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History

Over 20 years of work on over 40 social issues has given us a unique perspective on how people think about social issues and how we can change the conversation.

We were founded in 1999 with a single mission: Expand the nonprofit sector’s capacity to use leading-edge social science research to frame social and scientific issues and thus drive social change.

Our work grew from the ideas of founder Susan Nall Bales, who observed that the nonprofits she worked with either relied on outdated thinking about mass communications or used research methods that were more suited to marketing than social change.

After early experiments with traditional polling revealed weaknesses, Bales turned to scholarly literature about how people think and make decisions. That was the beginning of her interest in framing.

A series of events bringing together prominent social scientists and leading advocates led to a highly influential open letter to the foundation community that laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the FrameWorks Institute.

Funding from the William T. Grant Foundation gave us our official start as an organization and our first challenge: Develop an integrated and fully theorized approach to study how Americans think about adolescence and use this approach to help experts communicate findings from a major scholarly report.

That approach—Strategic Frame Analysis®—continues to evolve to this day, but its core insights continue to guide our work.

FrameWorks itself has also evolved. We’ve gone from a single senior fellow in 2000 to a team of more than 40. Our researchers come from across a wide array of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, linguistics, psychology, and political science. We’ve added a team to work with advocates to apply results from our framing research.

We won a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2015.

Today we have more than 40 partners across six continents, and we’ve helped bring framing to the World Health Organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.

We’ve come a long way from our early days. But one thing hasn’t changed—our commitment to conducting empirical research and innovating new methods to help nonprofits move the public discourse on social issues.

Founder and Board member Susan Nall Bales on FrameWorks history.

“Frameworks really began as an inquiry—an inquiry into how to shift public perceptions of progressive social change issues…to figure out what is an evidence-based approach to issue advocacy. And that really was the intellectual birth of FrameWorks.”
Susan Nall Bales