Storytelling: Not Just for Social Marketers Anymore

by Rick Austin August 14, 2012 01:49 PM

I’ve noticed an increased emphasis over the last two years at the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media on the importance of storytelling for creating an emotional response that stimulates change.

This year, workshop titles included “Story-telling, Innovative Technology, Comic Books, and HIV/STI Prevention,” “Going Viral – CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse,” “Connecting with Underserved Audiences Through Digital Storytelling,” and “The Power of Storytelling to Reach and Facilitate Change in Communities and Diverse Audiences.”

I’ve had an ongoing conversation with social marketer Nedra Weinreich about the impact of storytelling, and while at the CDC conference I asked her to speak for a minute about its importance for public health researchers.


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A Busy Week at the NCHCMM

by Rick Austin August 9, 2012 10:35 AM

As usual, the CDC packed the schedule at their annual social marketing conference in Atlanta, and they’ve been busy behind the scenes as well.


Moderating a panel presentation on Wednesday, CDC Associate Director Galen Cole introduced Punam Keller, who described CDC’s new suite of health communication tools, HealthCommWorks.


The suite comes in three parts: MessageWorks, SocialWorks, and ProofWorks. The only tool that’s completely ready for prime time right now is MessageWorks.


Both beginning and experienced health communicators can use MessageWorks to craft new health promotion messages or analyze the effectiveness of existing messages.


SocialWorks,  coming online later this year, will apply a similar routine to crafting and analyzing the effectiveness of the social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) component of your health promotion campaign.


ProofWorks, which will be launched in 2013, will assist health communicators in developing and implementing an evaluation plan for their campaign.


I spoke briefly with Dr. Keller about the potential value of MessageWorks to researchers, and she was emphatic about the growing need for researchers to be conversant with how their results are crafted into health communications.


Go take a look at the HealthCommWorks suite, and tell me what you think of it.

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Bayh Dole: A Different Time, a Different Environment for Knowledge Translation

by Rick Austin August 25, 2011 12:32 PM

David Phipps, our Canadian wrassler at the recently completed NCHCMM in Atlanta, made brief mention at the end of our panel discussion of his idea for a re-imagined Bayh-Dole Act for social sciences knowledge translation. Before the conference, he blogged about it here.


In the near future, we’ll be getting David and Pimjai Sudsawad, our other panelist, back together for a podcast on this topic. In the meantime, David has blogged further about his idea here, and I wanted to comment on a specific point.


David mentioned that his closing point on the panel presentation was, “Develop an engaged community sector and elect a government that will listen.” Here’s the thing: In 1980, when the original Bayh-Dole Act was ratified, both houses of Congress and the White House were held by Democrats. Further, the atmosphere in Congress was substantially different, and bipartisanship on contentious issues was less of a foreign concept.


Now, to be clear, as some liberal bloggers have pointed out, when it comes to preserving and extending the status quo, today’s Washington political class is firmly, monolithically bipartisan. But on contentious social issues, it suits the theatrical requirements of Washington to divide along partisan lines. And believe me, federal government involvement in social sciences and health research at the university and foundation level represents a contentious issue, ripe for theatrical posturing. Behind the scenes, however, the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Science Foundation, and many more government agencies go right on conducting their research business, albeit without really talking to each other.


The question I pose is, absent any support from the political class, what is the mechanism for stimulating a conversation amongst these busy agency players about the importance of knowledge translation to furthering research? What do you think?


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Knowledge Translation: Planning or Serendipity?

by Rick Austin August 18, 2011 01:10 PM

Planning is a good thing, but sometimes, random chance is even better. At last Wednesday’s first poster session at the NCHCMM, I walked in the door and walked right up to Don McCormick, the public information officer for the Iowa Department of Public Health 

He was pitching like a street preacher for an extremely simple program with remarkable results. To help an Iowa state commission focus on the economic and health benefits of a higher tobacco tax, he built a story bank of 300 former smokers’ personal stories for commissioners to use when talking to legislators – people from the legislators’ own constituencies. The ingeniously simple part was creating a template to make it possible for anyone to tell their story. Housewives, pharmacists, farmers, business owners… nobody had to feel intimidated by the prospect of “telling their story.”


McCormick’s template asked for the typical elements of any good story: setting, conflict, action, outcome, and relevance. The resulting real-life stories were developed by Don’s office and sorted by voting district, type of conflict, outcome, etc. During the state legislative session, a legislator was likely to hear a true story about one of his or her own constituents from the commissioner advocating for higher tobacco taxes. Once their interest was piqued, the legislators would then be willing to listen to the economics of the tobacco tax proposal.


This first phase of the story bank resides in paper files. Don says that when they get the funding, they will load the stories into an online database.


At the sophisticated end of the storytelling spectrum is transmedia; at the simple – and just as effective –  end is Don McCormick’s story bank. Is there a similar tool we could give to researchers? Sometimes effective knowledge translation is just this simple.

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Nobody Can Predict the Future

by Rick Austin August 12, 2011 12:27 PM

(Our apologies to our readers on Internet Explorer for the technical issues on Wednesday.)


Walker Smith, chairman of The Futures Company, spoke Tuesday morning during the opening plenary session of the 2011 NCHCMM in Atlanta.


He demonstrated, inadvertently, the seductive appeal of attempting to predict the future, and the appeal, for us, of listening to prognosticators like him. After pointing out numerous failed attempts to predict “the new normal” coming out of an economic crisis, he then made his own bold predictions around our desire to manage risk in this shaky economy. His survey results back him up currently, but can we really know if the current desire for circles of intimacy, curated content, and contentment represent the new normal?


It seems to me that the best we can do is listen as carefully as Walker and The Futures Company are doing, and try to stay abreast of the wave. Things are changing too rapidly for any prediction, even Walker’s, to be entirely accurate.

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