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Civic Ventures

Assessing Social Change and Identifying Opportunities for More Impact

Are our ideas gaining traction? That’s what Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, work, and social purpose wanted to know. As the population ages, Civic Ventures wants to engage millions of people in “Encore Careers”--work that combines personal meaning, income, and social impact. Its annual Purpose Prize recognizes Americans 60 years and older who are making extraordinary contributions to society through an encore career. In 2010 Civic Ventures wanted to assess whether the idea of encore careers was broadly catching on, and whether changes to its programs and messaging might lead to greater impact.

Our team worked out an quantitative method for analyzing how the media frame issues in order to determine whether campaigns for social change are actually working, and how clients can optimize their efforts to bring new ideas to the mainstream. Using this technique we compared media coverage in the years before and after the Purpose Prize. We were able to document how mainstream and ethnic media framed the issue of people working beyond “retirement age” and how that framing changed over time. We also interviewed a cross section of media professionals to understand qualitatively how they viewed the idea of encore careers and their role in covering it. This approach made it possible to spot attitudes and trends that could affect future coverage.

Our research shed light on the challenges to the broad acceptance of “encore careers” as a new category of work. It showed that media coverage has changed dramatically since Civic Ventures' efforts began. Stories of older Americans involved in social benefit careers appeared more frequently and were framed more positively. We also found that in today’s tough economy media framing of the issue profoundly shifted from personal fulfillment to economic necessity. In response, Civic Ventures is optimizing its communications to become even more effective.

“When you are trying to introduce a new concept, like “encore careers” into social discourse, understanding success is neither straightforward nor intuitive. Susan Ives, working partnership with David Brodwin, and associates, provided a media frame analysis and one-on-one interviews with reporters and producers, which helped Civic Ventures quantify how far we had come, how the landscape was shifting, and what we still needed to do. It was a pleasure to work with Susan. Her insight and creativity in conceptualizing and executing the project were more than we could have hoped for.”

Jim Emerman, President Civic Ventures

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