Framing essentials: fight fatalism with solutions

We can’t and shouldn’t stop talking about problems. Explaining the nature and scope, and especially the causes, of current challenges is essential to solving them. But it’s crucial that we balance our statements about problems with our proposed solutions.

Painting too vivid a picture of impending doom, with an overload of crisis framing on many issues from many sources, typically leads to one of two things. People either dismiss the claim outright or conclude that tragedy is inevitable no matter what we do. This is fatalism in a nutshell: the assumption that problems are insurmountable and that efforts to address them are bound to fail. It is easily evoked through our communications because it already looms large in the public mind.

As a result, our challenge is not to convince people that a problem exists; it’s to convince them that it can be solved. We can do just that by balancing problems with efficacy (“we can do something about it”). This offers people both a reason to engage in collective action and to hope that it will work.

Here are three ways we can talk about solutions to avoid fatalism.

  1. Offer concrete solutions
    Mention them often and early. And consider proportionality. Does the scale and impact of your solution match up to the problem? Could you break the problem down or focus on a particular aspect with a proportionate solution?
  2. Show the problem can be fixed, and how
    Show the urgency of the situation but don’t leave people at the crisis. Normalise action, not inaction. Talk explicitly about the fact that we can change things and give examples.
  3. Try a 2:1 ratio
    For every dose of urgency and crisis in our communications, we need to include at least two doses of “cando”. This can be via tone as well as content.

An example: 


“The childhood obesity crisis poses a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of the next generation and to the future of the NHS. Soaring rates of obesity, a major risk factor for many serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer could potentially bankrupt the NHS.” 


“We can act now to improve children’s health by increasing the flow of affordable, nutritious food in every school and neighbourhood and creating more safe spaces for children to run and play. Together, we can create a brighter future where all children have the opportunity to thrive.”