Storytelling for Systems Change
Insights from the field
How can stories help us change systems?
Capturing the impact of community-led work
The Centre for Public Impact, Dusseldorp Forum, and Hands Up Mallee have been exploring how stories can be used to more effectively communicate the impact of community-led systems change work.
Community-led place based initiatives are modelling new ways of working - shifting away from top down, program-focussed approaches towards an approach grounded in systems thinking and community-led innovations.
However, while these stories of change are sitting in communities, they’re often not being told or celebrated. We wanted to understand why this is, and what might be done to better enable these stories to be shared and heard.
The story of storytelling
We talked to a range of people to uncover the story of storytelling - including collective impact backbone team members, community members, storytelling experts, and those working in and around community-led systems change initiatives across Australia.
We explored the roles stories play in different communities; what good storytelling looks like; what barriers to storytelling might be; and what role stories can play in supporting systems change.
We have learned through this project that stories can be used both to change the system and to evaluate, understand and showcase the change that is occurring in communities. We have heard that different stories require different approaches – stories that are seeking to enable change look different to those that are seeking to celebrate change.
Our key findings included:
Great stories privilege the voice of the story-holder
These stories are resonant, clear and relatable; and are guided and bound by agreed protocols.
To have an impact, stories need to be heard
For stories to effect change, the right people need to not only listen to the stories, but also hear them.
Fiona Merlin from the Hands Up Mallee Backbone summed this up with a powerful question – “how can we tell stories in ways which encourage the listener to not just hear, but actually connect to a different view?”
Technical, structural and institutional barriers can get in the way of good storytelling
Technical barriers – such as lack of skills, resources and capability – are easier to address than the structural and institutional barriers, such as power imbalances and bias.
Different stories require different approaches
Stories that are seeking to enable change look different to those that are seeking to celebrate change.
You can’t unlearn someone else’s perspective once you’ve experienced it through a story.
People need to be able to tell their story to change their story.
If we've been telling stories based on colonial lenses, deficit mindsets, how can we expect to create new systems?
Join the conversation
Download our report
Find out what we’ve learned about storytelling for systems change - insights, ideas and opportunities from collective impact backbone teams, community members pursuing a community-led approach to change, storytelling experts, and those working in and around community-led systems change initiatives across Australia.
Where we want to go next
As we close this chapter of this story, we are already beginning to think about what the next might look like.
If you’re interested in exploring how storytelling can be used to both enable and celebrate community-led systems change work, and would like to become a co-author in the next stage of our story, we’d love to hear from you. Complete the form below to get in touch.