The impact and influence of transformative storytelling approaches

These stories should not be seen as just anecdotal but as a potential source of change for both creators and viewers. If they can be used to support, amplify or better articulate a policy campaign then they can be extremely influential. There is a growing body of literature asserting the importance of using non-text based policy arguments. In a policy culture where women and girls in particular are increasingly identified as drivers of – or responsible for – broad social change rather than as individuals with their own needs and differences, and where ‘evidence’ means statistical, quantitative data, bringing real people back into the picture seems ever more important. Understanding and articulating the specific, nuanced stories of individual injustices are vital if we are to make any progress towards substantive and sustainable social change. Otherwise ordinary people are in danger of being rendered invisible by the very people who purport to act on their behalf.

How you assess the capacity of creative storytelling approaches to catalyse or create change depends to a large degree on your theory of change. Most practitioners accept that policy change happens both in formal ‘policy spaces’ and in the broader environment within which these ‘spaces’ sit. If I want to influence change around a particular issue I need to address not only these formal spaces, but also their broader environment. There are numerous cases of new legislation, for example, which cannot be adequately implemented because the social environment within which it operates is not adequately receptive to the changes. South Africa’s progressive constitution is a good example of this. It was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. This has not, however, stopped the horrific cases of ‘corrective rape’ that continue to be a threat to South African lesbians.

However, the emotive power of digital storytelling and its participatory approach for example means that it is an excellent tool to build awareness, strengthen groups with a shared agenda or facilitate mutual understanding amongst those who do not. Women’s Net and the Sonke Gender Justice Network in South Africa have used DST to address complex issues around gender and HIV/AIDS. Their work with digital stories has helped to build community solidarity, break down prejudices, facilitate public debate and inform organisational priorities, approaches and policies [Link…].