FrameWorks Institute: Changing the Public Conversation about Social Problems

frameworks issues


Beginning in 2003, the FrameWorks Institute has pursued an intensive research and applications project devoted to understanding how Americans think and talk about the issue of race. With new research added each year, the objectives of the project remain:

  • To understand the way ordinary Americans, across race and ethnicity, think about the issue of race and its relationship to such issues as health, education, community and crime, with special emphasis on disparities in those systems;
  • To experiment with new ways of talking about race in America that elevate concern for equity and allow people to engage with potential solutions for improving systems to achieving it; and
  • To translate this research into lessons for the broader field of civil rights scholars and advocates.

This continually updated project embodies a full range of the research tools used to identify dominant frames and to test the effects of potential reframes, from cognitive interviews and media content analyses, to peer discourse sessions and experimental surveys.

Funders  |  Recommendations Research  |  Products & Tools

Our Funders

This research was supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the JEHT Foundation, the Charles S. Mott Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Our Recommendations

FrameWorks Message Brief: Framing Race (2008). This Message Brief distills the research findings and framing strategies that emerge from the numerous research reports and offers some do’s and don’ts for communicators on the issue.

The Architecture of a New Racial Discourse (2006). This comprehensive strategic message memo synthesizes the research findings and makes recommendations about how to apply these findings in the context of FrameWorks' comprehensive research on reframing communications about race.


Our Research

 “Her Daughter Was One of Them”: How Personal Narratives Attach to Public Issues in Mississippi News Coverage (2010). This report  examines 12 months of newspaper reporting in Mississippi, from January 2009 through January 2010, on five general subject areas: race and racism, education, health and health care, child development, and children’s health and well-being. The majority of coverage across issue areas tended towards individual explanations and solutions to what are fundamentally social and structural problems. The state of coverage of these issues is an important opportunity for advocates and experts in these issue areas to move coverage in more thematic or contextualized directions. 

My Race is My Community:” Peer Discourse Sessions on Racial Disparities (2009). This report shares the results of 9 peer discourse sessions conducted in 4 cities with diverse groups of politically engaged people around the United States. This research shows that Americans have difficulty thinking about the structural nature of racism. Frame elements intended to create different types of group conversation, however, showed the potential to foster greater understanding of systemic racial inequalities and garner support for social policies designed to address such inequities.


 The Illogic of Literalness: Narrative Lessons in the Presentation of Race Policies (2009). Findings from several survey experiments with registered voters demonstrate that order matters significantly in overcoming racial resentment to elevate support for policies that address disparities. This report reveals the counter-intuitive nature of frames and holds important lessons for advocates who communicate about disparities on a wide array of issues, including health and economic development. An important companion piece to the Talking Disparities Toolkit.


 Every Picture Tells a Story: An Examination of Racialized Visuals and their Frame Effects (2009). This report details the results of an experimental survey of 2,400 registered voters that explores the impact of racially explicit visuals as frame cues and their impacts on minority economic development and child/youth policies.  Although advocates are often told to use pictures of “real people” to humanize an issue, the results of our study show that policy advocates should be extremely cautious in the choreography of this frame element.


 Invisible Structures of Opportunity: How Media Depictions of Race Trivialize Issues of Diversity and Disparity (2009). This second cognitive media analysis was conducted to examine the various ways in which race is presented to readers, directly and indirectly, in the nation’s news media. More specifically, it analyzes media coverage of race over the course of one year in four issue areas: health, education, early child development and employment.  The report lays out the dominant frames that are applied to race in these areas and demonstrates how these frames constrain public solutions.


Effects of Explicitness in the Framing of Race (2008). An on-line experimental survey of 622 people was conducted to test the effects of several reframes on racial attitudes and policies. Particular attention was paid to distinctions between explicit and implicit racial cues.


Six Harmful Patterns in Newspaper Presentations of Race (2005). This report examines the numerous ways in which of race is presented to readers, directly and indirectly, in the nation’s newspapers. The patterns of communication examined in this paper reveal a cognitive and cultural minefield through which it is challenging to find a constructive path, even for careful news writers, experts and advocates.


The Color of News: The Racial Dimension in Media Coverage of Selected Issues (2005). This study examined news coverage of race in connection with selected policy issues, with particular emphasis on the treatment of racial disparities. Coverage in 14 news outlets over a seven-week period was examined with special attention paid to racial differences related to education, employment, juvenile justice, and health care.


Creating a Unified Voice for Opportunity: An Analysis of Qualitative Research Exploring Perceptions of Race (2005).  Fourteen focus groups were conducted in the late fall and early winter of 2004 with engaged citizens across the country to observe how engaged citizens discuss race in general, and react to specific primes about race.


Thinking About Race: Findings from Cognitive Elicitations (2004). Interviews with 50 individuals in 7 states helped identify the most common and corrosive frames in play with respect to race and racism. Patterns of communication are examined and new directions for framing the issues of race and racism suggested.


Outlining a Race Policy Agenda for America (2004). Constructed with input from important groups working on race-related issues around the country, this policy agenda helped to anchor the policy discussions central to the focus group research.


Products & Tools

Talking About Disparities A toolkit containing Message Templates, a brief webinar on Avoiding Common Traps in Framing Disparities, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and other communications resources on the issue.