I was just recently reminded of how much I love Reimagining Change by Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning, a great guide to narrative strategy that is helpful if you’re a seasoned communications person or just curious about we mean when we say “narrative strategy.” It’s on my bookshelf and I recommend it to anyone who wants to think about sharing messages that change our world for the better.
The first edition of Reimagining Change came out in 2010 and I was able to get the first batch that was printed! I already had deep appreciation for their approach to communications as co-founders of smartMeme (now the Center for Story-based Strategy). They shared so many ideas that I had experienced but had not quite been able to put together in the way that they did. For example, the way they talk about how we evaluate the stories we tell related to campaigns.
Too often progressives think that just because a story is factually true, it will be meaningful to our audiences. And therefore build our power. But the reality is just the opposite. If a story is meaningful to people, they will believe that it is true. The currency of narrative is not truth but rather meaning.Section 2.1, Truth vs Meaning, Reimagining Change Second Edition
I shared the first edition of Reimagining Change with at least a dozen other activists right away and consistently heard great feedback from people about it. The first edition was a quick read because of the combination of big ideas about narrative strategy, along with practical examples of how those big ideas were being used in the real world in campaigns. It included stories and graphics from some early 20th century labor and civil rights campaigns to illustrate some of the principles, but mostly shared stories from the late 90s through the start of the Obama presidency. And many of the examples were drawn from environmental and anti-war organizing.
The Second Edition
For the second edition, the book got longer as they added more campaign examples, a thoughtful forward by Matthew Smucker, a bunch of positive reviews from activists and a re-organization of some of the sections. I was glad to see some of the changes they made to the section on framing and the new examples. I was so excited, I bought way too many copies at a discount and was pretty much selling them out of the trunk of my car (at cost) to anyone I ran into for a while.
I suggest reading the entire book, but it’s cleverly divided into many short sections, so you could take small bites. You can read a couple sections at a time when you have a ten minutes and slowly work your way through the entire book. Since it has so many examples, I think it might be even better than trying to read the whole book in a short time.
Be Sure to Read “Battle of the Story”
Section 3, “Winning the Battle of the Story” is just over 30 pages and can transform how you (or your organization) evaluate your narratives to be more strategic and authentic. Their Battle of the Story model is one of my favorite comms tools, period. There are a few places the “Battle of the Story” exercise worksheet is still up on the web, like here (in PDF form, without an explainer).
Maybe the Only Drawback to Reimagining Change
Some of the language in the book assumes that a person is comfortable reading at a college level, so this book won’t work well for everyone. (Although there’s a glossary, the glossary doesn’t really improve the book on that front.) But I still use the ideas they talk about, it’s just that sometimes I have to translate them into plain language.
I’m happy whenever I look over and see Reimagining Change on my bookshelf. I still pull it down to reread sections from time to time when I want inspiration or practical advice. Get yourself a copy… or ten!