The Real Poop on Social Change

by Franke James

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration of tickets and nuts by franke james 2008

illustration of dinners and books by franke james 2008

illustration of stage overview  by franke james 2008

illustration of sachs quote by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

chest of hope sculpture by christa gammp 2007

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration of mark kingwell by franke james 2008 with insert low res image of Caravaggio painting

illustration by franke james 2008

inspired by Adam and Eva by Lukas Cranach the Elder; illustration by franke james

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

illustration by franke james 2008

change analysis chart copyright franke james 2008

The Real Poop on Social Change copyright 2008, Franke James, MFA
LEADERS Change Analysis Chart copyright 2008, Franke James, MFA

Photographs, illustrations and writing by Franke James, MFA
Goodnight illustration inspired by ‘Goodnight Moon’ by M. W. Brown, C. Hurd
Chest of Hope sculpture by Canadian artist Christa Gampp
The Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio

WELL, WELL: an evening of dialogue on social change featuring Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Kingwell, was a fundraising event to benefit Massey College at U of Toronto, and the Canadian Journalism Foundation. It was organized and presented by Manifest Communications. The VIP tickets entitled the ticket holder to attend a reception before the event, and premier seating at the event.

67 Responses: 38 Comments and 29 Tweets

  • Julie says:

    You’ve outdone yourself with this essay, Franke!

    It sounds like your evening — and the speakers’ opinions — exactly matched what’s going on in the world. Instead of getting on with creating the re-evolution we need to save the Earth and most of life on it, we have conversations about whether it’s individual action or government regulation that’s needed.

    Of course it’s both! All! Everything! But here’s what Peter and I have been thinking lately. If we can get humans to start thinking of themselves as a species, then maybe we’ll start to get concerned about what’s happening to our progeny. (Right now, we’re in the midst of committing “progeny-cide” on our descendants.)

    And so we’re starting a new political party and movement: The Future Generations Party. Not to get votes and win elections (that always, ALWAYS dilutes a party’s stances) but to nudge, push, force or shame other parties into affirming legal and economic rights for future generations.

    This might be where Kingwell’s empathy comes in. Maybe, just maybe, if human animals start thinking like a species, and begin to see that we are killing our children’s future by not acting immediately to move to a zero-carbon economy, then maybe they’ll start to have some empathy for those voiceless humans not yet born. Please check out our new website at if you have a minute. (It’s still a very young website.) We’re seeking our first 250 members — free!

    Did I get off topic? Sorry! Social, environmental and economic change are all wrapped up together nowadays. If we were able to get the assholes who used to blow cigarette smoke into everyone’s lungs to take it outside, if we were able to get the assholes who thought nothing of drinking and driving to give up their car keys, and if we were able to get the assholes who look the other way when their dog poops right where someone’s going to walk in it to pick it up, then maybe, just maybe, we can get the assholes who make all their money from ruining the world to switch to making all their money from investing in renewable energy. THAT would be a very wonderful social change!

    For the Children, the Earth, and the Future,
    p.s. Sorry for the swearing, but you used the SH*T word so that got me going!! ;-)

  • Dan says:

    Wonderful, Franke! You grabbed my attention and kept me hooked right to the end.

    Sounds like you got your $400 bucks worth! Keep up the amazing work.

  • Mary Stevenson says:

    Another fabulous essay. No wonder children are mesmerized by beautiful picture books. It was wonderful to get a free synopsis on the Evening of social Change. Both Gladwell and Kingwell make excellent points. I certainly notice a different attitude toward society and the environment in our children. We, as a society, must have positively influenced them somehow. They respect life as a much more fragile entity than we did at that age. This was a very positive message. I think it’s okay to get sidetracked sometimes and perhaps go overboard on the awareness angle if ultimately it creates a change.

  • David in the US says:

    Pain in the pocketbook is a great lever for social enviro change. Raise gas prices to 8 bucks a gallon now so people will scream and shift to alternate transit.

  • Bronwyn says:

    It’s not just the pictures that kids and adults both find appealing. Toilet humour appears to grab eyes as well. Great essay.

  • Liz says:

    What a beautiful essay! Thanks for making hard thoughts so easy on the eye.

    It sounds as though Gladwell and Kingwell both assume that the status quo is generally satisfying enough that people will only be moved off the dime by either a carrot or a stick (recognizing that sometimes the stick is a tender conscience). Maybe taxes, fines, price manipulations and dirty looks work best when we’re trying to change very specific behavior without undermining a larger social framework. But sometimes people get sick and tired of the whole status quo. The question Gladwell asked about awareness and breast cancer edged towards that: suddenly it’s not just awareness about breast cancer but awareness about inequities in the whole health care system. Moving from that kind of awareness to action is really scary, which is why many people find it a whole lot easier to participate in a breast cancer walkathon or pin a pink ribbon on their lapel. But once you’ve asked yourself a Gladwellesque question it’s very hard to unask it. I think sometimes change comes when the internal din of those questions becomes so intense that people are moved to action just to quiet them.

  • Mother Earth says:

    fabulous, fabulous – seeing the poop, comparing scooper laws to social change – it’s absolutely brilliant ! I remember you once telling me how these essays are like giving birth – keep delivering! I love and share your work with everyone I know.

  • Anna in Toronto says:

    Clever title and such witty humour! I’ve sent it to all my friends …

  • The real poop on social change

    My friend Franke does it again, riffing on her experience seeing Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Kingwell talking about initiating social change. Her illustrations tell the story much better than I can so I’m just going to add a little of my perspective to her observations.

    Franke is Canadian so maybe things are different across the lake but I doubt it. Simply put, Gladwell argues that awareness is not enough to change behavior and Franke notes that sometimes a threat or pain point must be reached.

    I’ve been noticing a lot more Euro-versions of cars appearing on the streets in Rochester- little tiny Hondas, Toyotas, Fords, etc. These cars are literally a fraction of the size of the SUVs they are hopefully replacing. So why are they appearing now? Could it be $4.25/gallon gas? Even a wealthy SUV driver might have issues with paying five bucks for gas to run out to the store or a movie.

    A point I’ve belabored here is that change and response to climate issues will only be driven by economics. Americans don’t want to believe it will affect us so our politicians won’t act. Awareness and acceptance of the issue is there but there isn’t any urgency- until we get hit in our wallets, painfully.

    by Martin Edic

  • Daharja says:

    Hi Franke,

    It’s social disapproval, all the way, that encourages change.

    Take my parents, for example. They are now keen recyclers. The only reason is everyone on the street is doing it and if their neighbours caught them NOT doing it, they’d be embarrased.

    We have to turn flying, eating meat daily, driving for fun, owning second homes, owning LARGE homes, owning lots of unnecessary STUFF – all this into leper-type activity and behaviour. Make it uncool and very unsexy to have a big and wasteful life. Make it funky and trendy and sexy to have a lean, low-carbon lifestyle.

    The question is – how on earth do we do it? But I know one thing: the only way you’ll every get the average Joe and Jane trading their SUVs for bicycles and buses is to make the former so unsexy that they would be embarrased to admit they own them, and the latter so cool that everyone is clamouring to be seen on them.

    Get the Hollywood set arriving at the Oscars on buses and on bikes. That’ll do it, for starters. And have them wear secondhand clothes while they’re there!

  • greig clark says:

    Wow: this summary was superb franke….. combined those wonderful qualities of insightful and yet very reader friendly….. thanks for saving me the $400. how about dinner is on us next time?

    looks good

    greig and carolyn clark

  • Darren says:

    Sensational! Keep up the good work. Looking forward to reading more from you….

  • Greg Ketchum says:

    Beautiful job! Extremely creative. I found myself loving reading your visual story and feeling envious of your creativity at the same time. Great job!!!!! Thanks for sharing.

  • Nanci says:

    Funny, intelligent with beautiful visuals! Excellent work.

  • carpe factum says:

    Do These Quarterly Measures Make Me Look Fat?…

    What are the measures telling us about changing the inputs to get better outputs? Franke James posted a brilliant visual essay about the “real poop on social change” which gets at the heart of this very issue. Numbers that build awareness aren’t enough; numbers have to motivate behavioral changes.

  • Max Gladwell says:

    very interesting essays. quite colorful and engaging.

  • Meryn says:

    Wow, are you drawing this those “visual essays” yourself? What tools do you use? It’s really refreshing!

  • Franke James says:

    Meryn – Thanks! Nice to hear you find them refreshing. I do the drawings by hand & mix with my digital photos.

  • Emma says:

    Interesting concepts here. But I think that you are only scratching the surface of the issue.

    Why aren’t we looking deeper at what motivates those grass roots bubblers to get going?… It stems from their set of experiences and values, specifically their “exposure” to nature and related influences that were modeled to them as children. If we can get everyone bubbling rather than just after their own self interests this world would be an entirely better place.

    And, If we’re just preserving our image among our peers (neighbours, friends, society in general), then what happens when no one is looking?

  • Franke James says:


    Thanks for your comment! I’m glad my essay is prompting you to ask questions about changing behaviors. I see my visual essays as a catalyst to prompt thinking and questioning on the part of the reader — just as you are doing.

    To me they are like visual poetry, with layers of meaning that are revealed through multiple readings. Perhaps it’s my background in art history — but I try to give deeper meaning in the visual symbols and words. Ideally they encourage reflective thought. I don’t spoonfeed, so I hope the readers are able to make the mental leaps and see the bigger issues underlying the story, as in “What does it mean if you are identified as a social leper? Would you change your behavior?”

    Creativity and innovation is our best tool for fighting climate change,

    ~ Franke

  • Ross Hill says:


    An evening of Real Poop and Social Change

  • Cool, cool, Franke! I so much enjoy your drawings.

  • Dan Roam says:

    Magnificent visual essay. Spectacular!

  • Amazingly creative and thoughtful, Franke. With people like you in the world, I have no doubt we can find a solution to most any challenge. You made my day! Thanks, D.

  • queeny says:

    you hit the ball out of the park again Franke. well done. your batting a 1000!!!!

  • LaDonna Coy says:


    “Franke left me a link to her Twitter experience — what a fun and informative post! Even more interesting — Franke does visual blogging! For those of you thinking of a starting a blog and looking for options, check it out for inspiration. It is brilliant.

    In her post she describes her entry into Twitter and the unique and interesting connections she’s made. Several things in the post struck me as relevant and timely for work in social change and prevention but especially this link to The Real Poop on Social Change – a must see visual essay on the topic….”

    LaDonna Coy

  • I was first introduced to Canadian visual artist Franke James’ work via a link from Max Gladwell, a site that explores social media and green living. Ms. James, who describes her visual essays as “a freewheeling mix of illustrations, photographs and hand-drawn text,” sits squarely at the intersection of these two spaces.

    A master of many mediums, Franke explains her work eloquently. For her essay “A Green Winter,” she says:

    Whether I use illustrations or photos depends on the idea I’m trying to communicate. For example in ‘A Green Winter’ I chatted with Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics (at a cocktail party after a business event). Steven is a guy who always turns conventional wisdom upside down. So I thought — this guy is really going to say something extraordinary. I asked him how he would solve global warming. I was totally dumbfounded by his reply:

    ‘Why would you worry about it? Global warming is going to be good for Canada. Look how much more of the country will be populated if it’s warmer.’ To illustrate my shock and dumbfoundedness, I drew my bloodshot eye with the world spinning inside it! Clearly something that no camera could capture but something the viewer can ‘feel.’

    She eventually adapted the Green Winter essay into a narrated animation, which was shown onstage between Al Gore and Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s speeches at the 2007 Green Living Show.

    Franke refers to her work as ‘conceptual art’ that’s designed to express her personal concerns about the environment and global warming. The starting point for her pieces is usually a personal environmental action, such as when she decided to give up her SUV and convert her driveway into a garden.

    What first drew me to Franke’s work was a piece born from her attendance at a discussion between Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Kingwell called “An Evening of Dialogue on Social Change,” which inspired this essay. It’s a fascinating take on two great thinkers, and Franke’s reactions to what they discussed. It’s also more thoughtfully executed and engaging than the hundreds of hurried tweets and blog posts that invariably swirled around the event as it was happening.

    Jason Calacanis (founder of human-powered search engine Mahalo) recently created a stir in the blogosphere by announcing his retirement from blogging, due in part to peoples’ abbreviated attention spans and increasingly self-motivated publishing interests. Perhaps in this pay-per-click, SEO’ed world, it’s a good time to turn our attention back to the visual artist as change agent.

    Franke says, “As artists we can hold up a mirror that reflects back society’s values — even if that sometimes makes people uncomfortable.” Uncomfortable? Perhaps. But unique, beautiful and thought-provoking along the way.

  • Robin Sloan says:


    Illuminated Manuscripts

    franke james illustration

    Franke James has a terrific cross-media comic book style.

    Via the Pop!Tech blog.

  • Daniel Edlen says:

    How clever are you! Found you: gapingvoid -> kottke -> Snarkmarket.

    I love the medium and message.

    We need the social consequence for social change, and it will eventually apply in private.


  • I love your style of telling stories! Thanks so much for sharing!

    I myself am a very visual (if not visceral) person and text only isn’t sticky enough. Your visuals definitively are sticky. I think this is a good second step. However I am not sure how much if effects behaviour change. Remember what Confucius said: “Tell me and I may forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.”

    We need to make these recycling containers work, these dog shit bags distributed, have bikes to hire at every corner, these environmentally friendly inflatable, mobile, sexy holiday recreation homes designed (my imagination is running wild). I am an optimist and a designer. We need better material designs – great offers or services – to change our habits and habitats. I start by offering better wallets, notebooks etc. (see my website) What do you offer?

  • This is beautifully illustrated, and right on target. Awareness is a necessary component of change, but usually not sufficient in and of itself. Empathy is great for getting people to donate money on the spot, but also usually not sufficient for creating lasting change. In social marketing (the original kind for behavior change – not social media marketing), we find the right combination of motivating benefits, removal of barriers and changing social norms that persuade people to change.

  • […] image is taken from Franke James’ book “The Real Poop on Social Change.” In it, James delivers an important message […]

  • michael says:

    i love it!

  • […] world. It’s poignant, direct and action oriented. Coming from Franke James, author of “The Real Poop on Social Change” and active […]

  • Excellent picture essay, beautifully presented, clear and to the point. We still have major dog poop problems over in the UK, people will bag the poop but then many can’t be bothered to find a bin to put it in and throw the poop (wrapped in plastic) into the nearest tree.

  • […] you haven’t seen Franke James’ visual essay about an event that brought Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Kingwell together to discuss social change, […]

  • Greygunn says:

    Yes, appealing. How do you get the world to see we are just one species on the planet, not THE one? Marketing an idea. What creates social change? Real, pointed decisions.

  • […] you haven’t seen Franke James’ visual essay about an event that brought Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Kingwell together to discuss social change, […]

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