31 January 2016
The more I spend time working with data, the more I’m becoming convinced that the most important tool we have in our advocacy or social change toolbelts, is storytelling. Why? There are countless examples of when “data” has proved a certain thing without a shadow of a doubt - but people’s behaviour has not changed as a consequence. What’s often missing there, is compelling storytelling. “Data” on its own, doesn’t change a thing - not to mention its subjectivity, despite being perceived as “truth”, way too often.
As much as we’d love to think that policy making can be “evidence-based”, in reality, decision making is irrational.* Every day, I work with, and come across, organisations who are aiming at influencing and changing people’s decisions to push for positive social change.
But it seems as though among all the data hype, we’ve lost sight of what actually changes people’s minds and behaviour. I’ve definitely been guilty of this - thinking that somehow, something proven with data will be listened to more closely, simply because there is quantitative information in there. Instead, we need to focus on how that information is being conveyed - essentially, what story is being told, and how to make that as compelling as possible.
But realising storytelling is incredibly important is seemingly just the beginning. When I started my podcast last year, it was because I kept hearing convincing and compelling stories being told in audio format, and I wanted to do the same. Explaining complex technology topics, with a dash of history, analysis and critique, sounds like a dream come true to me - but, unsurprisingly, I’m a long way off from making podcasts that sound anywhere near as good as the ones that inspired me to start!
This is where Ira Glass’ great advice on the difference between having good taste, and actual skills, completely hit the spot for me:
It’s somewhat cliché, but just as he describes, I had indeed been wondering why my own attempts at podcasting were so far off. Now, I realise, I just need to embrace being bad at them for a couple of years, and not let that put me off from doing it.
With that in mind, my resolution for 2016 is just that: to learn about storytelling, and to keep doing it, no matter what it sounds/reads/looks like. (aka= to spend 2016 being pretty bad at storytelling. And proud.)
To help me with this, I’ve picked up a couple of resources that are proving to be very useful:
But - and this is a big ‘but’- all of those resources are coming from a very similar, US-based school of thought. Though I’ve yet to come across good learning materials from other regions, or even other styles, I’m trying to compensate against this bias by listening to podcasts/other media from other regions, like:
..and I’m always open for more suggestions. So, here’s to a year full of not-very-good stories - bear with me!
* A big hat tip to Giulio for planting - and cultivating - this line of thought!