Framing Social Space

April 8, 2010 3 Comments

|Photo by xb3||

In a post of a few weeks ago I explored the different dimensions of social space we might be called to attend to as leaders and change agents in creating environments for people to collaborate.  I suggested that these dimensions exist in dynamic tension and together form a holistic picture of how we can leverage the potential of groups by respecting the values of autonomy, community, and divinity.  In recently reading a book by Tim Kasser and Tom Crompton, I was reminded that how we frame these dimensions matters in terms of what ends we seek and ultimately serve.

In their work Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity, Kasser and Crompton address the importance of paying attention to how environmental messages and initiatives are framed.  Lack of attention on this front, they claim, may result in the environmental movement shooting itself in the feet.  The authors claim that we can use framing that is either extrinsic/materialistic or intrinsic/self-transcendent.  This shows up as the difference between presenting “green” initiatives as being good for the bottom line versus highlighting global and moral imperatives to act more sustainably.  We can lift up what serves self-interest or what serves shared interest.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, research shows that the former leads in the long-run to less environmentally sustainable behavior.

I think this difference in framing is also significant in attending to the dimensions of social space.  For example, when deciding how to honor autonomy, there is a big difference between framing this dimension as being about individual achievement and power (extrinsic/materialistic) or making it about self-realization and acceptance.  The same goes for community, which can be framed as ultimately being about group power (at the risk of breeding disdain for other groups – an unfortunate tendency of our species) or building healthy relationships as a practice that can be replicated with others.  With respect to divinity I also see this playing out in starkly different directions.  We can seek transcendence that is ultimately materialistic and individual/group serving -“my/our truth is better than yours” – or we can strive for ever greater connection, empathy, and enlightenment, beyond the bounds of self and tribe.

The fundamental idea here is that we can be small minded and short-term in our approach to bringing people together, or we can bring on the big mind and the long view.  The key challenge, it would seem, is to embrace the uncertainty (about problems, solutions, and one another) that brings us together in the first place as mystery that evokes curiosity and creative expansion, rather than doubt that drives fear, nihilism, or false security found in power and possessions.  Framing matters.  How might it matter to you?


  • Gibran says:

    Frame helps us define our context, in the work you and I do it will certainly determine what the “container” that we create for a group can look and feel like, our success in creating and sustaining the right container for the right process is perhaps the most significant determinant of outcome.

    Seems to me that we have to tend to a container that expands possibilities while remaining aware that the individuals engaged in the change process might not be used to standing in that space. In such (relatively frequent) circumstances we should also pay attention to providing the right “hand rails” for the process.

    Psyched to be working with you on this Curtis!

  • Curtis says:


    The rails came up big time in today’s training in CT. Someone made the comment that basically they are often set up for something with nothing then to guide them going forward. An example was given of some racial equity work, where a powerful frame was created, and people were able to start having significant conversations. But when the opportunity presented itself to DO something together beyond that, things stalled. I think this is precisely where FL and the tools are SO helpful.


  • Curtis Ogden says:

    This is an interesting piece that indirectly touches on framing by looking at differences between “virtuous” and “vulgar” sustainability. Especially see the questions they pose at the end –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *