A Major Report on the Framing of Poverty

Earlier this year, I had the profound honor of bringing together a team of frame analysts, data technologists, and international development experts to focus on one of the most critical problems in the world today — our rigged global financial system.  We worked closely with the campaign team at /The Rules to uncover important insights about how language has masked the root causes of poverty and what can be done to address this issue.

This is exactly the kind of work I founded Cognitive Policy Works to do four years ago!  Applying research methods from cognitive linguistics to political discourse — as we refined during my tenure at George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute prior to its closing in 2008 — is the central objective of this company.  The seeds for this project were planted three years ago when I met Martin Kirk, the current global director of campaigns at /The Rules while he was working at Oxfam-UK.  In those days I was collaborating with Tom Crompton at WWF to design a new framework for advocacy based on psychological and linguistic insights about social identity, which we called Identity Campaigning and fleshed out in the Common Cause report.

Essential to this work was another project conducted with Martin and another great collaborator, Andrew Darnton, that led to the Finding Frames report — a critique of the standard approach taken by the development sector to deploy aid as a primary vehicle for ending poverty.  We noted that media spectacles like Make Poverty History and Band Aid were great at building dialogue for poverty alleviation, but an abysmal failure at actually achieving it.  And so /The Rules was born as a platform for unleashing civil unrest Occupy-style upon the world to change the rules that create poverty.

As part of the preparation for this bold campaign, I was asked to form a team that could analyze the political frames and conceptual metaphors currently shaping the discourse around poverty, taxation, land rights, and inequality.  The result was this report that I am delighted to share with you now.  Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have questions or would like to discuss how we can extend this work for a campaign you are working on.

Special thanks to the great team of researchers who assisted with this — Anat Shenker-Osorio, Eric Haas, Ken Cousins, Santanu Chakrabarti, Ken Cousins, and Sean Geary. The quality of your work shines through!

Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.