and vitamins, and different kinds of approaches to it. And a lot of the time when you guys do your work, I have these “aha” slash [00:11:00] “duh” moments. Like, “Aha, you found something? Darn. That should have been completely obvious to us, but thanks for shining the light on and pointing it out.” The “duh” part was, yeah, nobody’s actually thinking about healthcare systems. They’re thinking about, you know, what’s that bump on my neck? What’s, you know, how do I address my hot flashes, or whatever it is that’s going on, or a mental health concern about a family member or about yourself.

[00:11:35] In the media, it’s not a technical or a system or a structural conversation. It’s a very personal conversation, and that’s certainly what you found, I think because like environment and science things, the medical industrial establishment, as it were, was created by highly technical people who think that [00:12:00] telling facts should make the day.

[00:12:05] Telling facts, as we know, doesn’t make the day. People will just deflect it or they’ll replace it or they literally won’t hear it. Something will happen inside their brains that will just reprocess it, deny it, not even allow it purchase and entry, and will insist on the story version that sticks in their head.

[00:12:28] Riki: We’ve done work on nukes, for instance, where it’s really salient. It comes up all the time, everybody hears about it, but it’s not actually happening to you physically. And so your experience of it can be super abstract, but the experience of health and health care is the “what about me” question isn’t selfish, it’s actually the first question.

[00:12:47] Liz: It’s the first question. And by the way, it’s also something that is annoying to 99 out of a 100 people, right? So it, it’s regardless of race, [00:13:00] regardless of geography, regardless of class. You know, I’m a white cis woman who’s upper middle class. I have tremendous advantages in the healthcare system. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel like the healthcare system is some gigantic symbolic hangnail annoying me, and irritating me. Not least of which is during open enrollment season. And I don’t think I’m unique or special in that way.

[00:13:31] I think part of the problem with health care is it’s hard to get people to understand that it is riddled with structural racism that, again, regardless of class, and geography, and income, and wealth, Black and brown people are systemically, repeatedly disadvantaged and ill treated by these systems.

[00:13:57] Even a system that’s full of [00:14:00] allegedly people who just want to heal. And because people have their own problems with the healthcare system, It is hard to get white people in particular, I think, and professionals who run these systems, to understand how traumatizing and woefully inadequate these systems are for Black and brown people living in America.

[00:14:26] Riki: So it’s hard, but it’s not impossible. And we actually found some indication that we could do it. So this is spoilers. We didn’t do it through a class bait. We didn’t do it through a, “ oh, it’s those rich fat cats in Washington or running the healthcare companies.”

[00:14:38] That stuff doesn’t get people onboard for a better future or healthcare equity or any of it. But there was stuff that did absolutely move even the toughest audiences. So my question for you is, the first question, and this is a setup question because it is honestly the, the most important question to most of funders right now is, can you measure narrative shift? What’s the [00:15:00] answer?

[00:15:00] Liz: Yeah, the answer is absolutely yes. Now, can you measure it over the long term? We can absolutely measure progress towards narrative shift in the near term. We’ve done it repeatedly now, demonstrably, provably, convincingly, et cetera. There does absolutely need to be an investment by philanthropy in long-term tracking and long-term measurement change, right?

[00:15:29] Because, you know, organizations interested in narrative shift will have , you know, 5, 10, and 30 year goals. That means you have to have measurement systems that have 5, 10, and 30 year horizons.

[00:15:44] Riki: we have this kind of process we’ve been evolving for a while around how to get to some ideas for what to test. The problem is, as you said, messaging in strat comms is about like the magic words in the magic dose, and then you get your outcome, and there you are. Narrative [00:16:00] can’t be magic words. Because different words mean different people. Different things to different people.

[00:16:04] Liz: Exactly, exactly. So, and at strat comms you’re just trying to get, you know I mean, famously in political elections you would say 50% plus one. And in narrative you’re really trying to get everyone, you’re trying to move,

[00:16:19] Riki: get everybody

[00:16:20] Liz: you’re trying to change which way the wind is blowing.

[00:16:23] Riki: So here’s my question. We’ve tried all kinds of things for hypothesis generation.

[00:16:27] Liz: Yep.

[00:16:28] Riki: What’s your favorite we’ve ever tried on any project?

[00:16:31] Liz: Processes?

[00:16:32] Riki: Yeah.

[00:16:33] Liz: Can we, can we pause and just talk about the engagement and persuasion effects for a second?

[00:16:39] Riki: Of course.

[00:16:40] Liz: Because I think it’s one of these things… Listen, Riki is the data scientist and the measurement queen, and I come out of strategy and creative. Understanding it as a creative person, as a storyteller, as a content producer that you, your [00:17:00] content or remember when we started this conversation, I talked about movies that had to get good reviews and make money at the box office. In this case, we’ve got to engage audiences, which means we have to attract their attention.

[00:17:17] Because if you know a persuasive tree falls in the forest, but nobody hears it , it doesn’t matter how persuasive that tree is, nobody is going to have heard it. So things have to attract audiences. In order to have any kind of effect on our narrative landscape. The second thing is they have to persuade, they have to move people, I think your word is transport people from a current state to belief in a future state. So they have to move people, and you have certain persuasion measurement questions that you ask to prove that. [00:18:00] But this idea for advocacy, content creators, storytellers, legal people, grassroots organizers who are having deep conversations.

[00:18:10] Understanding. You gotta engage people and you gotta persuade them, and you have to do both. We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. That is crucial. You have measures for both. And if we don’t do both, then we have no, you know, you’re going to have a million people looking at something, but if it doesn’t make a difference, then you just have a million people you know, looking at the same thing.

[00:18:36] If you have something that’s tremendously convincing, but it’s the most boring thing in the entire world and nobody engages with it, then it doesn’t matter how persuasive you are. So I really think that simple idea is really, really useful to content producers because we know what our, we know what we’re trying [00:19:00] to do when we make stuff.

[00:19:01] Riki: I, okay, so I will, in the spirit of you can measure this, I will stop and say measuring persuasion is accessible to a lot of people. People know what an A/B test is or does, right? Measuring engagement is much harder, requires substantial specific expertise. Sometimes we have to change our methods because different platforms change what they offer.

[00:19:20] It’s harder and it’s absolutely doable. And here’s an example of what the difference might be. We definitely had materials here that were super persuasive. If we sat people down and made them read a whole paragraph or two.

[00:19:34] Yeah, yeah.

[00:19:35] But in order to get the attention of one of our audiences, now we don’t want to go all the way to babies and puppies and everything, but it is actually really important to know what kinds of content signals to your audience: “Hey, this is for me. I should read those two paragraphs.”

[00:19:48] Liz: Yep. Yep. And similarly, hey, this isn’t for me, and I’m going to make that decision on an exit ramp. I’m just going to tune it out and start [00:20:00] thinking about what I’m going to eat for dinner instead. Right. You’re scrolling your Instagram or scrolling, whatever, and you’re like, Nope, nope, nope, nope. Ooh. That’s for me. Those processes happen in, you know, micro fractions of seconds in people’s heads, and not everything is going to attract all people.

[00:20:23] So as storytellers, as content creators, we know that you’re going to have to have different images, different tones, different characters to hook, different audiences. Margo Jefferson, a cultural critic, famously talked about Beyoncé not being a mass culture figure, but having a, attracting a mass of niches.

[00:20:50] And I think that that’s an important thing to understand about content for narrative shift [00:21:00] is you have to, with your storytelling, create a, you know, engage and persuade a mass of niches.

[00:21:09] Riki: That’s totally true, and actually, so in the spirit of knowing that that’s the case I have a, I have a pretty strong thought about this, but given all the times we’ve done this process, trying to create content with that, it has a coherent, authentic connection back to the home narrative, you need to cover as many niches as possible for engagement and persuasion.

[00:21:31] Liz: Here’s my favorite thing that succeeded in this project, which is the Harmony Labs Don’t Tread on Me audience, very much what we would think of as a conservative audience.

[00:21:45] So I spend part of my life living in a rural community surrounded by a lot of long standing white men in their community, who bring me [00:22:00] fish off the boat and who plow my driveway and who I call when I’ve got a frozen pipe, et cetera. I’m guessing a lot of those folks are probably members of the Harmony Labs’ Don’t Tread on Me audience.

[00:22:15] Now because I have people that I understand and know, and know by name and have known for years, I know that they fix problems. I know that when I go to the firehouse with the volunteer firefighters to donate blood, I know that I’m not surrounded in this community by you know, sort of my normal feed, my arty, New York City neighbors.

[00:22:45] I’m surrounded by people who, probably don’t, I don’t share a lot of political perspective with, but what I do understand about them and what Harmony Labs’ research has shown quite clearly is that this is a a group of [00:23:00] problem solvers. There’s a group of people who see something and they’ve never seen a problem that they don’t want to fix and that they don’t want to approach fixing and don’t have a certain amount of moxie and determination to fix.

[00:23:16] And I appreciated that you were able to point that out in your research. Give that to us as a clue and for us to do some storytelling that gave this audience segment a role in problem-solving. There’s not a selfish group of people, so one of the persuasion questions is about like, this problem should be solved … this problem of inequitable outcomes for certain populations … there was a clause and you’ll give the precise persuasion question, but there was a clause, even if it means me and my family have to give something up. And this [Don’t Tread on Me] audience [00:24:00] was absolutely willing to give something up to solve a problem that was an incorrect problem.

[00:24:07] I really appreciated that hook. That’s a subtle thing. It means that we have to — as strategists, as storytellers, as advocates — think about our audiences that aren’t necessarily familiar to us and find out what makes them tick and what makes them motivated. And it’s not about, you know, trying to raise sympathy through a soft story in this particular case for this particular audience, it’s about, identifying a problem and creating a role for them to participate in solving the problem.

[00:24:45] Riki: In the spirit of getting there, the thing that I’ve found on this and several other projects, including some on immigration that we’ve participated in, is that there this back-and-forth process of making a mess creatively that we don’t need to do when we’re selling [00:25:00] toothpaste.

[00:25:00] Liz: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[00:25:01] Riki: And that the mess is not avoidable. Researchers are really, we are trained to make small boxes to stuff things in, and that works extremely well in messaging and it does not work well in the generation of ideas and content for narrative in my experience.

[00:25:20] So the thing we did on this project that I liked the most creatively was we used at least six different teams of creators in several different phases to just like, “what do you think?” And I think more ideas for more diverse people. And we were really, really intentional to, in creating those teams of creators who actually could rep for the audiences.

[00:25:42] They were very diverse in their own personal values and experience, and that I think is where we got some of the ideas that work. The part of it that that is the trick is getting those ideas from super diverse people committed to the narrative, but coming from different values frames [00:26:00] and then turning that into research when there is this sort of phase of translation and bringing in fancy data scientists who can do all of the testing.

[00:26:08] But when the ideas are coming from diverse creators and from true artists, I think that’s really successful.

[00:26:14] Liz: I’m going to push back on that a little bit, Riki.

[00:26:17] Riki: You didn’t like that?

[00:26:19] Liz: Well, I loved it because I love working with different people with different perspectives. And I was actually while I was working on this project with you, I was doing another project where a pure artist out of the blue came up with something completely outrageous. Everybody in the testing and the strategy side was like, that’ll never work. And it completely worked and it worked better than anything with one particular audience. So this idea that you can, and it was an audience that was, you know, sort of counterintuitive for me [00:27:00] personally … [00:27:00] a young male audience. And it was just, it happened to be something completely outrageous and completely worked. So you can have these by opening the doors, by testing lots of things, by commissioning and supporting lots of things you can absolutely find happy accidents. What I think is more important, but I think it’s very difficult to say, okay, I’ve got these five strategic audiences, or I’ve got these four strategic audiences and I’ve got subsets of the different strategic audiences and I better find a creator who has an intuitive lived experience understanding of that particular audience that we’re going after.

[00:27:49] That’s as a practical matter when you’re, when you are, that it, it’s hard enough for most organizations to find one good writer and [00:28:00] graphic designer, let alone a dozen of them and, and manage them. So I think the, so I think amazing things can happen when people have them, when creators come with these with different perspectives, but I think the most important thing is for clients or strategists or whoever is doing the commissioning and running this project is themselves to steep themselves in learning about people who are themselves and their community, but who are also, not themselves, but maybe important audiences for strategic interventions. Like do a power analysis, do a systems analysis, figure out who you want to leverage for what purposes. Figure out who you want to power build with, figure out who you need to [00:29:00] disempower, but really think about who you’re working with. Do everything you can to learn about those audiences, and then do storytelling with those audiences. We all have families, we all have, you know, an Uncle Bob who may or may not be somebody whose belief systems we share. But we also know how to have a conversation with Uncle Bob. And I think it just behooves us to take what we naturally do in human personal environments and expand that to our advocacy calculus, to respect people who are different from ourselves.

[00:29:42] So that’s my pushback because I don’t, I mean, I think it can work. I think if you’ve got the luxury of it. I think it’s a shorthand, but I also think that we can all figure out how to put ourselves in other people’s shoes if [00:30:00] we pause and think and learn and listen. And I think that’s actually more practical and more important.

[00:30:09] Riki: I think that’s true. I do think the process is predicated on that. So that does make it foundational and in particular so that we can have a sound bite. The process has to be respect first and, if you want to win, that’s going to mean respecting people, not necessarily who are in an opposition to you.

[00:30:29] Because there isn’t an opposition on every narrative. Some narratives don’t exist yet, but the people who haven’t thought about you at all yet and definitely don’t care about you, and, uh, thinking about what that audience cares about first, rather than how they feel about you first, is the only way to take a cultural strategy approach.

[00:30:48] So we found some stuff that worked. If you are going to like — in a project like this, it’s all incremental, it’s all moving forward. It all has to react to where we [00:31:00] are in the moment right now. But if you were to name two things that you would recommend to every advocate for health equity going forward, that they should just always make a part of their communications practice, what would they be?

[00:31:13] Liz: To close your eyes and imagine the better health delivery service that you want. What does that experience feel like? When I walk in my provider’s office, how I’m treated at the front desk, how they answer the phone or don’t answer the phone, or do you have a robot phone experience? What is the experience that you want that you feel anyone would want? Cultural sensitivity, the gender sensitivity, the racial sensitivity, the [00:32:00] language sensitivity, religious, spiritual, what do you want when you walk in? When you want to stay well in your body and when you want to address issues, when you’re ill? Really focus on what that better, if not perfect, ideal state is, but really, really good. Like what’s a good future look like? Concentrate on that good future and build a story that takes us towards that.

[00:32:38] Everybody knows what the problems are, particularly in health care, right? There’s certain problems in the world that people don’t know what the problems are, right? Because they’re, it’s like sort of, you know, outside their personal experience. Health care is not one of those. Everybody knows what the problems are.

[00:32:56] It’s not that those problems don’t have to be healed and [00:33:00] repaired. Absolutely they do. But what does a healed state look like? What does a repaired state look like? Envision that and move people toward that. You know, our friends at Narrative Initiative call it the narrative North Star. What is the state that you are moving toward? What is guiding you? Think of that and embrace that aspiration. And in some cases for different audiences, you have to give them like, you know, problems to solve like the Don’t Tread on Me audience said that they can see themselves on that journey and different audiences will find themselves holding different roles in that journey towards that future. But that’s the single most important thing.

[00:33:48] Riki: Yeah, when I was a teenager learning to drive, I’m still to this day not a great driver, but I took a defensive driving course and the very first thing they said was, what you’re going to do is you’re going to look where you want to go and [00:34:00] steer there. And definitely what we have found in every single project without exception is that naming the future in the media is effective across all audiences.

[00:34:11] And that also is a way to keep yourself in the work. As wins and losses in strategic comms take place. And that is where you’re talking about specific policies and the steps and how the arc of the story unfolds. The narrative, which is how it’s going to feel when we get there, is what keeps us going.

[00:34:29] Liz: So Riki, you’re a social psychologist. I’ve read that there’s a phenomenon in which the, you know, we’re just coming out of the holiday season, right? And you’re about to go on a holiday. So I’ve read somewhere that anticipation of the vacation is as important to people’s well-being as the vacation itself. Explain as the [00:35:00] social psychologist, how that actually works. because they might be related phenomena.

[00:35:04] Riki: I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but the idea of being able to meet your short-term needs while holding something big and abstract in your head that represents how it might be when it’s better is actually fundamentally built into the human psyche, right?

[00:35:20] We are built to have two biases, which are funny. One is that you, if I ask you, “Do you want to read Dostoevsky in six months?” You’d be like, “Yeah, that sounds very broadening.” And if I’m like, “Would you like to read Dostoevsky tomorrow?” You’d be like, “Nope, that sounds long.” The closer it gets, the more concrete you are.

[00:35:40] So your thinking about tomorrow is small and concrete and your thinking about the future is big and abstract and imagines growth really much more successfully. And so holding the future all the time is one of the ways we can stay in a growth mindset. I can evolve, I can change. This checklist is not all there is.

[00:35:58] And the other thing that [00:36:00] feels germane to this is that we do in fact have a general bias to believe things will get better. Which is objectively the case. I mean the human condition individually this is not true, but the human condition has pretty reliably gotten better over time. Perhaps because this bias is really built in: believing that the world can get better is the foundation of “small ‘p’ progressivism.”

[00:36:21] The idea of progress, of change, we aren’t holding on exclusively to what we have and protecting and preserving because we think we can do. And while we never advocate here for trying to trick audiences, because everybody in fact wants a healthcare system that works, we do need to keep everybody’s eyes on that ball.

[00:36:40] And so moving everybody as much as we can toward a growth mindset is a good idea. All right. We have three minutes. So I do, I think we did some good mic dropping already. Anything else that you want to make sure gets on the tape?

[00:36:52] Liz: So for creators and advocates, number one, vision [00:37:00] of the future state. Number two, do strategic audience analysis. Who do I need to move? Who do I need to speak with in order to achieve what? Right? So the first one is about, what’s my goal? The second one is, who do I need to — in order to achieve that goal?

[00:37:23] And then three, tell many, many different kinds of stories for the different kinds of audiences to move towards your goal. So it’s like … Where am I going? Who do I need to go there with me and what different, what bundle, what bouquet of storytelling, what gorgeous mosaic of multi, multi, multiple stories am I going to tell to help me build toward that?

[00:37:54] That seems to be — I mean, it sounds simple, but it’s [00:38:00] complicated. There’s a, there’s a lot of brass tacks around, okay, now how do I produce the story? Who do I recruit? How do I brief them? How do I measure them? You know, that that’s a technical practice that can be learned both on the, both on the strategic storytelling side and on the measurement side.

[00:38:22] And I think for funders it’s you know what I would say is two crucial pieces of field infrastructure investment. One is multiple types of content in narrative storytelling labs, right? Constant telling of stories, constant measurement, constant learning, constant iteration, constant sharing of learning.

[00:38:50] So these kinds of R&D hubs, if you will, for storytelling for narrative change. Across issues, [00:39:00] right? So what the housing folks are learning applies to the gender folks, et cetera, et cetera. And then the other piece of infrastructure is this long term investment, right? So, you know, you think about mineral and oil companies, [the way] they do things over in military — they’ll be planning and doing infrastructure for 50 year horizons. We should at least be doing infrastructure for 10 year horizons for that kind of media and, and narrative and cultural monitoring.

[00:39:37] Riki: That feels true. I love the idea of investing in long-term stuff. If like, yes, you can measure it in order to get there and to measure all those things that you’re talking about. Measure your audiences. Measure where they are. Measure how big they are. Figure out who, who you need to get where you’re going. Find out what they want, know where you are. and then have some [00:40:00] ideas about how you can get everybody there and test them and then figure out over time whether or not you’re doing that.

[00:40:05] All of those things are a hundred percent doable. It is. It’s a strategic practice, but it is absolutely possible. So that feels like the starting place for creating justification for long-term investments in the infrastructure for doing, and the infrastructure for measuring as we go.

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