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Where We’re Going: The Art of Storytelling

Where We’re Going: The Art of Storytelling

We all have a story, and telling it can be an emotional experience. We tell our stories to heal ourselves, but we also tell our stories because we want to be heard. We want people to understand our experience and what grounds us. If you are working toward a goal, you also hope that storytelling inspires someone – inspires a community member to get involved, inspires an employer to mentor a student, or inspires a student who wants to give up to just keep going.

Storytelling does more than pull at heartstrings; it also is an important means to measuring social impact. Highlighting the stories, or qualitative data, behind your quantitative data shows the breadth of your initiative’s impact and provides context for the numbers. Tell the story behind your data.

Below is the story of Selene Medina, a student from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC. She discusses her journey to college.

Selene Medina, Part 1 from MDC on Vimeo.

When we think and talk about data, we gravitate to numbers or percentages – figures on a paper or Excel spreadsheet. But remember that you, your students, and your clients are data points, too. We all have a message to share. Consider my story:

I am a former first-generation, low-income college student from a small town in South Carolina. Growing up, all I ever wanted to be was a secretary, until someone believed in me and told me I could be more. Now, I have my PhD and work with a great group of passionate people at MDC. I love the goal of Partners for Postsecondary Success: to raise the number of low-income young adults completing postsecondary credentials relevant to living-wage work. This goal is personal for me. Why? Because if my work affects only one student, that’s one more student like me who will be able to tell a story of success.

When collecting stories that will resonate within your community, here are three tips to remember:

  1. Use stories to highlight the need for your work. Stories can help funders and evaluators understand the environment in which you are working. Stories can also show how your project has made a difference in the community.
  2. Use storytelling to form a shared language. Your community may not understand quantitative data, but everyone can embrace a good story. A story that highlights the successes of your initiative can leave an impression on your community that can be easily passed on without losing the meaning.
  3. Use qualitative data to inform your course of action. While numbers point to who, when, and where, stories identify the challenges your target population faces—the what and the why. Stories gathered from that target population complete the picture that quantitative data begins.

The next time you are compiling data for a report, a news article, or a blog, don’t forget the power of a good story!

The compass points north: In a quantitative, data driven world, do not underestimate the potential of storytelling.

This is the eleventh installment in a series called “Where We’re Going: Places on the Road to the North Star,” which explores lessons from the past three years of the Partners for Postsecondary Success (PPS) initiative and looks ahead, toward the North Star goals the partner cities are aiming to achieve. PPS, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and led by MDC, is an effort by partnerships in Amarillo, TX; Brownsville, TX; Raleigh, NC; and affiliate site Charlotte, NC, to increase the number of low-income young adults getting postsecondary credentials that lead to living-wage jobs.