I took a few weeks off at the beach this year to catch the last of the sunshine. I walked and swam and drank good California wine. Every Friday at dawn, I grabbed a thermos of coffee and a beach towel and pedaled my beach cruiser down the boardwalk to 4th Street to watch my son’s volleyball class. His instructor, Steve, is a conceptual and strategic coach. He explains how to move around the court, anticipate the opposition’s ball placement from the server’s body language, and loom large at the net.
Watching these early morning games against a backdrop of jumping dolphins, diving pelicans, and longboarders, I had just about forgotten my day job, as well as most pressing social issues. Then one morning, Steve’s voice broke my bubble. He was yelling at my son: “Andy, you are framing too late!”
My summer vacation ended in that moment, as I began to follow the mental trail back to FrameWorks and the myriad examples of framing too late.
In volleyball, framing refers to using one’s hands to locate the ball in order to assess its trajectory and thus, the opposition’s strategy and your defensive posture. It would be easy to dumb down Steve’s admonition as merely one of timing: get your hands up sooner. But that’s not what he meant. He meant that Andy was trying to play a game that had already moved on; he was arriving too late, mentally, to select the right moves.
I was dumfounded, as if the volleyball had landed on my head. In advocacy, framing refers to using communications to position the issue, reduce misunderstanding and opposition, broaden constituencies, and boost support. Framing too late means you are forced to act precipitously, on too little information, forgoing a strategic approach.
It’s a Heraclitan observation. The stream is already flowing by the time you place your foot in it; but, when you do, you change the stream. That point of entry, that intervention, needs to anticipate everything that has come before and take responsibility for everything that comes after.
Framing works just like that. And framing too late is one of the most common problems we see when reviewing advocacy strategies.
Flying home, I thought about four issue areas where FrameWorks colleagues have observed “frames in progress” that have seeped unexamined and perhaps uncontested into advocacy thinking and practice. I could suggest a dozen more, so common is this practice of waiting for the right time to frame.
Aging. Sometimes the frames are embedded in the visuals. It takes a keen eye to question the naturalism of those images. When FrameWorks began to research how Americans perceive aging, we repaired to the universe o