Thursday, February 25, 2010

Andy Goodman and Stories Vs Data

By John Esterle

Continuing the story telling theme from my last post....

Free Range Thinking is a monthly newsletter written by Andy Goodman for "public interest communicators who want to reach more people with impact." In this December article he cites intriguing research that explores the persuasive power of stories vs data. In this contest, the research he cites shows a clear winner: stories move people to action (in this case donating money) in a way data doesn't. Why? Because they engage people emotionally.

No news here, but the research offers intriguing findings about what happens when you compare a stand-alone story with the same story plus statistics that put the problem in a wider context. Somewhat surprisingly, introducing statistics into the story prompts a reduction in giving. As Goodman points out though, the type of statistics employed may make a big difference.

Evidently, this article sparked so much interest Goodman decided to revisit this theme in the February issue. It's worth reading as well as he explores "sample bias" and the power of a single story to shape opinion. The whole research literature around cognitive biases is fascinating -- but let's leave that for another post.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Social Innovation and Democracy

by John Esterle

The Deliberative Democracy Consortium and The Democracy Imperative have released a thoughtful, comprehensive report on the conference they hosted in New Hampshire this past July. Having attended that gathering, I appreciate the effort to synthesize what was learned and to share some things that have happened since. It's worth checking out.

The appendix highlights two overarching themes/questions that animated the conference:

1) How do we move from diffuse democratic experiments to more just, comprehensive systems?

2) How do we educate and prepare citizens to be more effective participants in a just and deliberative democracy?

One innovative approach to answering those questions is found in a new article by Luz Santana and Dan Rothstein, co-directors of The Right Question Project (a TWI grantee), that appears in the latest issue of The Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal.

The article highlights RQP's microdemocracy concept, a framework I think holds much promise for addressing how we weave skills and processes essential to democratic practice -- listening, inquiry, thoughtful decision-making, self-advocacy -- into the fabric of our individual and community lives. I really like how the article uses a concrete, personal story to illustrate the power of an educational, skill-building approach that "meets people where they are."

In doing so, it brings to mind something I continue to think about a lot: the importance of incorporating storytelling into civic engagement efforts right from the start if we want to leverage those efforts to affect a broader public discussion. Anyway, I'd be interested to hear from folks on that theme as it's one I see us continuing to explore here at TWI.