27 October 2011

Storytelling Will Change Humanitarian Communications

[B]alances need to be struck. ‘Poverty porn’ is a no-go and portraying aid workers as martyrs is tacky as well, particularly in this age of recipient-led development. However, sharing more of the real stories of aid delivery with the public — a process with as much blood, sweat, tears and joy as any sweeping Hollywood epic, animated or not — could be a beneficial communications approach.
That is Ashlee Betteridge concluding in a post on communications for the Development Policy Centre Blog. She is absolutely right and should change 'could be beneficial' to 'will be beneficial.' Storytelling, warts and all, will change the way humanitarian communications.

The birth of the DAWNS Digest has been a way to begin to find an actionable way of telling more stories from around the world. As a news source, it shares the reports that are not making the front page, but are important. By making the platform as simple as possible, the hope is that people who are already engaged can connect on a broader scale and people who have a nascent understanding of the humanitarian endeavor can begin to learn.

An important part to this will be the storytelling. There are many talented people and storytellers out there but they are not being adequately accessed. The problem is a matter of incentives. Media sources justifiably want to continue providing news, so they must be responsive to what will engage their readers. For humanitarian organizations, talking about the complexity of aid and development is not going to win a lot of supporters. To engage an audience they must find innovative ways to reach people, but failure to do so could mean that the organization will lose its financial support and cease to exist.

What the DAWNS Digest tires to do is untie these connections. The digest itself is a stand-alone service that will serve many people. At a very low price, the aim is to achieve ubiquity with the service. What this will allow us to do is begin to use revenues to fund storytelling. We want to hear from citizen journalists in the Horn of Africa who can keep telling stories from the region about people who are affected by the drought.

The beauty of this is that these stories do not have to fill a financial need. They need to be told, so the goal is to find a way to independently support them. There are some organizations that do support international journalism (the Pulitzer Center is an excellent example), but this is not just about traditional journalism and is why I am using the word 'storytelling.' We will seek out ways to support storytellers and search for ways to share their stories. Doing so will change communications and hopefully humanitarian work for the better.

I will continue to talk about why this is important because I believe that education and information can be accessed through stories. This will help to inform how interventions are designed and give the greater public a broader understanding of the world in which they live.

Of course I think you should subscribe, but right now I care about your thoughts. Offer your ideas and let's try to make this as effective as possible.