Thursday, September 25, 2014

Trust As A Way Forward

by Pia Infante

The Context

Recently, we hosted a salon on The Role of Trust in Our Work – attended by a mixed group of funder friends, grantees, capacity builders, and consultants.  The prompt sparked our thinking about how to design relationships, collaboration and convening that intentionally scaffold trust building.  We all agreed that powerful social good impact cannot happen without trust, and often we get to new solutions and effective collaboration towards community and policy change at “the speed of trust.”

The conversation brought forth a number of different forms and paces of trust that I found compelling.  Here is a brief (incomplete) list for types of trust building that could be of use in our collective practice:

Types of Trust Building
(A Small Compendium)

Cumulative Trust: At TWI, we’ve often used the phrase “time over time” to acknowledge that building trust in relationships (at the individual or group level) is accrued by demonstrations of reliability (and vulnerability/intimacy) over time.  This trust is evidence and relationship- based – a person or group consistently demonstrates that they will do what they said they would do and that they can be counted on — and do so in a way that encourages relationship and interdependence. 

Accelerated Trust:  Others spoke to human centered process design to accelerate trust building, particularly when there is pressing common purpose.  Some of these include peer-to-peer sharing about the value of the group, creating opportunities for vulnerability and mutual support, and encouraging people to show up fully in their purpose, strength, and vulnerability.  Actually, when these types of accelerated processes are reinforced over time, the power of relationship builds – and so cumulative trust grows even stronger.

Assumed Trust:  We talked about this type of trust as the human yelp function – that often we immediately trust those whom our trusted partners and advisors trust.  This is not a new concept – businesses are built on referral and many tech platforms integrate ways to see who and what our friends trust to leverage possibilities for opportunity and connection in our wider social networks.  It is powerful when investors take this trust stance, and shoulder the work of vetting for fit (with a leader or group) themselves.

Implicit (“Burst-y”) Trust:  We talked, too, about the physiology of trust – many of us assess within seconds whether or not a new person or organization is trustworthy.  This type of immediate, or “burst-y” trust, we realized, can also be attributed to our inherently tribal nature.  We trust those who look and smell like us.  We trust those who exhibit signs that they share our frameworks and worldview.  This immediate instinctual affinity creates little "bursts" of excitement, empathy, love-at-first-sightedness that is literally heart warming! We realized that this trust can build in implicit bias, so needs to be questioned, but is a very human way to behave. We might also use the label “Intuitive Trust” for this one, to name the role that intuition can play in guiding our investments of time, talent, and resource. 

Cross Institutional Trust:  One reflection on our conversation was that we were often discussing trust between individuals, when there is a great need to build trust across institutions.  For instance, in philanthropy, greater trust between institutions could lead to both more streamlined grant-making and greater social, political and economic impact.  Trust between institutions also enables the organizations to maintain their relationship when key individuals or leaders leave the organization, which is a promising way to ensure that institutional wisdom and influence does not have to be lost when key staff transition out.

Trust As A Way Forward 

“Humans are basically trustworthy.”  When this sentiment was expressed, the group sighed a collective sigh.  It seemed so incredibly true.  Except when it doesn’t – like when public servants demonstrate they cannot be trusted or accountable to the public good.  I won’t dive into grappling the simplicity vs. complexity of this premise, but invite you respond to this or anything else in this post that strikes you.

What does feel true to me in this moment is this - explicitly naming that trust plays a vital role in advancing equity in our community, advocacy, and philanthropic initiatives is rare and important. 

Our hope is that TWI can be louder and braver in naming the role that trust and relationships of equity play in moving social, political, and economic dials towards a brighter, better world for all (not just some) of us.

Friday, September 12, 2014

In Between: 3 Tips to Transition from One Leadership Role to the Next

By Pia Infante 

At the end of May, I took time off between my previous job at Rockwood directing transformational capacity building work and a new role as Co-Executive Director of The Whitman Institute (TWI).  I was leaving a beloved and highly time intensive non-profit role for a new one that held the exciting promise of intentional co-leadership and experimentation in philanthropy.

A of couple of months post transition, I reflect back on the “in between” period with some levity, and clarity.  

Well before I started at TWI, I recall telling myself, and others: “I haven’t started yet, let me get back to you after I’ve started!” I was demonstrating a phenomenon I've witnessed often - shortchanging a complete ending by jumping into the new.  For me, this was probably to avoid "feeling" the end of a period so vital, and transitioning so many cherished relationships and roles.

There are a handful of “do-overs” that I’d prioritize if I could beam myself back in time a few months:

                     Gala for One

During the last few weeks at Rockwood, it was not always easy to take in the verbal and written expressions of gratitude, impact, and connection that were coming my way.  I was overwhelmed not only by the love but also by my own immense gratitude for the work itself.  BCORR (a Rockwood program for Building Capacity for Organizational Resilience and Renewal) stands out as a true love of my life.  I was honored to have supported nationally recognized social movement leaders and organizations – to be a part of the interlocking forces moving our nation towards equity and justice. 

One clear do over is that I would throw myself a Gala for One – just me actually sitting with the feelings and the feedback, with my own sense of what I learned and accomplished in those three and half years, and looking at the path my work ultimately took.  I would dress up, light up a room, and slowly take in (over the course of an evening and a bottle of wine) what it all meant to me – and who I had become because of what I had shared with so many.

Log Out Before Logging Back In

I thought five weeks between positions was enough time off the grid, even spacious.  I was wrong.  It took me a week or two to truly clock out of Rockwood.  It wasn’t that I had work to complete that stretched over into my break, but being in the rhythm and flow and culture of an organizational system for three and half years is a physiological and emotional vortex.  Even though my body was no longer on 17th Street, a part of my consciousness still was.

Another do over is that I would take at least eight weeks off, and create enough space to allow my body to acclimate to a pace where my days would unfold rather than be dictated by an Outlook calendar. 

              The Ocean of Notions Does Not Require an iPhone

I steal that phrase from Salmon Rushdie’s book Haroun and the Sea of Stories, one of my all-time favorite books – Haroun was my Harry Potter before Harry Potter.  In it, there is an Ocean of Notions (also called the Sea of Stories) that feeds the collective human imagination.  My imagination was already ready to work, but it also needed some renewal and inspiration.  Not only did I read fiction during my time off, I also spent time on the seashore.  It’s a simple act, but one that I repeated a dozen times.  I walked and waded and swam in the water, mindless and wandering.  It was the one true treat of my break that my senses could feast on the ocean and be renewed by the vastness of the natural world around me. 

I even enjoyed a few days without technology.  If I could do it over again, I would commit to two full weeks away from technology.  No iPhone, iPad, or laptop.  No brainer, I know now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Are Meaningful Conversations Considered Social Impact?: A Lesson from Grace Lee Boggs and American Revolutionary

By Sahar Driver, Program Director, Active Voice

Watch American Revolutionary - Trailer on PBS. See more from POV

This is a re-post from PBS's POV Blog.  

Sahar Driver, Active Voice Program Director, shares takeaways from Active Voice‘s engagement strategy and partnership with The World Cafe around POV’s “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs“. 

“Why are we afraid to talk to one another?”

This question set the tone for a recent dialogue at the Malcom X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center in NYC, which followed a screening of Grace Lee’s film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. According to Active Voice program coordinator Micael Bogar who helped organize the event, “At that moment you could almost feel something in the room tighten, then lift, as attendees began to talk about the challenges that arise when conversation turns to tough issues like race, inequality, and revolution. People often worry about disagreement or possibly offending someone. But just getting that question out in the open really helped to create a safe space to go deeper.“ As Bogar puts it, “Grace’s life is an example that really sets the tone for that.”

The NYC event was part of a trio of pilots led by Active Voice and inspired by the World Café dialogue model. The idea came about when Grace Lee and her producing partner Caroline Libresco came to us wondering how we could effectively leverage the film’s power for impact. Lee and Libresco knew that the impact potential of the film did not lie in the number of people it could draw to a theatre. Rather, true to the philosophy of Grace Lee Boggs, they were intrigued by the nature of conversations that took place after screenings of the film. As we brainstormed about how to harness that energy in a meaningful way, we developed our goal for the film’s campaign: Use the film’s convening power to bring together diverse activists and prompt cross-issue organizing around specific, localized social change goals.

To test this idea, we conducted a series of pilot screenings—in New York, Chicago, and Oakland—in partnership with local social justice organizations. I had the opportunity to attend our first event in Oakland, and admittedly, I wasn’t sure whether we would be able to spark something meaningful beyond a few good conversations. But when the lights went up after that screening, everyone in the room leaned in as we started our World Café-inspired dialogues.  After three rounds of dialogue with dozens of people, we all walked away with a better sense of our collective priorities—building community, furthering dialogue, advancing economic justice—and, moreover, a renewed sense of collective willingness to change things together.

Of course, this event was just the beginning of something bigger. Our evaluation revealed that using the film to attract diverse activists and then undergoing carefully structured post-screening dialogue was indeed a powerful vehicle for inviting connection across issues, inspiring and rejuvenating attendees in their activism, and generating creative ideas. But how can you measure the value or impact of having your ideas challenged in a way that honors and respects where you’re coming from? How do you calculate the impact that has on your life and what you carry forth into the next conversations and interactions you have? If Grace Lee Boggs’ commitment to revolution over the past 70 years teaches us anything, it is that the deepest transformations—of self and of society—take time.
Check out Active Voice’s toolkit for a successful World Café-inspired dialogue around American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, available here. If you’d like to organize a free screening in your community, register in the POV Community Network

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Creating An Impact Community

Lindsay Green-Barber is the Media Impact Analyst at The Center for Investigative Reporting. We're pleased to share her thoughtful reflection on the issue of assessing impact within the fields of media and journalism. The point she raises at the end of her piece around the "immeasurable" value of connecting to share personal stories and lessons learned in service of creating a "true community of practice" really resonates with us here at TWI. It also touches on the ongoing question many of us grapple with in this work around how to capture the impact of the seemingly immeasurable. 

Creating An Impact Community 
By Lindsay Green-Barber
Since I began my position as media impact analyst at The Center for Investigative Reporting last July, I've connected with many people working to measure, analyze and maximize the impact of media. Through phone calls, Skype meetings, Google Hangouts and emails, my contacts have generously shared their strategies, best practices and frustrations. While some were already connected through professional and social networks, when I began there wasn't a coherent community of practice: journalists were in one silo, documentary filmmakers in another, foundations occupying a third, academics in the ivory tower and so on.
It was clear that my peers were facing many of the same challenges around how to define, track and measure impact. There was always a lot of "Do you know Jessica in New York?" or "Have you spoken with Sarah in D.C.?" when it came to suggesting people to talk to about measuring impact. Also, I found I was repeating myself a lot in explaining my approach to impact analysis.
To draw together these disparate conversations in one place and set a shared agenda with others committed to examining questions about media impact, CIR created and hosted its first Dissection: Impact event in Oakland, Calif., in October. Media makers, academics and foundation representatives attended the event to "dissect" both the concept of impact and tools for measuring it. The first Dissection was experimental, but the spontaneous combustion of ideas assured us we had touched on something valuable. CIR hosted Dissection B: Impact in January at Mercer University's Center for Collaborative Journalism in Macon, Ga.
A few weeks ago, CIR hosted two more Dissection: Impact events: one in New York City and the other inWashington, D.C. Participants from the first two Dissections rejoined us, along with a new cohort of individuals and organizations – especially from public media – who infused the events with new ideas and concerns. During the course of these thought-provoking gatherings there were five core strands of conversation.
1. Impact feeds sustainability
CIR's goal is to produce stories that protect the most vulnerable individuals and communities and hold powerful institutions accountable. Our funders invest in investigative reporting as a powerful and necessary force in our democracy, while at the same time expecting us to demonstrate measurable success in achieving our mission. Thus, impact measurement and analysis is increasingly essential to organizational sustainability.
"When I ran a newspaper, profit was driven by ad revenue," says CIR Executive Director Robert J. Rosenthal. "For CIR, and other journalism organizations, impact helps forge the revenue that sustains us." Impact translates into philanthropic revenue, membership, partnerships and an understanding by the public that investigative journalism is relevant to them and can touch their lives.
During CIR's Dissection in Washington, we learned from NPR that it defines impact as behavior or attitudinal change, the process by which NPR "creates a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.” When NPR successfully achieves this type of impact, its listeners will likely feel an emotionally significant bond with stations and become members, share material online or talk about programming with others who will then be exposed to NPR and/or local stations. Thus, in the case of NPR, impact (attitudinal change) is linked to sustainability.
The specific process linking impact to sustainability will be different for each organization. There was a consensus among Dissection participants that by dissecting the process of anticipating and tracking impact, we can discover new ways to translate the good we do into outcomes that contribute to our sustainability.
2. Shared language
During all of CIR's Dissections, words like taxonomy and typology came up time and again in discussions. Wonky words aside, everyone recognized the need for a shared language around impact that is both expansive and specific.
Some universally agreed-upon elements of the emerging framework were
  • Impact is change.
  • Impact is an ongoing, iterative process (not a phase in evaluation).
  • There are many types of impact, from attitudinal change to law change.
  • Impact of an organization flows directly from its mission.
  • Organizational culture must value capturing and understanding impact.
During the New York meeting, a working group formed to further the conversation around this issue. If you work in a media organization, you can help with this project by filling out this survey.
3. Big data versus thick data
We have more data than we need. Participants at CIR's Dissections recounted organizational histories in which attempts to capture all the data associated with Nielsen ratings, online comments, likes and shares, page-related analytics and other sources were so overwhelming and ultimately so useless that they quit data gathering altogether.
Rather than thinking solely about "big data," we need to think about useful data. What can we glean from the data streams to which we have access? Which data are indicators of what phenomena? How can we get not only big, but qualitative, "thick" data?
4. We need humans
In order to parse the relevant data from the "noise," impact analysis requires humans with the appropriate skill set to carry out this type of research. Analysts might need to be able to do textual, network and/or statistical analysis in order to make sense of not only the plethora of data available, but to identify other data sources not traditionally included in impact assessment. For example, if a media organization is interested in effecting attitudinal change, impact analysis might include surveys of listeners or textual analysis of online comments.
5. Community
"Keep me in the loop" has been the most common parting at all four CIR Dissection: Impact events. The value of face-to-face time to share experiences and strategies and to make the connections needed in order to form a true community of practice is immeasurable.

Re-posted from

Friday, May 2, 2014

Relationships Are (The) Work

Sean Thomas-Breitfield is the Co-Director of The Building Movement Project, a grantee of TWI. We're Pleased to share his recent reflection on the importance of relationships in movement building, a theme that strongly emerged from Building Movement's insightful evaluation of the New Bottom Line Campaign. It's great to see the power of relationships explicitly raised up in this way. What might happen if more funders started explicitly directing resources to building them in whatever work they are supporting?

Relationships Are (The) Work
Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfield

Lately, I’ve been thinking about relationships. Maybe it’s that my partner just proposed to me. Or maybe it was the time with our Project Team earlier this month working, laughing, and struggling together. Either way, it’s becoming clear how important relationships are in the social change sector.
Relationship building was a theme that came out of our evaluation of the New Bottom Line campaign. The success of the NBL campaign to advance innovative policy ideas and Dump DeMarco was just as important (and was maybe even a lesser accomplishment in some people’s assessment) as the deeper connections that grew between the organizations, staff and members who worked together on the campaign. One of the most telling quotes from the interviews and survey we did with NBL’s stakeholders reflects why relationship building matters:
... the long-term commitment to each other has deepened relationships. We’ve hung together through good times and bad, and as a result feel very close to the other organizations and feel like I could bring a critique to these allies, ask for their help and be vulnerable with them.
This quote reflects a surprising level of intimacy. Words and phrases like “commitment,” hanging together through “good times and bad,” and “be(ing) vulnerable” all sound like the things that would be said about an intimate relationship between friends or lovers, not coalition partners. But the reality is that long-term movement building requires that same level of trust, openness and acceptance.
The usual ways that coalition partners talk about and relate to each other doesn’t work in today’s political context. Temporary, transactional alliances between advocates are just not powerful enough to challenge the deep alignment between corporate power and a conservative governing philosophy that only benefits the wealthy. In a sector where scarcity is real and there’s not enough money or credit to go around, a strong relational grounding makes it more likely that activists and organizations will see these bad times as the very times to hang together. Stronger relationships also help activists see the connections between our struggles and deepen commitment to collective solutions.
The old theory that relationships just happen by doing the “real” work is fortunately giving way to greater focus and intentionality on building deep relationships. Here are some ways groups have started the process. Storytelling is one practice that the domestic workers movement drew on to build connections and energize their campaigns, and many other groups are weaving narrative strategies into their organizer trainings to foster a deeper level of connection between movement activists. Some groups have the resources to take retreats and cram as many relationship building activities into a day or two as is humanly possible, and programs like Rockwood’s Art of Collaborative Leadership are very strategically fostering relationships between leaders in particular movements and sectors. Creative “un-networking events” are also emerging where people commit to NOT talk about their professional identities, in order to focus on cultivating authentic relationships first and then figuring out the transactional piece of how they can work together after.
The truth is that relationships have always been important in our movements and social change work. They are the basis of trust, and the foundation of what differentiates movement building alliances from so many other (and necessary) formations. Temporary, transactional connections will always have their usefulness, but the growing recognition of the importance of relationship building is a critical Investment in connecting groups, reaching beyond organizational boundaries, and building the movement infrastructure we need to win lasting social change.

Friday, April 18, 2014

How Media Can Be a Force for Good

A thoughtful and engaging interview with the American Press Institute and Mallary Tenore, the new managing director of TWI grantee Images and Voices of Hope (IVOH), that explores themes of our ongoing conversation about storytelling, journalism, dialogue and community. 

How 'Restorative Narratives' Shape Communities: 9 Good Questions with Mallary Tenore of IVOH

IVOH has been doing some work around “restorative narratives.” What are they?

These aren’t positive, happy-go-lucky fluff pieces. They explore the tough emotional terrain of disruptions like the Newtown shooting and the Boston Marathon bombings.
MALLARY TENORE: As we look for ways to highlight how the media can be a force for good, we’ve become increasingly interested in a storytelling genre we’re calling restorative narratives. These are stories that show how communities and people are learning to become resilient after periods of disruption. In doing so, they express empowerment, possibilities and revitalization. Last August, we convened 35 media makers to deepen our inquiry into restorative narrative and came up with this working definition: “Restorative narratives are honest and sustained inquiries that reveal opportunities in times of disruption. They express empowerment, possibilities and revitalization.”
This type of storytelling isn’t new, but it’s never really been given a good name. “Feature stories” and “human interest stories” don’t capture the depth of restorative narratives. The word “restorative” — which is defined as “having the ability to restore health, strength, or a feeling of well-being” — is a better fit; it reflects resilience.
These aren’t positive, happy-go-lucky fluff pieces. They explore the tough emotional terrain of disruptions like the Newtown shooting and the Boston Marathon bombings. But they’re “positive” in the sense that they focus on themes such as growth and renewal — themes that, at some point in our lives, we can all relate to.

What made you want to start focusing on restorative narratives?

TENORE: We came up with the term after reading Rachel Aviv’s December 2012 New Yorker story about how a small community newspaper, The Newtown Bee, was responding to the Newtown shooting. The paper’s editor, Curtiss Clark, really listened to what readers wanted during that time; he asked them questions and acted on their responses. He found himself thinking about the paper’s greater purpose and about ways in which the paper’s reporters could be supporters.
As Aviv wrote:
“He didn’t care if national reporters thought that he lacked a ‘hard-ass clinical angle.’ When he learned that a camera crew had rung the doorbell of parents who had just lost their child, he wrote a letter to the New England Newspaper and Press Association, urging the media to stop ‘invading the yards and space of grieving survivors.’ Another resident implored him, ‘Do anything in your power to get these media people out.’ In an editorial in a special edition of the Bee, published three days after the shooting, Clark counseled residents not to conform to the expectations of the ‘legions of journalists who had arrived in caravans of satellite trucks as if drawn by some dark star of calamity.”
Clark’s response made us think about how often the media swoops in during the immediate aftermath of tragedies. It’s understandable; they need to be there to inform the public about what happened. But sometimes reporters’ approach comes across as insensitive. And after awhile, these “what happened” stories can make the world feel like a callous place. The persistent focus on death and devastation ignores the fact that there are stories of resilience and recovery to be told.
What if newsrooms were to put as much emphasis on recovery and restoration as they did on tragedy and devastation?
What if, instead of reporting so many “what happened” stories, journalists reported more “what’s next” stories that explain how people and communities are finding the strength to move on after experiencing tragedies or other difficult times? What if newsrooms were to put as much emphasis on recovery and restoration as they did on tragedy and devastation?
It is not unlike Victor Frankl’s premise in “Man’s Search for Meaning” — even in the concentration camps during World War II, there were people who were able to find meaning in their circumstances and find inner strength.
I get it — these stories aren’t always easy to report. Journalists are strapped for time and resources, so the thought of spending an extended period of time following people and communities through their recovery process can seem unmanageable. And sometimes, people don’t want to talk to the media. I think the media could build trust, though, by telling stories about resilience and recovery — aka restorative narratives. These stories would show the public that journalists are invested in telling important stories that have a meaningful impact. I’d like to think that if more journalists told stories about resilience in a particular community, they could help other communities learn how to become more resilient.

This seems to imply a deeper idea — that journalism doesn’t just reflect what happens in a community but actually helps to shape what a community becomes. Am I right about that?

TENORE: Yes. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how the media can help rebuild struggling communities. This is especially true in Detroit, where media startups like Detroit143 are trying to improve community life and create meaningful change. Two other projects — the Detroit Journalism Cooperative and Zero Divide — are also trying to play a role in Detroit’s revitalization and recently received funding from the Knight and Ford foundations. In a release about the projects, the Knight Foundation’s Katy Locker made a good point:
“How residents and policymakers understand and deal with Detroit’s crisis will have repercussions decades into the future. … Some say the bankruptcy could herald the start of a recovery, but that can only happen if the community is informed and engaged and has a plan for continuing improvements the day after bankruptcy. Nonprofit journalism can help.”
At ivoh, we believe restorative narratives are part of this equation. We’ve written and talked a lot about restorative narratives, but we would like to do – and learn – more.

Can you point to some examples of restorative narratives?

TENORE: One example of a restorative narrative is Josh Haner’s New York Times video about Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon survivor who lost both of his legs and is now learning what it means to move on in the wake of tragedy. It’s a poignant video that shows a progression from physical and emotional pain to recovery. (Haner just received the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his essay on the same subject.)
On, we recently profiled another restorative narrative by Dallas Morning News reporter Scott Farwell. He wrote an eight-part series about Lauren Kavanaugh, a young woman whose mother and stepfather locked her in a closet, starved her and abused her for six years. The story is painful to read in parts, but in the end it shows how Lauren is learning to cope with her hardships. (Farwell was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his work on the same subject.)
Farwell told me that Dallas Morning News Editor Bob Mong read the first draft of his story and said it needed “more hope”:
“He wanted me to reconfigure the first few days to give more of a whiff of hope — to let people know that this was going to be a painful journey, but if you stuck with us, there would be some emotional payoff in the end and something restorative that you could look forward to. … He was right,” Farwell told me.
The response to the story ended up being “unprecedented.” It generated half a million unique page views during the eight days it ran online, and the paper’s print circulation increased by 5 percent that same week, Farwell said.
That says something about the appetite for this type of content.

What effects do you see restorative narratives having on readers and the broader communities?

TENORE: I think restorative narratives have the potential to make a big impact. The trick is getting media practitioners — and higher-ups — to see their value.
There’s been a lot of recent research on resilience at places like the University of North Carolina, Vassar College and the University of Pennsylvania.
And some news organizations (but not enough!) see the value in resilience reporting. The BBC’s Media Action project, for example, is geared toward showing how the media can improve humanitarian responses and increase resilience. The BBC explains that “Media and communication can help build the resilience of people vulnerable to shocks and long-term trends by providing information, by changing attitudes towards risk and innovation, by supporting dialogue that will facilitate positive change and by encouraging greater accountability in service provision and policy making.” For one of its projects, BBC Media Action created a series of films aimed at helping people cope with life as a refugee.
There’s also the Guardian’s new “resilient cities” project, which focuses on resilience in cities around the world. The project is being funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which is also funding a resilience reporting fellowship in collaboration with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The center has been studying the factors that make someone resilient and issponsoring a nine-month-long fellowship “to train a reporter to take a rigorous look at the academic literature on resilience,” the Columbia Journalism Review reported in November. Trevor Tompson, director of the Center, told CJR that the fellow will study data analysis and social sciences research to learn how to tell more nuanced stories about resilience:
“A lot of the coverage of disasters had to be pretty anecdotal … There’s a lot of storytelling, but it’s hard to connect it to the big picture. … If [research is] not accessible to journalists for news then we’re missing a huge opportunity to get that information out there to people who could really use it.”
As we dive deeper into the concept of restorative narratives, we hope to learn more about the impact they have on communities.

Is there evidence that this approach is good for a publisher’s business as well?

TENORE: Journalism’s going through a tremendous amount of change, so I think there’s a lot more openness to different types of storytelling than there used to be.
People’s appetite for news is changing, and with that change comes opportunity — to tell stories that shift the traditional journalistic focus from tragedy to recovery.
We’ve seen this with the rising popularity of sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed. Recently, Time Magazine highlighted research indicating that “the recipe for attracting visitors to stories online is changing. Bloggers have traditionally turned to sarcasm and snark to draw attention. But the success of sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, whose philosophies embrace the viral nature of upbeat stories, hints that the Web craves positivity.”
People’s appetite for news is changing, and with that change comes opportunity — to tell stories that shift the traditional journalistic focus from tragedy to recovery.
When I talk with journalists who are producing stories along these lines, they say there’s an interest in this type of content. Take WBUR’s Kind World series, which we wrote about on recently. WBUR producer Nate Goldman created the series because as a way to counteract negative news fatigue — the feeling that news stories are too heavy and depressing. The series, which highlights the power of small acts of kindness, generated a huge response from readers of WBUR’s website — so much so that the station decided to do a radio series to accompany the online component of the project.
Other news sites, including Global Voices, have launched “Good News” sections, for lack of a better term. Global Voices’ section isn’t about fluff pieces; it’s about featuring solutions journalism that helps people identify ways they can help their communities. As more news sites experiment with this type of storytelling, I think they’ll start to generate more interest in it and see a payoff.
And there’s the Solutions Journalism Network, which has recently made great strides in helping journalists report on solutions to social issues — instead of always focusing on problems.

What shortcomings do you see in the ways many journalists usually cover these stories?

TENORE: When I mention the phrase “restorative narratives,” some people think I mean feature stories or human interest stories. Restorative narratives tend to go deeper; they address harsh realities and show a meaningful movement — from heartbreak to hope, tragedy to recovery, and so on.
Other times, I’ll come across a story that I think is a restorative narrative based on the headline, only to find that 90 percent of it is about a tragedy and 10 percent is about restoration. That’s not a restorative narrative; restorative narratives address tragic circumstances, but they give equal or greater weight to the restorative aspects of a person’s story.
Restortative narratives tend to go deeper than feature stories or human interest stories; they address harsh realities and show a meaningful movement.
Over the next year, we plan to deepen our understanding of this genre by creating programs that will enable media makers to report stories on social issues within the framework of restorative narratives. We want to convene dialogues with these media makers to hear what they’ve learned and to get a better sense of the impact their stories have had.

Sometimes a news event seems just all-around bad. Is there always a hopeful side of a story to present? How should journalists identify the hopeful story angles?

TENORE: That’s a good question. Not all stories about a tragedy can be turned into restorative narratives. Time is a critical component of restorative narratives. You couldn’t write a restorative narrative about a person in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy/difficult time because it would be inauthentic; the person wouldn’t have had time to heal yet. Sometimes these stories take months, and even years, to report.
Some storytellers have a tendency to wrap up stories with a pretty bow and end them on a happy note. But this approach can feel forced. Recovering from something doesn’t mean that everything’s all of a sudden perfect. Recovery is a journey and a process of discovery — one filled with twists and turns, bumps and setbacks. Good restorative narratives embrace this idea.

How can journalists get more involved with your organization or find more resources for embracing this approach?

TENORE: We hold an annual media summit at a retreat center in the Catskills, New York. This year’s summit is June 26-29 and will be centered on restorative narratives. We have a great group of speakers — including Andrea Elliott and Ruth Fremson, the reporter and photographer behind The New York Times’ “Invisible Child” series, and Solutions Journalism Network co-founder David Bornstein, who will lead a workshop.
We welcome anyone who’s interested in restorative narratives to attend. We’ll also be having a series of local conversations around the country, where we gather people from the media and the arts to talk about restorative narratives and other related topics.

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