D. How do we ensure well-being for all? Use the Construction Explanatory Metaphor and Life Cycle examples to explain how human services support well-being.
The narrative components discussed above help people recognize the importance of providing support for all people. These tools lay groundwork so that people can understand what human services do and why they are important. The rest of the narrative consists of two complementary tools that explain how human services provide that support and create positive well-being. The Construction Metaphor can be used to explain the different functions of human services in general, while Life Cycle examples give people a concrete understanding of how human services support well-being throughout a person’s life. Our research shows that Life Cycle examples are powerful ways of normalizing the need for human services. By extending the Construction in combination with a specific set of examples, communicators can overcome the public’s tendency to define human services as short-term interventions targeted to specific groups that only exist to “get people back on their feet.”
Use the Construction Explanatory Metaphor to help people reason about the different ways that human services support well-being.
The Construction Metaphor is powerful in helping people better understand how to promote well-being. It also can be used to effectively explain the wide range of work that human services professionals engage in. The Metaphor can be used to explicitly describe the functions of human services:
There are organizations in our country that are set up to help everyone build support in life. They are called “human services.” Human services are set up not only to repair well-being when it starts to break down, but also to construct a strong foundation to maintain this strength over time.
The different functions involved in the construction of a building—planning and initial construction, ongoing maintenance to ensure sturdiness, and repair in cases of damage or instability—can be used to explain the comparable functions of human services.
Quantitative research provides strong evidence that the Metaphor is effective in helping people reason about the different functions of human services. As Figure 3 shows, the Construction Metaphor had large, statistically significant effects on the scales measuring people’s understanding of the different functions of human services.
Qualitative research confirmed the Metaphor’s capacity to improve people’s understanding of the myriad ways in which human services support well-being. Participants compared human service professionals to the specialists who plan the construction of a building. Just as constructing a house requires a team of specialists—architects, electricians, plumbers, etc.—constructing well-being requires a team of human service professionals—home care providers, social workers, youth development workers, job training specialists, early childhood teachers, etc.—to plan, build, and maintain well-being.
Despite its considerable strengths as a stand-alone tool, the Metaphor is more effective within the narrative. As Figure 1 illustrated, the Metaphor’s power is amplified across a range of outcomes when it is included within the broader Building Well-being narrative. Without the Value and Examples, the Metaphor’s ability to increase people’s belief in the importance of human services is limited.
This limitation is likely due to the strength of the assumption that human services are primarily for people living in poverty. In qualitative research, when participants started from a strong position that human services are “only for the poor,” they sometimes resisted a broader conception of human services. They assumed that this meant providing more services only for people living in poverty. When participants started with a broader understanding of potential recipients and beneficiaries, the Metaphor improved participants’ understanding of and boosted support for human services. This shows the importance of expanding the way that people understand who benefits from human services. The Human Potential Value begins to accomplish this communications task and the Examples discussed below complete it.
In using the Metaphor to explain how human services work, communicators should:
- Compare human service professionals to the specialists who plan and construct buildings. This analogy spotlights the expertise of people who work in human services and can help people understand how human services coordinate to construct well-being.
- Emphasize the importance of “planning” and “maintenance.” To expand understanding of human services, communicators should emphasize the initial and ongoing nature of the work that is required to support positive well-being. Focusing primarily on major repairs might undermine the Metaphor’s ability to help people normalize human services and see the ongoing way in which these services support people’s well-being in both small and large ways across the lifespan.