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Narrative change: Changing stories to change the world.

Do you work in social impact, academia, or advocacy? Are you confronted with false or misleading narratives that confuse or misrepresent the issues? Do you want to invite new audiences into your movement, or persuade them to act? Then it may be time to step back and reframe the issues. This is a resource for learning about narrative change—a powerful tool for shifting perceptions and centering accurate, empowering stories.

What is narrative change?

Narrative change is a process of evolving the stories told in and about our culture. If we can change the stories, we can change the way people understand the world.

Passed down through generations and spread by the media, education systems, and religious and cultural institutions, the narratives we encounter are often misleading or downright inaccurate about many issues, including poverty, race, gender, and more. Take for instance the American Dream: the idea that if you work hard you can climb the economic ladder. For many in the US, this simply isn’t true—but for others, the American Dream represents their own experiences, so believing in this narrative is integral to their very identities. Widespread belief in these harmful narratives undermines efforts to address injustices, including efforts to call for impactful, collectively-minded solutions.

When narrative change efforts are successful, they can be a catalyst for other types of societal or structural change to occur. By winning over an audience ideologically, you may then be able to encourage further commitment and actions geared toward change, such as sharing your message, donating, or voting for new and better policies. But this can’t happen with just one story. Narrative change happens when a collection of stories work together to form a pattern that advances accurate, empowering narratives.

Narrative change comes in many shapes and sizes, from communications toolkits to feature films, lesson plans to rural community development—even handwritten neighborhood flyers. You may even already be doing it!

This site was created by Purpose based on insights from The Voices for Economic Opportunity Incubator, a program focused on narrative change and the issue of economic mobility.

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“Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author
See narrative change in action.

The stories we tell have enormous power. When crafting new ones, we must make sure to include the people directly impacted by the issues, across lines of race, class, faith, sexual orientation, gender, and more. A key takeaway from The Voices for Economic Opportunity Incubator was that addressing multifaceted issues like poverty requires an expansive and intersectional approach. Explore these case studies, and see how these Incubator participants approached narrative change, using key tools and an equity lens.

Community Protectors Project

Challenging individualistic faith narratives about wealth inequality
See Case Study

West Virginia Community Development Hub

Encouraging West Virginians to see themselves as community leaders
See Case Study

Essential Guide to Narrative Change

Harness the power of narrative change.

No matter your experience level, you can strengthen your ideas with this Essential Guide to Narrative Change, which draws upon insights and experiences from The Voices for Economic Opportunity Incubator. Download or read it now, and discover how narrative change can help grow your impact.