How many times have you heard that the technology or the solution is there, it's just a question of will (political or otherwise)?  This question of ‘will' is a critical route to systems change because it reflects the culture and mind-set that dictates how a system works, and also enables (or doesn't) new characteristics of a city, a sector or an economy to emerge.

When [American environmental scientist and author] Donella Meadows talks about the places to intervene in a system she puts 'the mind-set out of which the system - its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters - arise' at the top of the list of most effective ways to create profound change. That is why it is a key strategy to change systems.

But it isn't easy. This strategy's potency for change also makes it one of the hardest to do. Enter narratives - a significant route to mind-set change. Public narratives are stories that help us understand our world. They are everywhere - in the news, in conversations, in politics and in common assumptions - informing our world views and how we make decisions. So when working on challenges like sustainable nutrition or getting to a 1.5 degree world, we can't just focus on the technology or the policy. In fact, the stories that people hold are so critical that they are no longer about framing, or making the case, but they are often the change that we need to focus on.

Right now narratives are particularly significant because we are living through evident shifts from those in power and the wider public. Some of this is terrifying - reflecting the rise of far right populist parties. Some of it is more positive - like the dramatic shift in the public acceptability of the plastics problem or the move towards more plant based diets. All of it is insightful and is contributing to our learning about how we engage and empower people more to shape their own futures.

A lot of changing narratives is about great story telling. The Narratives Initiative says "stories bring narratives to life by making them reliable and accessible, while narratives infuse stories with deeper meaning". So narrative 101 is to have a powerful story and use it consistently. During the US presidential election campaign Donald Trump only had one strapline, to 'make America great again'. Hillary Clinton's campaign was rumoured to have had 70 different messages, before finally settling on 'Stronger together'. Which one is the more powerful story?

As a sustainability movement, we definitely need to have better stories. But if we are going to capture the power of narratives for change, we need to get way beyond pushing out stories through traditional communications and marketing. Donella Meadows was not talking about awareness campaigns when she advocated for mind-set change. The broadcast communications approach supports the default that narratives are things that other people hold - that people 'over there' need to think differently. These shifts are really fundamental and are not going to be prompted by a bit of messaging. Anna Simpson, futurist and consultant who works a lot on culture change, says, "one reason why ideas with transformative potential are readily crushed is that they come from outside our current frames of reference and value systems. They destabilise them, and so give rise to fear. To achieve transformation you therefore need to break the bonds that keep you safely in place, right down to the most basic assumptions - our foundational myths."  Those bonds can't be broken lightly. They require working with those who “own” a narrative to create something different in a way that enables the communities involved to take control of their own destiny. I did say it wasn't easy!

So what does that mean in practice? In her insightful report ‘Telling the Difference', Ella Saltmarshe describes three ways to use stories for change: story as light, illuminating what is happening, and what is possible; story as glue, a way to cohere communities of change makers; and story as web, changing the nest of narratives in which we live. These different uses of stories manifest in different ways, and, for me, action to change narratives needs (at least) four characteristics. Firstly, listening: what is the current story that a person or community is telling? What lies beneath? Second is depth: looking for the meaning behind a story. What are the patterns that emerge? What worldviews or mythologies underpin these narratives? Thirdly, co-creating. If stories are going to really reshape decisions people make or the values people work to, they need to be involved, preferably leading their development and being able to organise around them.

It is important that we shift from narratives being about communications and marketing and pushing 'mind-sets' on people, to a more democratic process of engagement, understanding and self-determination. At the same time we need to hone our own stories and take control of our narratives for a sustainable future.

Stephanie Draper is chief change officer at Forum for the Future

This article first appear in Business Green