I’m writing this on the train back to London, having spent the day at DS8: Digital Storytelling Festival 2013 in Cardiff, Wales.
Before I go any further, I want to have a stab at defining what that term means:
- Digital covers pretty much every aspect of what you can do on your computer/tablet/smartphone – audio such as podcasts, video, animation such as the clock is ticking and any combination of those.
- Storytelling ranges from one- or two-minute shorts such as the BBC’s Video Nation series to 24-hour documentaries such as the Global Lives project.
A lot of activity, though, seems to involve combining audio recording with stills photography – often using pan and zoom rather than static imagery. It’s a format that is well within the grasp of anyone with an iPad or an iPhone – and it’s those rather than Android or other devices that everyone seemed to be talking about.
The various plenary and breakout sessions covered a lot of ground. I’m going to touch on four themes that struck me.
Not so long ago, the power lay unequivocally in the hands of the experts, from documentary producers to physicians. That’s no longer the case. The development of Web 2.0, tablets and smartphones has given millions of individuals a voice and is enabling a plurality of views to challenge the official line.
In the documentary sphere, the really interesting action is around ‘participant observers’ – evidenced most dramatically at the conference by Yasmin Elayat’s presentation of 18daysinegypt.com.
For patients, the physician is becoming just one source of information rather than the source of information. Increasingly, the first port of call is Google and ‘people with the same condition as me’. Indeed I may feel that those people are more credible than my physician because they talk my language and tell it like it is.
Leaders and managers in organizations face similar challenges.
‘what it’s like’ information
So here’s a thought for leaders and managers wanting to effect change in their organizations. Rose Thompson, a social scientist at the National Centre for Mental Health, Cardiff University pointed out that for many patients ‘what it’s like’ information is just as valuable as information about causes and treatments. People want to know that they’re not alone – that others are going through similar things to them. They’re looking for emotional support. That’s why social networks and support groups have become so popular.
Leaders and managers in organizations, like physicians, focus most if not all of their communication effort around causes (burning platforms) and treatments (strategies). By comparison, they pay very little attention to ‘what it’s like’ information and, I suspect, in many cases would prefer to ignore it altogether.
With the redistribution of power, they are going to have to think again.
process and product
This is a theme that crops up in so much of the work we do here at Sparknow. In the case of DS8, where does the value of digital storytelling lie?
- In the stories produced – stories that might inform, educate or entertain their listeners or viewers.
- In the process – talking about your experience to someone who is giving you their full attention can in itself change the way you feel about yourself and the situation you’re in and prompt you to act differently.
The same applies to the role of image capture and imagery:
- You can see the imagery used in a digital story as a vital aspect of the product (which often it is).
- Imagery (and this applies equally to objects and sounds) can also be a catalyst that prompts people to recall the experiences that lie at the heart of their stories.
Product and process are both important and it’s always a good idea to pay attention to both.
more power play
While digital storytelling enables many people’s voices to be heard, there are some tricky editorial and ethical issues to be navigated. In fact one of the breakout sessions to which I didn’t go was all about this. But the topic kept on cropping up in one way or another.
In the case of Video Nation, while the participants had the cameras, the editing had to be done back at the BBC (this was in the pre-digital days). The solution was to post a video to the participants and give them right of veto.
- In the case of a project such as Beyond the Map, Alex Henry, the facilitator/producer makes the editing and visualization of the stories a collaborative process, enabling her storytellers to take the decisions. There’s a tradeoff here as a professional editor might well come up with a more dramatic/compelling/effective solution – but perhaps that’s not the priority. It goes back to product vs process.
- In the case of stories on a website such as 18daysinegypt.com, who owns the material and what happens if they want to remove it? In practice, the material on 18daysinegypt.com is hosted on the servers of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others so the originator’s issue is likely to lie elsewhere – but the question remains.
And with the train now pulling into Paddington, I’m going to bring this posting to a close.