Harnessing the power of storytelling, Part 1


July 21, 2022

Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge grantees have officially hit the two year mark of their Challenge. This final project phase  offers a time for HCCC grantees to talk more about sustainability, reflect, and identify ways to continue peer connections. It also presents a unique opportunity to think about how to develop compelling stories around the powerful public health work the cohort has engaged in throughout the grant period. 

The aim of most public health communications work is to inform and empower. An excellent way to do that effectively is through storytelling. Telling stories is one of the most powerful ways to teach and inspire. From poetry to music, the wonderful thing about storytelling is that it isn’t exclusive to a single form. 

Just think about peer learning this year. HCCC grantees have engaged in webinar and affinity sessions with other cohort members  around important topics surrounding their work. The purpose of these sessions was to establish peer connections via shared learning. However, these sessions proved that good stories do more than create a sense of connection. By candidly sharing their project teams’ experiences and expertise, a group of 20 communities who had never met before built familiarity, trust and an openness to learn.

Similarly, developing communications materials, such as a community snapshot or story map, can be an excellent way to share the work and learning that has been done. Not only can this support sustainability efforts by attracting new funders, partners and community members, but it can strengthen existing relationships with partners and community. These communications tools elevate community voices and humanize the work.

Telling a community’s story is also a powerful skill that can be used to continue advancing systems change work. Think about communicating with policymakers about community needs and priorities as an example. By highlighting the real and lasting impact of a project’s work, the case for policy change is made so much stronger.  

So, how do you do it? Deciding to tell a specific narrative is the first step. What follows is identifying who the audience is and what the purpose of the story is. Think about who wants to hear the story. Some questions to consider: 

  • Who am I trying to reach?
  • Who will benefit and respond the strongest?
  • How can I communicate effectively with them? 

Then, think critically about what needs to be achieved. 

  • What do I want to inspire people to do? 
  • What messages am I trying to bring to light? 
  • Are there recommendations I’d like to share? 
  • Whose voices are central to this story? 
  • Do I want to educate, incite action, and/or convey our project’s values? 

The next step is deciding how to share the story. The wonderful thing about storytelling is that an entire communications team isn’t needed to do it. Identify what mediums are right for a story and feasible to develop. Next week’s blog post will go  more in depth on simple digital storytelling tools. However, whether you decide to go the digital, visual, written, or oral route, just remember that no one tells it perfectly on the first try. 

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post as we discuss digital storytelling using platforms such as Canva and ArcGIS StoryMaps.