"Nowhere Have There Been a People Without Narrative"

by Rick Austin December 17, 2013 04:20 PM

In the latest issue of CDC’s Health Communication Science Digest, there is this little gem (subscription required) from Michelle Miller-Day and Michael Hecht, writing in the journal Health Communication.


With the typically dry journal article title, “Narrative Means to Preventative Ends: A Narrative Engagement Framework for Designing Prevention Interventions,” the authors make an argument for the use of narrative in health communication.


I’ve blogged about this topic previously, and Miller-Day and Hecht add some impressive documentation to the discussion about the importance of narrative to successful knowledge translation.


The authors argue that narrative is pervasive, quoting Barthes (1975): “Nowhere have there been a people without narrative.” Telling stories about our lives and experiences is how we organize and frame our daily reality. Given this, why would we not try to organize and frame our research results in a fashion that allows more people to understand and assimilate them?


Note that I said our research results, not our research. Of course, the empirical method is needed to derive data that at least attempts to avoid human bias and error. Once we’ve obtained usable data, though, we are obligated to put it into a form that is practical.


Miller-Day and Hecht make their argument on behalf of health prevention campaigns in the field, particularly their own work in the “keepin’ it REAL” anti-drug campaign. However, their argument applies equally to public health researchers who would like to see their work have lasting impact.

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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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Telling Tales With Infographics – The Six Key Features

by Rick Austin December 5, 2011 03:00 PM

Browsing around on Beth Kanter’s blog has led me to many interesting places. This time, she sent me to Debra Askanase’s CommunityOrganizer2.0, and a treasure trove of info on infographics.


Both Shannon and I have blogged previously on the genius of effective infographics, but Debra’s post introduced me to Dave at Communication Nation’s infographics manifesto, which describes, very simply, what makes a good infographic:






·         It’s a visual explanation that helps you more easily understand, find or do something.

·         It’s visual, and when necessary, integrates words and pictures in a fluid, dynamic way.

·         It stands alone and is completely self-explanatory.

·         It reveals information that was formerly hidden or submerged.

·         It makes possible faster, more consistent understanding.

·         It’s universally understandable.


The manifesto doesn’t solve all the problems of creating a successful infographic, but it’s a good starting point for assessing whether your graphic does the job you want it to.


Why is this important? It goes back to using storytelling effectively to translate research. A good infographic can make dense data instantly comprehensible and point up its significance. Go take a look around Debra Askanase’s CommunityOrganizer2.0. It’s loaded with interesting tips.


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Once Upon a Time ...

by Shannon Rasp July 6, 2011 02:33 PM

In knowledge translation, it’s always important to know your audience and tailor your KT to them. But what’s the one thing almost everyone has in common? When we were little kids, we all begged people – our parents, grandparents, teachers, anyone – to “tell us a story.”


That desire to hear a good story never really goes away. So doesn’t it make sense sometimes to couch KT in the terms of a good story? The sales industry has latched on to this idea, and there’s no reason why those of us in KT can’t adapt it to our needs, too.


Mike Bosworth, the author of two bestselling and near-legendary books about salesmanship, is a proponent of story selling, and I just ran across a great interview with him on bNet, the CBS interactive business network online.


For most of the 190,000 years that humans have been alive on this earth, they’ve learned their most important information, including survival skills, culture, religion, etc., through stories,” said Bosworth. “The human brain, in fact, is wired specifically so that stories, and storytelling, have a much stronger emotional impact than information that’s presented quantitatively or according to some other emotionless structure.”


Heady stuff, I know! Bosworth goes on to explain what makes a good storyteller, how storytelling works on the brain, and the importance of being a good listener. Sure, the conversation is geared toward selling products, but aren’t we all, at heart, selling something? We’re just selling knowledge instead of a physical product.


Check it out and think about ways you may be able to incorporate storytelling into your KT pursuits. And tell us how you may have already done so in the comments!

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Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl… It’s Science!

by Rick Austin March 16, 2011 04:34 PM

Apparently, Nedra Weinreich has become my unofficial – and certainly unpaid – knowledge translation researcher. She recently tweeted me an excellent blog about telling the story of science, which dovetails nicely with some previous posts I’ve made on this topic.


Paul Panek is a science writer whose most recent book is “The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality.” He’s written a series of blog posts about the narrative thread in scientific research and how research replicates the three-step narrative arc of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Go here to link to all three of his blog entries.


To use Panek’s layman’s example of the narrative arc, all successful narratives consist of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.” Researchers follow the same arc: “What does the scientist know? What does the scientist want to know? What does the scientist learn?” Rinse and repeat forever.


A scientist who attended one of Panek’s lectures e-mailed him afterwards: “Scientists live our work lives as narratives but almost never present our scientific findings in that way.” Precisely, and there’s the problem. Both scientists and laypeople are experiencing life as ongoing narratives, but the constraints of the scientific method teach scientists to present “just the facts.” Facts are not narrative. We understand our world most deeply as a narrative. How the scientist thinks about his or her research – the story – is crucial. As Panek says, if the scientist presents himself/herself as “…someone with whom we can stand, shoulder to shoulder, asking the same human question, over and over…” then we have a chance of achieving understanding.


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