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New thinking on digital storytelling

Maya Brahmam's picture

I have been reading with interest some of the questions posed on storytelling inside the World Bank. The recent blog post by Bruce Wydick is a case in point. Reactions ranged from positive to some uneasiness around the idea that we’re using stories to share results, when we’re generally more comfortable with a “Just the facts” approach. One concern seems to be that we might surrender our decision-making to the emotion of a good story versus hard evidence.

In fact, doesn’t the word fabulist mean someone who stretches the truth a bit, by telling stories? I was therefore not so surprised to find storytelling used as an explanation for NBC news anchor Brian Williams’ recent troubles. A Washington Post article about Williams noted, “Former colleagues reveal a man who took such delight in spinning yarns that he could sometimes lose sight of where the truth began and where it ended.”

We have examined brain science and other areas to figure out why stories are so compelling, and I’ve blogged about this in this space before. Storytelling is compelling because it’s memorable, shareable (nice feature in this digital world), and relatable (people respond and retain for longer material with an emotional content).

What’s more, we now have a good reason to consider storytelling in the development context! The Rockefeller Foundation has recently published a report on this topic: Digital Storytelling for Social Impact. This study is timely, and the reasoning for the project is laid out in the Foreword by Jay Geneske, Director of Digital at Rockefeller Foundation, “Few would deny that storytelling is a powerful tool for inspiring action and change and influencing thought leaders and decision makers. In the digital era, the shape and delivery of stories has shifted dramatically. Long-form narrative and conventional journalism now share the stage with messages of 140 characters or fewer and images that disappear seconds after they are opened. While there have never been more ways to reach audiences, it has also never been more difficult to really reach them. The Foundation recognizes a big opportunity in the intersection of story and technology and has launched a project to consider the role that digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling as a means to improve the well-being of the poor and vulnerable around the world.”

Happy reading!

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Official US Embassy Ghana Photo by Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng, shared on Flickr 
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