We use storytelling techniques to help organisations understand their complex online problems and develop viable solutions. Storytelling helps clients and staff relate their own experience without needing to summarise or analyse it, in a way that is often heartfelt and engaging.
Communicating individual experiences
In 2016, we were working on an intranet project for the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR). Our consultation in Melbourne and regional Victoria was kicked off by getting staff to tell stories the last time they had to use the existing intranet.
These stories informed us about the relationship each participant had with the intranet, the emotions they experienced, as well as providing direct evidence about particular issues or requirements. Stories put the organisation’s intranet in the context of the employee’s broader work and life.
This approach is an effective way to educate a project team about the types of issues faced by staff, and what staff want to achieve. The stories help paint a compelling picture, and are so much more engaging than just a list of new functions or fixes.
Big ideas, simple stories
On the same project, we had to work through a series of big ideas at the heart of the intranet transformation. We visualised each idea in a diagram with supporting text. It emerged that each of these big ideas could be seen a story in itself, linked back to specific stories which we had gathered during the workshops.
This is the essence of how we use storytelling – we craft simple stories by pulling out the salient points from complex ideas. The stories provide project leaders with a ‘vantage point’ from which they can consider the detailed analysis and proposals in our reports.
Stories within stories
As we are building our concept to present back to the client, we also employ story-telling techniques amongst ourselves. These mini stories (or ‘log lines’, to borrow a film-making term) emerge from our research and analysis to become conceptual building blocks. Mini stories are an accessible ‘preliminary conclusion’, derived from testing our hypotheses on each other, against the evidence, and with the client. It’s an iterative process that doesn’t conclude until it sounds right and matches our collective experience.
Finally, these mini stories feed into an overarching narrative about what the project will achieve and why it is important.
The mini story is paramount when pitching a new project or idea. If you can’t explain it simply, in a compelling fashion, that engages the user, then your idea or project sucks. You haven’t yet thought things through enough.
How do you tell a good story?
It’s unlikely Shakespeare got Hamlet right the first time he wrote it down. We may not be aiming for Shakespearian prose, but our stories almost never sound right the first time. Failure is the pre-requisite to improvement, and when you tell a story in front of someone that matters you can gauge what the false notes are.
We practice and refine our stories. Sometimes we need to seek more evidence or review the research we already have. It takes time, but it’s time well spent.