I have spent more than 20 years as a communicator working in the social sector to effect progressive change. But, as communicators, it is time to stop the information flow and start the flow of meaning. We have become experts at reporting on the facts of a problem or an issue. We master the art of pushing out the facts for mass consumption.
Recently, I met with the leader of an environmental organization; she was clearly a social innovator, actively engaged in asking questions and exploring new ways at getting citizens engaged in caring about a wide range of environmental issues. I commented during our conversation that, “climate change is not the biggest problem that humanity has faced. It is one of the problems that we have the most information about though. I mean, we headed out into the sea hoping that the earth was not flat but round; we went to the moon with very little information about its surface, and we even created the United Nations with blind faith that international diplomacy could last as an effective check against war mongering. We have the capacity to address climate change and that is what we need to focus on.”
We have become really good at measuring our problems, and certainly this plays a role in creating knowledge, shaping opinion, and shifting perspectives. Annette Simmons (whom I quote often, I must admit), in her wonderful book The Story Factor, puts it this way:
“A good story helps you influence the interpretation people give to facts. Facts aren’t influential until they mean something to someone. A story delivers a context so that your facts slide into new slots in your listeners’ brains. If you don’t give them a new story, they will simply slide new facts into old slots.”
Our challenge as communicators is to provide new stories so that facts don’t slide into the same old slots or context. I am ready to stand up and say, “stop with the information!” If all you are doing is giving me the facts not much is going to change. In fact, what we have learned after years of advocacy work is that the facts alone don’t get the job done; they don’t create the conditions whereby change can take root.
My point, here, is that we can find that tipping point for substantial social change by more consciously shifting the context in which people take in the facts. There is a tremendous opportunity for us to reframe issues by connecting people to the meaning of these issues and their associated facts.
Andy Goodman, in his Storytelling as Best Practice, put this best when he observed: “Even if you have reams of evidence on your side, remember: numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you want to connect with your audience, tell them a story.”
So when crafting your next newsletter story, annual report, press release, or e-bulletin, keep in mind a few key critical points if you are seeking to make change and engage people in the process of that change:
- What is the story that really matters - not the facts, but the story of the facts?
- What is the context I am trying to create so that my audience can receive this information?
- Is this just about the problem or have I created an entry point that my audience can easily integrate into their life to begin to effect change?
- Are we willing to ask the hard questions?
- Do we believe that change is possible?
- Can we be the change we want?
When we are working for change, if we can’t paint a story that sets the context for people to see and feel the real possibility of that change...hit the delete button and start again.
Pattie LaCroix has provided strategic leadership in crafting integrated communications and fundraising strategies to nonprofits for more than a decade. As CEO of Catapult Media she is passionate about the power of storytelling in engaging your audience and building support for your work. You can reach Pattie at www.catapultmedia.ca.