Framing essentials: how explanation changes the conversation

People are more likely to care about an issue if they understand it. They’re more likely to support action and change if they see how and why a problem happens, and what could be done to solve it.

But when people encounter a new idea without context or explanation, they understand it through their own existing beliefs and that will frequently be a different understanding to the one we wanted them to take away.

If we just assert that there’s a problem, we’re also giving ourselves a problem. The shift in understanding that we’re hoping for will not happen. We’ll be no nearer achieving the change we want. That’s why explanation is our friend. When we show rather than tell, people can see what’s happening and grasp the point we’re trying to make. We can also show that change is possible.

Here are three things to try.

  1. Explain step by step
    • When we have more time, space or words to explain, we can use a step-by-step approach to explain how and why the issue happens.
    • Use language that highlights cause and effect: ‘because’, ‘this leads to’, ‘this results in’, ‘this means…’ 
    • Remember you don’t have to explain everything. Instead, focus on one part of the issue, and use the step-by-step approach to build understanding.
  2. Use a tested metaphor
    • A metaphor helps people to understand how something works by using a familiar idea to help them paint a mental picture. For example, when we talk about health, we can use a ‘building blocks’ metaphor, like this: To create a society where everybody can thrive, we need all of the right building blocks in place: stable jobs, good pay, quality housing and good education. But right now, in too many of our communities, blocks are missing. It’s time to fix the gaps.’
    • But we can’t rely on any old metaphor to explain an issue. We test metaphors for different topics to discover which are best at helping people to understand. Here are some examples that we know are effective:
  3. Set up solutions
    • The way we explain problems can also help us to introduce solutions that people are more likely to understand and support.  
    • For example, to make the case for supporting people leaving prison to get into employment, we can explain why this is important, what’s currently holding people back, and point to a solution which would help:
      “Evidence shows that having a stable job after prison is one of the most significant factors that will stop someone from reoffending.

      But right now, too many people are being held back by a lack of training and education opportunities while in prison.

      As a result, many people leave prison without the essential skills that employers are looking for.

      That’s why we need practical solutions like investing in training programmes that people can take part in while serving time in prison. It makes sense for everyone.”