Ending injustice: a review of the Trust Conference (day two)

Nazir Afzal, former chief executive of the Police & Crime Commissioners for England & Wales, speaking at the Trust Conference in London. (Image credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation.)

Nazir Afzal, former chief executive of the Police & Crime Commissioners for England & Wales, speaking at the Trust Conference in London. (Image credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation.)

Day two of the Trust Conference picks up where it left off - powerful examples from people taking the fight to the criminals violating human rights. The conference kicked-off with Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service and former CEO of the Association for the Police and Crime Commissioner in England and Wales.

Afzal mixed humility with humour as he added weight to the serious issue of patriarchy and misogyny which often lead to abuse. His message could have been summed up as thus: men need to up their game. Period.

This is the man who successfully prosecuted nine Asian men from Rochdale for grooming and trafficking girls as young as 12. His actions outraged the far-right (yes, you read that correctly!) in Britain because he dared to challenge their narrative when he sent other Muslim men to prison for violating the rights of young women. Why? Because Afzal’s actions undermined the far-right’s narrative by demonstrating that defending human rights and seeking justice for victims cuts across religion and race.

A deeper level of understanding

And herein lies the key: action. The core theme of the conference - taking action to fight slavery, empower women and advance human rights worldwide.

The main point in Afzal’s talk was the importance of undermining the rising tide of toxic narratives from fringe groups which are stirring populist politics. This can be achieved by developing a deeper level of understanding about what drives these narratives. From this position, strategies, services and campaigns can be designed to reassert a more positive narrative that is built on community, cohesion and compassion.

Brendan Cox, husband of the murdered MP Jo Cox, emphasised this point when he said: “we’re living through a perfect storm of insecurities.” These insecurities are largely to do with identity and connections.

Technology and globalisation are undermining people’s sense of job security as automation threatens to take over millions of jobs. People are more likely to spend more time on Facebook than they are speaking to their neighbour. Communities and identities are being fragmented and all of it is generating a sense of unease, tension and anger. In short, people are seeking an identity - a sense of place and belonging. Populism gives refuge to these people who feel displaced.

The way we communicate is incompetent. We bombard people with facts and figures...we need to engage with people emotionally. 
— Brendan Cox

Raise the standard

Cox warmed the hearts of this Focolist when he said that communications was clumsily delivered. “The way we communicate is incompetent,” he said. “We bombard people with facts and figures...we need to engage with people emotionally.”  

The Jo Cox Foundation is running the ‘More In Common’ campaign which aims to promote an inclusive narrative that brings people together to counter some of the extreme views that have gained traction in recent years.

In order to understand the narrative, organisations - public, civil society and commercial - need to analyse and map the 'narrative space’ to understand how people are influenced. The narrative extends beyond the mere conversations - it includes the conditions in which people live, their circles of influence, and access to opportunities. These factors shape the narratives and belief systems of people, thereby framing their worldview.

Widespread use of echo-chambers

An example of how framing works can be found online in the widespread use of echo-chambers to reinforce a particular narrative among people who share those views. Digital media is  used to orchestrate the scale and speed of these toxic narratives, spreading like a virus, infecting the minds of people and spurring them into action.

Monica Roa, a reproductive rights activist from Colombia, gave an example of how people were influenced by campaigning groups using "gender ideology” (a growing concept in Latin America used to mobilise support for a socially conservative agenda) to thwart the peace agreement in which the rights of women and LGBTI were, for the first time, included in the peace process. Instead of focussing efforts on ending the 50-year conflict, the opposition groups chose to focus on how “gender ideology” was undermining traditional Christian and family values. They created an echo-chamber.

But there is a solution to tackling and countering these narratives. By analysing and mapping the narratives and networks, organisations can design intelligent campaigns to generate widespread support and transform people’s lives. As one delegate at the conference said: “If we do not have a voice, then we do not have a choice.”

Intelligent campaigns built on ‘narrative insights’ can help organisations create a megaphone for justice and equal rights.

John Shewell heads up Foco’s insights and behaviour change practice. For more information you can email John at jshewell@foco-global.com or sign-up to receive the latest news from Foco.