Achieving social transformation is a challenging task. It requires the change of behaviour, mindsets and trusted practices, which are sometimes hard to let go. While technological innovations and advancements are often implemented top-down without cultural adaptations, social innovations are complex in nature and do not follow market mechanisms to diffuse among a larger population.
Let’s say, you want to change practices in menstrual hygiene in rural villages where stigmata and remoteness still impede women to use adequate methods. You develop the perfect product, which will solve a bunch of social and environmental problems at once and you plan to sell it to the target group at minimal costs. Eagerly distributing your product in the field, you soon notice that results are somehow disappointing.
Your product is barely accepted and used. What went wrong? After a fair amount of time, you acknowledge that designing and implementing social programs is far more complicated than you expected.
Solutions in the social space need to be much more participatory, dynamic and holistic to implement a long-lasting and successful project, which changes the status quo for the better.
A community of storytellers
No need to bury your head in the sand, though. The good news is, there is a community out there, which has encountered similar hurdles for quite some time and has come up with solutions that will make your life easier. This article explores storytelling as important tool within the development space to trigger transformational change.
In today’s world, sharing stories is one way we can connect with each other. Stories should not be seen as just anecdotal but as a potential source of change for both creators and viewers. If they can be used to support, amplify or better articulate a policy campaign, or to make the target group understand the value of the menstrual hygiene product in our given example, then they can be extremely influential.
Telling more stories is the need of the hour
While being deeply rooted in marketing activities of the corporate world, the social sector does not yet explore storytelling to its full potential. Yet, it is the right point in time start!
We live in times of growing citizen participation in shaping policies and accelerating technological advancements. It is the visual age, arts forming part of social protest and, beyond doubt, we experience an obsession of social media to communicate with each other. Stories are an essential part of what we think, believe and, eventually, do. Storytelling approaches combine a participatory, collaborative methodology with the creative use of technology to generate stories aimed at catalysing action on pressing social issues.
Moving from Individual to Collective Storytelling
Storytelling happens across different levels – from the personal, to the collective and societal. We’ve all had a personal experience where we shared emotions, experiences or memories. While it can be transformative to oneself, other people see it as an exemplary experience of an individual. Once sharing similar stories and experiences across a collective group and identifying similarities, feelings of solidarity might emerge, patterns are recognized and challenges overcome. Eventually, stories can be widespread across the larger society, by leveraging technology and the digital world.
Stories have the power to uncover the social nature of a certain problem and can then formulate actions to solve those problems.
Strategic (and fun) conceptualization processes
Storytelling can strengthen organizations throughout their processes, but it requires time, strategic considerations and a thorough analysis of an organization’s target group, goals and abilities to lead to satisfying results. Well-designed storytelling workshops can guide novices across the different milestones to achieve an impactful and shareable story. And, believe it or not, it is fun! Today’s storytelling makes use of a varied range of mediums to lead to punchlines at the end of the day. Let us present a few of them:
Participatory film making: Videomaking yields the potential to offer an interactive and innovative activity, which builds participants’ capacity to communicate and report on issues that matter to them. Group members record videos themselves and the world around them, and, thereby, communicate their own stories in a creative way. Videos can be used for mobilization, monitoring and evaluation, behaviour change activities and policy advocacy.
Theatre of the Oppressed: Originated in Brazil, it is a form of theatre to promote social and political change, where the audience becomes active to explore, show, analyse and transform the reality in which they are living. Participants of the audience share stories, which are then transformed by the actors, often from a disadvantaged background, to a short, impactful play.
Comics: Socially relevant comics can make people drop prejudices even if your work is on deadly serious topics like malnutrition, human rights or poverty. They have the potential to share key messages, while depicting an interesting story around it. And, as we all know, comics are often easier, faster and more entertaining to read than anything else!
Gamification: Playing allows us to disrupt logical thinking and engage on a different level as people, but adults have seemingly forgotten how to play. Games can offer an experience that’s dynamic and interactive in the moment. They can make people learn subconsciously, while still being fun. There are various organizations across the country, which combine educational topics like careers, recycling or gender equality with tailored playing activities to nudge beneficiaries towards behavioural change.
Think solutions, create stories
Let’s come back to our dilemma of menstrual hygiene products in rural India. Participatory storytelling can help to achieve social impact, after all, by turning women from passive beneficiaries to active advocates of the project.
Community-based videomaking is an empowering process, which allows to recognise and prioritise actions towards a social cause. It provides a powerful way for participants to explore their situation, jointly reflect on solutions and monitor and communicate progress of a program. While being impactful on the ground, video-based storytelling directly reflects local realities and represents an appealing material for external stakeholders, such as donors, to understand, feel and relate to the project.
To conclude, social change requires more than goodnight stories. It is neither easy nor fast. However, stories envision the change we want, and path the way for actions to make that change happen. Try yourself!
4WSI is hosting a Storytelling Workshop on 20th of May in Mumbai. Find more information here to sign up for the event.
This blog post is written by Tatjana Mauthofer, Consultant Impact Evaluation at 4WSI. It was previously published on The Better India.