Getting fired about stories

6 min readNov 8, 2019


What are some of the stories you tell to get people excited and ready to take action?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about since @getgood started up the idea of #storycamp as I now use different stories to only a couple of years ago, because I’m more motivated to inspire people to collaborative creatively than get stuck into conflict — using @tessybritton diagram, I’ve navigated across the diagram!

But recently I’ve reflected that my values haven’t changed, and that I don’t think campaigning can’t be done in ways which build people’s capabilities, I think people need to experiment with different experiences to explore their motivations. If we acted and thought in the same way throughout our live, things would be pretty boring! So here’s a story I used to get people fired up about getting involved in social action…

When I started at university in Paris, it was just a couple of months after this and students were pretty fired up to not let that happen again. So over the next few years, we wanted to make sure that we were heard once again and so mobilised class to class and cafe to cafe.

The biggest campaign we won was to stop the French government from taking away employment rights for young people just because of their age. Right up until the last moment, we never knew for sure that we were going to win. At each stage of the campaign, we experienced moments when we felt we were sinking and at other moments, we really felt we were making a breakthrough. It certainly taught me about local democracy (getting together 2000 people in the university square to agree a set of demands for our student union), creative campaigning (always get arts students to create stunts to get the public and the media involved) and symbolism (studying at the Sorbonne we had the intelligentsia all over us as if it was 68).

How was the problem being framed?

The conflict was being framed by the government as making it easier for employers to hire young people. The conflict was being framed by young people as having their rights taken away and being discriminated because of their age. There was as a visible conflict between the government and young people, but there was a latent conflict between employers and young people based on the assumption that because of their age, they are not as valuable as older more experienced people.

Who are the victims? Villains? Heroes? Who are the messengers that tell the story?

The “victims” are the young people. Not only are they being stereotyped by employers as not being trusted to fulfil a contract or skilled enough to do the job, they are having their employment rights taken away by the government

The “villains” are the government. Not only is the government not doing anything to tackle the implicit discrimination of young people by employers, it is enshrining it in law by taking away their employment rights.

The “heroes” are the campaigners who are keeping up the pressure on the government to protect the rights of their peers and are getting other groups on board, such as trade unions, parents and teachers to show solidarity to the young people’s cause.

The “messengers” telling the story are the student campaigners speaking to the general public through the media, engaging people on the street where they study and the other partners in the campaign, like the trade unions, who are telling their members why defending people’s rights is important whoever’s rights it is.

How does the story show us (rather than tell us) what’s important? How does the story engage our values and encourage us to choose sides?

The story shows how those in power will often act in ways that maintain or even extend the power that the powerful already have over others in the name of the national interest. But that the only hope of those without power is to ally with others who are just as powerless, whether they are being attacked or not. This not only help builds a movement, it shows to others that the cause is their cause.

The story asks you to position yourself on the side of those who want to defend the rights of workers and those who want to accept to be undercut.

How does each story show us the future? What is the vision that the story offers for resolving the conflict?

It shows that building coalitions into movements is a way of supporting a critical mass to create tipping points and shared memories. That people will remember how to plan, adapt and respond to conflict. The story it offers for resolving conflicts is looking at all the tools that might be needed to solve the problem. In this case, the movement didn’t stop government enacting the law to exclude young people’s employment rights but it was the Constitutional Council that stopped the law from being implemented.

What are the underlying assumptions? What does someone have to believe to accept the story as true?

The underlying assumption is that as long as you keep growing the movement and keep the movement going you will wear the opposition down. This is not strictly the case as mentioned above. For someone to believe to accept the story as true is that the government were intent on pushing through this law rather than using it as a tactic to lower young people’s expectations of their role. In other words, if government try and exclude young people from employment rights when there is 40% unemployment amongst their age group, then young people will be happy having won the campaign. When actually, all they’ve done is defend their pre-existing rights, they still haven’t got any support for making it easier for them to get jobs with employment rights.

What are the other story’s vulnerabilities? Limits? Contradictions? Lies? How can underlying assumptions or values be exposed?

The story’s vulnerabilities are that although the campaign achieved its defensive aims, it didn’t achieve its constructive aims. In other words, it didn’t get its own alternative proposal accepted by the government nor the employers.

It didn’t change the behaviour of the government nor of the employers towards making it easier for young people to get jobs without having to trade off their working rights.

Incentivising supply by the state — through investment, skills and even jobs is obviously essential, but if this isn’t accompanied by a behaviour change in employers in how they see young people, policies to reduce youth unemployment will always be constrained

Underlying assumptions or values could have been exposed by pushing the government to debating the students’ counter proposal as much if not from than debating the government’s proposal. By framing the argument around what the students have to offer, it would have been the government that would have had to respond what aspects of the proposal they will aspect and for those they won’t accept, to justify for each aspect why they don’t agree or why they can’t implement it.

So that was the story I would tell people to get fired up about when I was at university. What stories do you get people fired about?




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese