Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Workshop to boost justice advocacy

A workshop in Auckland this March will use ground-breaking ‘Words that Work’ language principles and a persuasive writing system to help church communicators and justice advocates shift the conversation on the rights of refugees.

Taonga News  |  13 Feb 2020  |

On Wednesday 4 March, Holy Trinity Cathedral Auckland will host a communications workshop led by refugee rights advocates Kagi Kowa (Asylum Seekers Resource Centre) and Michelle McDonald (Editor of anglican focus for the Anglican Church of Southern Queensland).

They will share the findings and outcomes of research from 'Words that Work’ – a best-practice communication system commissioned by Australia's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) that helps reframe campaigns and conversations towards just solutions for refugees, people seeking asylum and the communities welcoming them.

Queensland’s ASRC Community Organiser and former refugee Kagi Kowa said that it is important for communicators and advocates to embrace messages that humanise and reinforce people’s dignity.

“Unfortunately, we live at a time when seeking refuge has been demonised to the point that successive Australian governments, as well as other governments, are able to justify cruel and inhumane acts and get away with it,” Ms Kowa said.

“For those who have done the Words that Work training, there is a clear shift in their narratives …from inadvertently objectifying people of refugee background, to communicating more clearly that people who seek safety are individuals who have names, stories and dreams. 

 “Using a communications framework that paints the humanity of people seeking asylum gives back the dignity that is often taken away.” 

This one-day workshop will begin with how we talk about the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum and introduces the "replace-embrace" language shift that centres advocacy conversations around shared values and humanising language.

As well as the Words that Work language shift, participants will learn a simple four-part persuasive writing system, based on a storytelling approach, that can be adopted in any advocacy space.

“This offers a new way for us as Christian communicators to write and speak about what hurts our neighbours and our world,” said workshop organiser Julanne Clarke-Morris.

“‘Words that Work’ helps us connect with people who are less likely to be convinced by statistics, official statements or UN resolutions when it comes to moving their hearts and minds.”

When ‘Words that Work’ was released, the Anglican Dean of Brisbane the Very Rev Dr Peter Catt was Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.

As a leader in the Australian churches’ sanctuary movement, he could see a desperate need to shift public opinion towards a more compassionate response for people seeking asylum.

“The benefit of using the ‘Words that Work’ replace-embrace language is that it shifts the narrative that has dominated the Australian media for a very long time – it is more positive and humane and it gives people the dignity that we all deserve as humans,” Dean Peter said.

Dean Peter found that the ‘Words that Work’ research revealed how advocates of refugees and people seeking asylum sometimes unwittingly undermined the shift of attitude they were seeking to encourage.

“One of the key gifts that came out of the Words That Work project was identification of the words and terms that caused people to ‘turn off’ or become antagonistic,” he said.

“If nothing else, we learnt how to avoid triggering people, which has made it easier to engage people and enter into dialogue with them.”

As part of the ‘Words that Work’ workshop, participants will have the opportunity to try out their own replace-embrace categories to help shift language choices in their specialty fields, to positively reframe conversations and open up dialogue. 

A second skill participants will practise at the workshop is a four-part persuasive writing system which focuses on personal story, identifying problems, communicating a shared vision and effectively leading to ‘where to from here’.

On Wednesday 4 March, following the message framework sessions, theologian and global ecumenist The Rev’d Dr Katalina Tahaafe-Williams (formerly Director of Ministry from the Margins for the World Council of Churches) will suggest ways in which the principles underlining Words That Work may be applied to different advocacy spaces we engage with in ministry, including areas such as climate change, housing rights, disability rights and child poverty.

View the schedule for the Words That Work workshop

Register online for Words That Work

For more information, contact Anglican Communications and Media Office online editor, Julanne Clarke-Morris.


The ‘Words that Work’ communications guidelines were created after the Australia-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre commissioned a multi-phase research project to develop the most compelling ways to advocate for the rights of people seeking asylum. 

Words that Work emerged in 2015 from this research project, which was carried out by communications and linguistics expert Anat Shenker-Osorio (ASO Communications), Troy Burton (Commonality) and John Armitage (QDOS). Words that Work centres advocacy communications around shared values, aiming to bridge the gap between people campaigning for just solutions and those undecided about the issues.

During the research project, more than 1000 language points were gathered in Australia from campaigners, people of refugee background and the broader community, with dial testing conducted across a sample of 1500 people across the political spectrum.