The art of storytelling for influencing policy

Early Career Professional Workshop Series

“numbers numb, stories store”

Doe Mayer

On the 18th November, three researchers from Imagination (Emmanuel Tsekleves, Mariana Fonseca Braga and Louise Mullagh) co-facilitated an Early Career Research Workshop on The art of storytelling for influencing policy. The workshop is part of a collaboration between the United Nations University – International Institute for Global Health in (UNU-IIGH) and Lancaster University – Imagination Lancaster and addressed storytelling for health research targeting communication for influencing policymakers.

45 participants from around the world took part in the workshop to both hear from experienced storytellers and to develop their own stories, based on research to policymakers. Stories are compelling ways to communicate and engage with policymakers and should represent the voices of people, supporting the communication of issues that matter to them beyond pure data visualisation. The idea is that they give life to the research data and are complementary to those, facilitating understanding and bringing people’s experiences and challenges to policy/public discussions and decisions.

Sometimes stories tell a personal experience of a community member and other times a character, or persona, is created to represent a group of people or a specific community. The workshop enabled participants to have an overview of the storytelling development process and to create stories from four key ingredients: character, goal, challenge, and solution based on proposed real scenarios and specific characters.

The very special guest speakers: Premesh Chandran (co-founder and CEO of and Doe Mayer (Professor, Mary Pickford Chair, USC School of Cinematic Arts) spoke to participants about the power of storytelling and its potential to transform research into engaging material that can inform policies.  Premesh emphasised the importance of planning the research data communication and visualisation to the audiences of interest from the outset of a project. Doe highlighted the importance of stories to bring about change, further arguing the power of stories that is recognised in neurosciences. She explained the reasons stories are meaningful ways to communicate and promote change: “stories are emotionally compelling… they make us feel, they touch our heart… are memorable… stay with us… inspire us in new ways to think differently and do different things… they often give us new ideas about something that we hadn’t thought about that way before” Doe Mayer.

The workshops were an excellent opportunity for Emmanuel, Mariana and Louise to engage with other researchers in engaging with policies in the realm of global health. Their research within Imagination explores different aspects of policy and how design can be used as a tool through which to engage with researchers, communities and policymakers.

Tap the link to watch Doe’s video on the importance of stories

Photo by Yaopey Yong on Unsplash