Storytelling is essential to persuasion. But how do we decide which stories to tell? Heather Lanthorn reviews median impact narratives and explains why they are more than just window dressing.Way back in January, an interesting conversation took place on the Development Impact blog; I am just catching up on the conversation. The conversation featured a 7 January guest post by Bruce Wydick, who advocated the idea of “median impact narratives,” and subsequent commentary.
In short, Bruce recognizes that even when solid quantitative causal evidence exists,
“A good narrative soundly beats even the best data. Economists and scientists of all ilks need to digest what for many is an unpleasant fact: In the battle for hearts and minds of human beings, narrative will consistently outperform data in its ability to influence human thinking and motivate human action.”
Bruce further points out (to take a bit of liberty with his words) that, sadly, Stalin was right about at least one thing (to paraphrase): a single death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic. And people do rather better with making sense of and feeling empathy for a single victim (or success) than for a large number of statistical people and their myriad outcomes (e.g.). This leads Bruce to an important question: how to choose which individuals to highlight? What Bruce’s post gets around to (and as he confirmed with me in a follow-up email, thank you!) is really a question about sampling for qualitative research and placing (and valuing) anecdotes within the context of the study sample and population.