Narrative Infrastructure: The Heartbeat of ReFrame's 2023 Academy

In a time of such incredible tumult and uncertainty, it is sometimes alluring to say ”if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” and we know as justice workers running campaigns, programs and projects of all types we need to not just make sure our work isn’t broken but ask ourselves what is actually needed in this time. What is actually being asked of us to meet this moment?

This summer, ReFrame asked ourselves these exact questions in regards to the ReFrame Academy, a five-day immersive narrative power boot camp. Despite the recent passing of our operations and event management expert, Stephanie Gasca, we resisted the temptation to stick with the familiar and instead embraced what the moment demanded. With another challenging election cycle on the horizon, ReFrame took a bold step by offering not one, but two parallel Academies, both in person and virtually. It was a significant gamble. Would people be willing to travel given the uncertainty of COVID and competing priorities? Would those fatigued by Zoom and online training sign up for a week-long boot camp? Could we successfully pilot a new training approach that combines live and pre-recorded sessions? Could we manage this with our limited capacity?

The TL;DR is a resounding YES. The demand for the ReFrame Academy was evident. The 400 participants from 40 states and eight countries, including a participant joining from their phone in a car in Zimbabwe, brought insightful questions, innovative ideas, rich experiences, and experimental musings to Academy programming, infusing it with texture, energy, and innovation. Our commitment to amplifying marginalized voices and honoring ReFrame’s legacy of justice communications built by LGBTQIA+ and  Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) was reflected in those that signed up and attended with 58% of participants identified as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and 48% self-identified as LGBTQIA+.

"It was super helpful, one of the more well-done [trainings] I have attended this past year. The modules were really helpful, the time commitment was doable, and the trainers and facilitators were superb. The attachments and worksheets will help my comms team [plan] for the future." - Citlaly Mora from Just Futures Law , 2023 ReFrame Academy Alum

The profound sense of isolation stemming from the ongoing pandemic, coupled with the internal silos many communicators and organizers across issues operate within, struck a chord. The overwhelming gratitude expressed by seasoned and emerging organizers and communicators at being able to connect with like-minded, values-aligned individuals speaks volumes. It is clear that individuals across social movements and non-profits yearn for integrated and impactful communications and organizing strategies, recognizing that narrative work is fundamental to organizing and power-building.

"As a new hire at the org I work for, the power mapping tool was very helpful, as it helped me learn the 'lay of the land' in our work. I was able to identify 'major players' in the work and where they exist in the landscape…. One major takeaway was understanding the difference between a story and narrative, as well as the difference between a strategy and tactic, and why all the aforementioned are important." - Isiejah Allen from Freedom Network USA, 2023 ReFrame Academy Alum

The ReFrame Academy has been offered to social justice movements in various forms for the past five years, during which our world and movements have evolved, as has the conversation around narrative. While there are now numerous trainings on "narrative" and an increasing number of organizations dedicated to narrative work, the response to the Academy offerings confirmed that our unique approach continues to fill a significant gap, with a training team, narrative specialists and organizational expertise in not only narrative but campaigning and local, regional, national and international organizing. We are able to ground and connect conceptual frameworks with bread and butter skill building and organizing case studies. 

Our exceptional network plays a vital role in our work, including anchoring our training containers like The Academy. The ReFrame narrative network is composed of thousands of communicators, organizers, digital experts, press specialists, direct action advocates, authors, documentarians, and artists. For the recent Academy, ten ReFrame alumni served as narrative specialists, offering personalized support to small groups of participants throughout the week. This relational, political, and practical guidance enabled participants to apply the tools, frameworks, and lessons learned in the workshops to their specific contexts. This dynamic aspect of the Academy mitigates common training pitfalls, where information is simply disseminated without providing opportunities for real-time exploration and application. 

At ReFrame, we emphasize building narrative infrastructure as critical to building narrative power. We know we cannot build power alone as one entity, organization, campaign or institution. Narrative infrastructure includes the individuals, organization, networks and institutions making meaning at scale. We need to continue to grow our narrative infrastructure in order to build and wield narrative power. Spaces like the Academy allow us to introduce this framework and continue to expand and fortify our shared narrative infrastructure across geography, issue, method, and identity.

"The Academy was everything and more. This group and the people I've met this week were very informative, supportive, and incredible. At times, the information was heavy to manage, but there were moments I could pull away and connect with someone ... experiencing the same heartbreak, curiosity, or even [sharing] a space of laughter. This space supports understanding narrative power and how to redirect communication during any social climate issue."

- Monti Hall from
Grassroots Leadership, 2023 ReFrame Academy Alum

While the format of the Academy has evolved, the core mission remains unchanged — equipping communicators and organizers with the skills, connections, and expertise to strengthen and establish narrative power.

As we step into 2024, our mission remains clear: to equip the next generation of narrative power builders with the skills and connections needed, and to expand and activate our movement networks so that we can wield our power in the service of justice, liberation, and dignity for our communities. Want to stay connected to future ReFrame trainings and offerings? Be sure to sign up for updates here.

masked ReFrame Academy participants gather around a table working on a group activity

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