• Engage: #2Gen

Two generations. One future.

The Message Box: A Shared Vision Will Fuel the Two-Gen Movement

Download The Message Box: A Shared Vision Will Fuel the Two-Gen Movement in full text.

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Resources to Tap

Voices for Two-Generation Success: Top 10 Polling & Messaging TipsAscend at the Aspen Institute and Lake Research Partners

Top 10 for 2Gen: Policy Ideas & Principles to Advance Two-Generation Efforts, Ascend at the Aspen Institute


A shared agenda – including core principles and language – should be an organizing force for the two-generation movement, but we need the tools to move that agenda forward. Stories that convey shared values are one of the most compelling ways we have to break through stereotypes about low-income families. And paired with stories, data can help scale an idea and provide the evidence necessary to secure the final policy approval or funding stream. Stories open hearts, and data provides the rationale for action and scale.

The shortest distance between two people is a story

Public policy is often shaped and implemented in silos – focusing on one aspect of a problem without taking other related issues and opportunities into consideration. Families do not live in silos. And conveying the complexity of families’ lives is not easy. Stereotypes about presumed choices that lead to poverty abound. When policies are not integrated, families are left to piece together systems for themselves. Breaking through those artificial walls requires connecting to higher cultural values like opportunity and equality. Stories can help make those connections.

As Kyle Wark from First Alaskans Institute said at ThinkXChange, “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” It is one thing if an organization talks about silos, but someone bringing to life how those silos affect them personally is powerful.

But there are challenges in using stories well. When people share their stories, they need to be prepared. They need to be seen as the people they are, as families and citizens. Telling a personal story can make the teller vulnerable, so anyone with the courage to do it needs to be prepared both to tell it in a way that will connect with their listeners and to handle any negative feedback or questions.

No one ever marched over a pie chart but…

Stories are not the only tools we have. It is likely true that “no one ever marched over a pie chart,” as Joel Ryan, Executive Director of the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP, puts it. However, arming ourselves and our allies with the data about a population, the economic impact, and other issues of note is critical. Data can be expensive to obtain, but there are many organizations that are resources, from the U.S. Census Bureau, to Child Trends, to Kids Count. Having that data and being able to share it in a way that is useful and accessible makes organizations valuable resources for policy makers. Being that resource – able to explain what is happening in a community or nationally – is an important role because it offers an entry point for shaping conversations, influencing policy, and moving programs forward.

An agenda we can all support

The words we choose and the data we call upon resonate differently with different audiences. The good news is that there are issues that people from all backgrounds can get behind. Americans of all stripes — Democrats, Republicans, young, old, parents, and non-parents, married, and single — agree that two-generation policies can help move families toward opportunity. Public backing for two-generation policies is strong. Post-election analysis of 2014 voters, commissioned by Ascend, found that strong majorities (70 percent), across party lines, favor a two-generation approach, even if it raised their taxes. Sixty-nine percent believe investing in parents’ economic well-being will help their children succeed.

The post-election survey builds upon an October 2014 survey from Lake Research Partners in which Americans overwhelmingly supported policies and programs with a two-generation approach – policies outlined in Top Ten for 2Gen. Eighty-nine percent favored such a program as a means to raise families out of poverty. Support for the specific policies that comprise a two-generation approach is both broad and deep:

·       84 percent support Head Start partnerships to help the parents of low-income children further their own education and job training;

·       88 percent want to include information on employment and job training in home visiting programs for pregnant women and their children;

·       86 percent believe mental health screenings and services should be offered to both parents and their children at the same time;

·       73 percent favor making parents enrolled in college or workforce training programs eligible for state-funded childcare subsidies; and

·       84 percent support including childcare expenses in determining financial aid eligibility for the 25 percent of college students who are parents.

The principles and policy ideas in Top Ten for 2Gen are the result of three years of work in partnership with the field. They are purposely broad, combining policies and principles, to enable the alignment of a variety of organizations and agendas. And the ideas are echoed in work by the Aspen Institute Ascend Network partners and other leaders like the Annie E. Casey Foundation.


Download The Message Box: A Shared Vision Will Fuel the Two-Gen Movement in full text.