There are many ways to tell a story. It is important to be mindful of the story within the story, and this starts with the origin: Who is telling the story and how is it told? Then, we must ask: Is it organically cultivated and told with unfiltered authenticity, or is it extracted and stitched together for a certain purpose? And what are the best ways to practice storytelling as a channel for advocacy?

These were some of the questions shaping a workshop was facilitated by Michael Jarvis of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI). Four lightning talks drawing on diverse storytelling experiences helped the stage and then the dialogue helped distill a variety of messages – our top five takeaways are detailed below.

PART I: IGNITE TALKS

IGNITE TALK #1: Nada Zohdy reflected on the Open Gov Hub’s collaboration with StoryCorps that culminated in a series of dynamic and candid podcasts that shine a light on the experiences of professionals in the Hub community. The StoryCorps methodology, coupled with the pre-existing connections between the interview participants led to meaningful conversations about social change, and more importantly, the individuals behind the work of change.  See Nada’s Ignite Talk here or below.

IGNITE TALK #2: Cheri-Leigh Erasmus shared insights on the Accountability Lab’s use of stories to showcase positive deviants in corrupt systems, as part of the organization’s larger effort to create narrative shifts. At the Lab, it is never acceptable to tell stories in an extractive manner, using one group’s stories as a tool for another’s purpose. Instead, the Lab creates programs that develop communities’ capacity to tell their own stories in their own words, and equip them to use these stories in their grassroots efforts, which also helps to ensure the sustainability of storytelling as a tool. See Cheri’s Ignite Talk here or below.

IGNITE TALK #3: The Mobilisation Lab uses stories to activate changemakers the world over. Michael Silberman shared the importance of understanding the difference between stories that inspire individuals, and those that can drive systems change – the latter being especially powerful for advocacy. Tapping into the stories that bind societies together is not always easy, and Michael explained the organizations need to prioritize narrative change if storytelling is to be effective in advocacy campaigns. See Michael’s Ignite Talk here or below.

IGNITE TALK #4: While storytelling is undoubtedly a powerful tool, and many civil society groups understand the important role of narrative shifts in building a more just world, it remains difficult to measure “narrative change” rigorously. Citing the Aspen Institute’s use of impact stories in its annual report, David Devlin-Foltz said that while not everyone might see stories as scientific data, narratives and their underlying “frames” still shape how we see the world. And in order to shape those narratives to best effect, advocates must listen to and meaningfully connect with those whose advocacy goals they hope to advance. Even if narrative change is messy, complex, and nonlinear, it has the potential to reframe our world-views and drive social change in powerful ways. But still, with this approach as with any other, it is crucial not to over-promise and to be humble throughout the process. See David’s Ignite Talk here or below.

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