RE:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-Based Strategy


Reinsborough, Patrick, and Doyle Canning. RE:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-Based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010. Print.

This text describes a blueprint for social change activists. The authors, Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning, are both activists themselves and co-founders of “The Center for Story-Based Strategy” in Oakland, California (formerly “SmartMeme”). They describe “story-based strategy” as a “framework that links movement building with an analysis of narrative power, and places storytelling at the centre of social change strategy” (12). Their main idea is that we understand our world based on the stories we tell each other. The problem, according to Doyle and Canning, is that most of our prevailing stories come from the most powerful in society. To effect social change, activists need to come up with new stories that challenge the underlying assumptions in the dominant culture. The authors suggest activists can do this by creating “change messages” that connect the target issue with people’s shared values. Surprisingly, they recommend those messages not be cluttered by facts, or rely too heavily on the truth. Doyle and Canning claim that people are influenced if they find meaning and relevance in the message. The truth is ineffectual if people do not care.

The story-based strategy consists of three tools: narrative power analysis, to determine what the story is; the battle of the story, to mobilize and persuade people; and the points of intervention, which are the places where the story can insert itself with maximum visibility. The story vehicle of choice is “the meme” for memorable and viral impact, and the book provides many examples of successful memes, as well as four case studies, from Greenpeace’s “Save the Whales” campaign, to a worker-led coalition’s campaign to improve conditions and wages for tomato pickers in the U.S.

The book is short (135 pages including bibliography, end notes and a glossary of terms) and easy to read. It provides useful information and tools. It has one glaring omission. Published in 2010, there is no reference to the power of storytelling on digital platforms. Given Twitter’s role in the Arab Spring uprising, and hashtag activism movements like #BlackLivesMatter, the book should be updated to account for this powerful and ubiquitous form of storytelling.

Still, the book is useful for a wide variety of audiences, from scholars and practitioners, to the general public. Scholars of media, marketing, psychology and social change movements, will find the theories, experiments and case studies interesting and useful as a source in both their research and teaching activities. The case studies and other exemplars provided throughout the book would be engaging learning tools for students in any of these disciplines. Practitioners of social change will definitely benefit from the book, as they are the intended audience. There are many strategies, tactics and tools provided to help them create and launch their social change campaigns.  The general public can also benefit from reading this book, as we are all passionate about changing something in our world. Learning about the issues and campaigns in this book can bring us one step closer to being part of the change we would like to see in the world.

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