8 Tips for framing Covid-19

1. This crisis has different phases. Adapt your framing accordingly

Cultural strategist Alice Sachrajda suggests that one way of framing the pandemic is as a book, that has yet to be written. In her words:

2. Emphasise the common good over individual protection

Focusing on individual protection can lead to people hunkering down psychologically as well as practically at a time when we need community-mindedness more than ever.

Photo credit: Anna Shvets

3. Celebrate solidarity over spreading panic.

Many of us will be operating from extreme anxiety in this moment. Fanning the flames of fear isn’t helpful. The more we share and tell stories about panic and selfishness, the more we will behave selfishly and act from fear. Sharing stories of solidarity will give people hope, reassurance and activate them to help where they can. We need more care, not more catastrophising.

4. When advocating for vulnerable groups stress the moral collective duty

When calling for access and protection for vulnerable groups, stress universalism. Use language that’s about ensuring that all of us can access the healthcare and support that we need.

5. Pick your metaphors with care.

Metaphors matter. They enable cognitive short-cuts in our brains that help us make sense of complexity. They can also inadvertently trigger unhelpful values and behaviours. The Workshop in New Zealand has done a great job of listing metaphors to avoid and embrace in this time. Do also check out their useful COVID-19 Framing Guide

6. Balancing respect for expertise vs acceptance of authoritarianism

In this period of lockdown, governments all over the world are invoking emergency powers. Populations need to obey the advice of experts, trust in institutions, respect physical distancing measures etc. AND it’s also important to ensure that this doesn’t herald in an acceptance of authoritarianism and the longer-term curtailment of rights

7. Beware of intergenerational divisiveness

It’s no surprise that people feel it’s permissible to be divisive on an age-basis, given that governments are doing it (see this briefing from the Institute of Gerontology for the dangers of this approach).

8. Who is missing?

Over the coming months, we all need to keep asking whose voices are missing? Who is invisible? This week I found out about Detained Voices which shares stories of people in immigration detention centres in the UK. Here’s an extract from a story on the site.

We are all storytellers

We are all storytellers. We have more power than we know in the stories we tell and share. In the early phases of the global rupture brought on by COVID-19, there is an opportunity to tell stories that bring us together, that generate empathy, that activate agency, highlight inequality and help support a more just, caring world. But it could go either way. Without awareness, we can perpetuate narratives that generate division, fear and hopelessness. This is a time of epic change. The words we use and the stories we tell will have huge power in determining the direction of that change.



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Ella Saltmarshe

Ella Saltmarshe

Narrative. Systems. Culture. Co-founder The Long Time Project, The Comms Lab, The Point People.