Narratives are powerful. And as history has shown time and again, narratives can be used to do good (like the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr. that fueled the Civil Rights Movement). The potency of narrative was at the forefront of my thinking as the Accelerator Lab Jordan prepared to launch a Twitter campaign on masculinity and its relation to household duties and caretaking responsibilities .
Using the Public Narrative framework, developed by Harvard Kennedy School and taught to me by the phenomenal Marshall Ganz, we analyzed the narratives about this topic in Jordan.
We specifically used the lens of a “change continuum”, which aims to help leaders develop and analyze public narratives using a matrix of
- two types of stories (old story and new story)
- continuity and change
Out of this matrix emerge four stages of narrative development
- Rejecting change and accommodation (both stages of an old story)
- Sdaptation and rejecting continuity (both stages of a new story)
So we walked ourselves through this change continuum and asked ourselves:
What do those who reject change and want to ensure continuity of an old story think about household work and care duties in relation to gender roles?
Household work and caretaking duties are a woman’s job only (feminine trait).
What is the slightly changed, more progressive story of accommodating some change to enable the continuity of the old story?
Household work and care duties are a woman’s job (feminine trait) but men can help.
We then debated whether we wanted to craft messaging that
centers men and masculinity in household responsibilities and connotes heroic characteristics in these behaviors (gendered narrative)
- strip the messaging of any gendered language, speak to all genders in this campaign, and connote a sense of duty and responsibility (gender neutral narrative)
In conversations with UNDP colleagues, including gender experts, some advised to try the former because it might resonate more with men in Jordan, while others discouraged it and preferred the latter. Alan Greig, a masculinities expert as part of UNDP’s Targeting Men, Transforming Masculinities (TMx2) agenda, advised our team on the messaging throughout the process. He also shared his reflections:
“The behaviors we are trying to change are relational rather than simply individual.”....“nudging’ men to do more housework will involve changes in behavior by couples/families, rather than just men. In other words, women in their relationships with men are also an important target group. And the behaviors that we would seek to change are not solely about encouraging men to do more “cooking, cleaning, caring” - it will also be about encouraging a change in couples’ communications, such that these changes”... “can take place.”
After back and forth debates, we decided that the best approach, in the experimental spirit of the Lab, was to test both types of messaging.
So we went back to the framework and asked ourselves, ‘how can we use the change continuum to craft a gendered narrative and a gender “neutral” narrative?’
Our conclusion was that this could be juxtaposed with the progression of change in the “new story” portrayed in the change continuum.
(Crafting a change narrative)
The story of adaptation could be gendered -adapting the continuity of a gendered approach to enable change:
Household work and care duties are both a woman and man’s job (feminine and masculine traits).
The story of rejecting continuity could be gender neutral -rejecting the continuity of a gendered approach to ensure change:
Household work and care duties are neither a “manly” nor “womanly” job. They’re just a job, a duty, a responsibility
This framing set the structure for the rest of the campaign design and was reflected in the structure of incremental variables. Our launch event in collaboration with Shams Community, the street interviews by filmmaker and storyteller Mohannad Abu Rizk, the animated launch video by Khader Kaleh, and the tweets developed by the campaign manager Ghazal Darwazeh all built on this dichotomy of gendered and gender neutral narratives.
The campaign, entitled “Our Home, Our Responsibility” ran from the end of December 2020 to January 31, 2021. The first analysis will look at the effectiveness of the campaign as a whole, and we aim to later analyze the effectiveness of the gender neutral vs. gendered messaging, along with all the other variables in the graphic above.
This project brought together an inspiring combination of expertise -public narrative, masculinities, gender, social media, campaign management, filmmaking and storytelling, graphics and animation, and communications. We have yet to see what the outcomes will be but having launched the experiment is in and of itself a success. Even if the campaign fails to achieve all its objectives, there is a wealth of lessons already.
Questions I’m left pondering:
How can public narrative play a bigger role in the work of UNDP across the world?
Is there too much emphasis in the development world on quantitative approaches, statistics, and numbers to effect behavioral and social change? How can we use narrative and storytelling to effect behavioral and social change?
Does the effectiveness of gendered vs. gender neutral narratives depend on local culture?
Check out the launch video and other content for the campaign بيتنا مسؤوليتنا Our Home, Our Responsibility, on the Accelerator Lab Jordan’s Twitter account: https://twitter.com/7ulool_JO.
 In early 2020, as the world was shaken by COVID-19, the Accelerator Lab in Jordan mapped emerging trends during the lockdown period. One of these trends was the increase in discussion and content online about household chores and caretaking responsibilities, and particularly some men playing a more active role at home more than usual. The campaign was developed with the support of Nudge Lebanon and ran from the end of December 2020 to January 2021, under the name “Our Home, Our Responsibility”.