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APC TIG Week: Using Twitter to Track Narrative Change for Policy Advocacy Efforts by Laura Pryor & Heather Lewis-Charp

We are Heather Lewis-Charp and Laura Pryor, researchers at SPR, an evaluation firm located in Oakland, California. Within the advocacy field, framing is often key to winning in the court of public opinion. Phrases that capture the influence of complex issues on people’s lives have a powerful effect on how individuals and policy makers understand key social issues.  Although shifts in the narrative tend to evolve slowly, social media platforms such as twitter have helped to speed up the rate of change and democratize messaging and meaning-making. In our advocacy evaluation practice, Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) has developed an approach we call “frame analysis” to monitor shifts in the narrative around key advocacy issues, as well as to track shifts in how advocacy organizations are using social media to advance their campaigns and mobilize support.

Lessons Learned: What is a “Frame Analysis”?

A “Frame Analysis” draws on social media data sources, such as Twitter, to document shifts in how key policy advocacy issues are “framed” or talked about within the public sphere. A Frame Analysis can be used to:

  1. Understand how the narrative is changing around specific policy issues;
  2. Track how policy advocates are using media platforms (i.e. Twitter) in their policy advocacy work; and
  3. Track how policy advocates are connecting to and supporting one another’s campaigns.

Rad Resource: To help us conceptualize the Frame Analysis and learn about the ways in which social media can be analyzed, we read through the Sage Handbook of Social Media Research Methods.

Hot Tip: To set up the Frame Analysis, our team began with three considerations:

  1. Who is in our ‘universe’ of social media accounts to track? In other words, who are the individuals and organizations shaping the narrative we seek to track? Our team found that pairing a frame analysis with a social network analysis helped up prioritize the universe of social media accounts.
  2. Which social media platforms should be tracked? Our team considered Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat platforms for our frame analysis. However, given our universe of individuals/organizations and Facebook’s recent restrictions on the use of developer apps, we found that Twitter was the most consistently used platform with the richest data analysis possibilities.
  3. What are the key words/phrases that describe the narrative we want to track? To create this list, we did a preliminary analysis of the top phrases tweeted by each of the accounts in our universe and shared this list with stakeholders for further refinement.

Hot Tip: Using R to Extract Twitter Data

We found R to be the most straightforward and flexible for our needs. With baseline knowledge of R, we found the process of extracting and analyzing Twitter data to be relatively accessible.  Some tips to get started:

  1. The first step for extracting Twitter data is to set up a developer account.
  2. To learn how to find the top phrases tweeted by specific accounts, refer to this tutorial.

In summary, Frame Analysis is a useful complement to other evaluation approaches to advocacy evaluation.


AEA365 is hosting the APC (Advocacy and Policy Change) TIG week.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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