Five UNDP project teams have collected thousands of stories over the past several weeks in an effort to test out whether storytelling could be a better method of, for example, detecting weak signals and building foresight into decision making.
We are definitely on to something very different with this methodology, but one question keeps creeping up:
How do you get a continuous stream of stories from people?
But in the meantime, we also learned a few things:
1. We collected thousands of stories from individuals and institutions not by paying them but by offering access to all the collected data and training people on how to analyze it.
So who has the incentive to do something like this?
Teaching assistants and graduate students: both have access to many story-tellers (students) and both need primary data (for research). Students get extra credit (and some are curious).
Service providers: employment bureaux, libraries, social welfare centres, chambers of commerce, internet cafes. Citizens come for a particular service, and these centers get a sense of who their clients are, and how they perceive the service delivery.
Citizen groups (NGOs, volunteer groups): they could use raw data for developing new projects and furthering their own mission.
2. We resorted to nudges to nudge people to get involved.
Competition: whether it is universities or social welfare centres in different cities, we turned the story collection into a competition on who captures more.
Curiosity factor: we will get edgy titles or provocative stories to elicit a response from others. Who wouldn’t want to open an e-mail message from a CEO with a subject line ‘Death by process’ (a story title to one of the stories on UNDP procedures).
Media: we haven’t tried this one yet, but the plan is to approach a few print and online media and ask them to run a weekly piece on the stories coming in, in the hopes that it nudges more stories from those who read.
3. A good prompting question or image can help ease people into a more continuous story collection. Imagine a day without any contact with local authorities? We couldn’t either, which is why this prompt is great for even daily storytelling: tell us about a recent experience with local administration that either frustrated or encouraged you.
Now, how about this question: Imagine talking to your grandkids about life in National Parks, what you would tell them? While it’s a great, subtle way of getting to real concerns and issues, it may not be the easiest prompt to come back to on daily even a weekly basis. Lastly, picture prompts seem to be a safe bet.
4. There are few things you can say upfront to ease people into sharing their experience:
Provide guidance: stories can be a few lines long; don’t worry about spelling, punctuation marks or pleasantries; it should take 10 minutes; and unlike surveys, we’d love to get stories on a weekly basis (better yet, having some people keeping daily journals); if you’re collecting a story from others, it is not OK to help them interpret their own story (don’t influence).
Say what the exercise is – we’ll use your experience to figure out what works in our projects and what doesn’t
What it is not – not a writing competition or success story publication; it’s not a place to resolve issues with any one person or institution.
So these are some of the tricks we picked up on getting thousands of people to write stories, but we’ve only scratched the surface.
We’d love to hear from you: Do you have other ideas and ways to improve our story collection?