July 9, 2014 | Category: Story Guide | Author:

Stories big and small — grantmaker Brett Davidson

Today on the blog, a guest post from Brett Davidson, director of the Health Media Initiative of the Open Society Foundations, and previously a radio journalist and producer in South Africa, and a media consultant for NGOs. Here, Brett talks about how to balance short-term and long-term strategy in social-change storytelling. He is responding to a question put to him by Narrative Arts on behalf of another grantmaker, about how to celebrate small victories, while connecting each of those efforts to larger social-change goals.

It can be helpful to think of the large, long-term goal as your overarching narrative, and then the shorter battles and victories as stories within that larger narrative. Then look at ways of conveying both. Such stories can be told in a number of ways. For example, the Human Rights Campaign does a great job of highlighting small or interim victories and featuring individual stories at the heart of these battles, while maintaining a clear long-term vision. On their website, for example, you will see stories of victories (and some setbacks) on marriage equality in individual states and they use devices such as maps to keep a focus on the bigger picture. They also feature individuals who are making a difference in a range of areas, such as NBA player Jason Collins. In addition to the website, they regularly email members with updates on victories, stories of champions, and appeals to keep on supporting them because the fight is not yet over.

The folks at the Center for Artistic Activism also have an interesting approach. They argue that too many activists get bogged down in the intricacies of their particular immediate struggle, and that by doing this they lose the opportunity to inspire others to join and support them—and that the way to inspire others to join is by appealing to the bigger picture, or the ideals that once inspired them. Advertisements for Coca-Cola do not claim Coke quenches thirst, bur rather that Coke makes the world a happier place; Coke is creating a “spectacle,” albeit an unethical one, because of its false claim that Coke will make us happier. Activists can draw selectively from this playbook by using contemporary popular culture and symbols to create “ethical spectacles” that engage the imagination.