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Storytelling

If you see it, you can be it

Rosie Parkyn's picture

Rosie Parkyn explores the opportunities and challenges online media presents in addressing the gender equality gap.

 School girls gathering around a computer If you see it, you can be it’ could have been the unofficial slogan of the International Development Cooperation meeting on Gender and Media, where I was invited to talk about the opportunities created by the internet and online media to counter gender stereotyping, or the assignment of particular characteristics and roles according to sex. This is a theme touched on by our Policy Briefing, Making Waves: Media’s Potential for Girls in the Global South.

Much has been said about the need to achieve better visibility for girls and women in the media if gender equality is to be realised. This year’s Global Media Monitoring Project reported that women make up only 24% of people heard, read about or seen in news reporting. That coverage is often characterised by gender bias and extensive stereotyping.

So could the onward expansion of digital spaces fast track the process of ensuring girls and women are seen in a diversity of roles? The short answer is yes of course, it has transformative potential. But there are significant caveats.

A Life Adventured: The migrant/refugee

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the current migration and refugee crisis, is scale trumping humanity?

Refugee crisis in EuropeSomething about the way the story of the ongoing epic migration and refugee crisis is being told perturbs. Scale trumps humanity. Overwhelmingly, the focus is on the sheer girth and amplitude of the crisis. Mind-numbing statistics tumble from the mouth of broadcasters, and the cameras pan over and around scenes of multitudes on the move almost the same way that documentary makers film the flight of sky-darkening flocks of migratory birds or the earthquake mimicking stampede of wild bulls across a great river. The tragedies that occur with saddening frequency are anonymous: another boat sinks in the Mediterranean, hundreds are dead. We don’t see victims; we don’t know them. We see pictures of the flotsam and jetsam, of the foul detritus of failed voyages. And the cameras move on.

Until the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach turns up and the world is stunned and horrified. For instance, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy recently told Fareed Zakaria of CNN that that picture transformed policymaking in parts of Europe from indifferent to totally engaged. That, I would argue, is because that picture foregrounded a powerful truth.

What is this truth? It is this: while this migration and refugee crisis might be on a biblical scale, it is still about discrete, distinct, singular human lives. Each one of these people on the move is an individual, a bundle of consciousness, a brain, emotions, feelings, deep needs and aspirations, parents, families, friends, the whole nine yards. Above all, the truth is that each one of these individuals has chanced, gambled her life. In other words, each life caught up in this crisis is a life adventured. And when a human life is adventured a tragic ending is often the result.

A Life Adventured: The migrant/refugee

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the current migration and refugee crisis, is scale trumping humanity?

Refugee crisis in EuropeSomething about the way the story of the ongoing epic migration and refugee crisis is being told perturbs. Scale trumps humanity. Overwhelmingly, the focus is on the sheer girth and amplitude of the crisis. Mind-numbing statistics tumble from the mouth of broadcasters, and the cameras pan over and around scenes of multitudes on the move almost the same way that documentary makers film the flight of sky-darkening flocks of migratory birds or the earthquake mimicking stampede of wild bulls across a great river. The tragedies that occur with saddening frequency are anonymous: another boat sinks in the Mediterranean, hundreds are dead. We don’t see victims; we don’t know them. We see pictures of the flotsam and jetsam, of the foul detritus of failed voyages. And the cameras move on.

Until the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach turns up and the world is stunned and horrified. For instance, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy recently told Fareed Zakaria of CNN that that picture transformed policymaking in parts of Europe from indifferent to totally engaged. That, I would argue, is because that picture foregrounded a powerful truth.

What is this truth? It is this: while this migration and refugee crisis might be on a biblical scale, it is still about discrete, distinct, singular human lives. Each one of these people on the move is an individual, a bundle of consciousness, a brain, emotions, feelings, deep needs and aspirations, parents, families, friends, the whole nine yards. Above all, the truth is that each one of these individuals has chanced, gambled her life. In other words, each life caught up in this crisis is a life adventured. And when a human life is adventured a tragic ending is often the result.

Civic Space Initiative: Storytelling for impact

Roxanne Bauer's picture
According to the Yearbook of International Organizations, the number of international CSO's has increased from 6,000 in 1990 to more than 66,000 in 2012, with approximately 1,200 new organizations added to the registrar each year.

CSOs are also significant players in global development assistance, with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimating that in 2011, USD$19.3 billion in official development assistance was channeled through CSOs.

The power of CSOs lies in their ability to facilitate conversations—between governments and citizens, between policy makers and vulnerable communities, and among citizens.

The right to Freedom of Assembly and Association is critical to making these conversations happen. Without the ability to congregate and create relationships, the ability of citizens and CSOs to mobilize around issues is obstructed.

Ryota Jonen of the Civic Space Initiative, argues that engaging citizens in the deliberative process and in decision-making process is critical to responsible public policy because, at the end of the day, if citizens are not involved, it is hard to know if policies are addressing their needs.

He also argues that for citizen engagement to be beneficial, information must be available to citizens. This information, though, doesn’t need to come in the form of reports and text-heavy dossiers that just “sit in the bookshelves”. Rather, creative storytelling through visual communication or music, is often more useful to sharing information
 
VIDEO: Storytelling for Impact

 

Median impact narratives: Who, why, and how

Heather Lanthorn's picture

​​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.

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).

A Storied Approach to Capacity Development

Sheila Jagannathan's picture

Engaging individuals to share their knowledge and learning on development challenges and solutions with the wider community is a core value of  the WBG’s Open Learning Campus.  In this context the story is often a powerful learning tool.  This idea is not a new one; in fact, stories have been a universal form of knowledge transfer for over 100,000 years as a way of connecting people and creating a common perspective on social, economic, political and cultural issues that they care about.

However, the above statements apply only to effective storytelling, which requires sustained  engagement with the community, and adequate influence over the learning and knowledge accretion process of the community. Research has shown that information alone—even critically valuable information—without the context, relevance, and engagement provided by effective story structure—is markedly ineffective in changing core attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors (in influencing).

#1 from 2014: Anecdotes and Simple Observations are Dangerous; Words and Narratives are Not

Heather Lanthorn's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on January 23, 2014

 

In a recent blog post on stories, and following some themes from an earlier talk by Tyler Cowen, David Evans ends by suggesting: “Vivid and touching tales move us more than statistics. So let’s listen to some stories… then let’s look at some hard data and rigorous analysis before we make any big decisions.” Stories, in this sense, are potentially idiosyncratic and over-simplified and, therefore, may be misleading as well as moving. I acknowledge that this is a dangerous situation.

However, there are a couple things that are frustrating about the above quote, intentional or not.

  • First, it equates ‘hard data’ with ‘statistics,’ as though qualitative (text/word) data cannot be hard (or, by implication, rigorously analysed). Qualitative twork – even when producing ‘stories’ – should move beyond mere anecdote (or even journalistic inquiry).
  • Second, it suggests that the main role of stories (words) is to dress up and humanize statistics – or, at best, to generate hypotheses for future research. This seems both unfair and out-of-step with increasing calls for mixed-methods to take our understanding beyond ‘what works’ (average treatment effects) to ‘why’ (causal mechanisms) – with ‘why’ probably being fairly crucial to ‘decision-making’ (Paluck’s piece worth checking out in this regard).

In this post, I try to make the case that there are important potential distinctions between anecdotes and stories/narratives that are too often overlooked when discussing qualitative data, focusing on representativeness and the counterfactual. Second, I suggest that just because many researchers do not collect or analyse qualitative work rigorously does not mean it cannot (or should not) be done this way. Third, I make a few remarks about numbers.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 
Tightening the Net: Governments Expand Online Controls
Freedom House
Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fourth consecutive year, with a growing number of countries introducing online censorship and monitoring practices that are simultaneously more aggressive and more sophisticated in their targeting of individual users. In a departure from the past, when most governments preferred a behind-the-scenes approach to internet control, countries are rapidly adopting new laws that legitimize existing repression and effectively criminalize online dissent.

Is vote-buying always bad for development?
International Growth Center
Elections in the developing world suffer from considerable problems such as ballot fraud, low voter education. electoral violence, and clientelism. If developing world elections do not revolve mainly around policy accountability, there could be important consequences for economic development

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