Storytelling for Social Change: A Message Brief

Stories can be powerful in shaping how audiences think about social issues, and the role of public policy in affecting them. Stories can make complex and abstract problems visible in our mind’s eye. They help audiences imagine how we “got here” on an issue, and to envision the range of solutions we have before us as individuals, as communities, and as a society. Importantly, stories also can call us all to action. But, like all forms of communication, stories and other tools must be considered relative to the broader policy context, public information environment, communication goals, and messaging strategy.

In this message brief, Drs. Liana Winett and Jeff Niederdeppe propose a set of considerations for a particular type of story, policy narratives, of the type often developed to support advocacy efforts. They also share what they found in two related studies exploring the effectiveness of narratives in support of early childcare policy. They engaged two audiences key to the policy dynamic: members of the general public and state legislators. The findings reveal both strengths and cautions in this common approach. And, as they describe, one communication tool does not always “fit all.”

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