How to make people actually care about your policy

When people think of storytelling they might reflect upon their childhood and the fairy tales they were read at bedtime or consider the latest best-selling fiction that they can’t wait to read.

Rarely would anyone associate storytelling with government communications.

Storytelling is full of emotion and meaning and aims to educate and inspire people, something that government communications generally does not.

This however doesn’t have to be the case.

When you are drawing a blank on how to effectively communicate a new policy or programme and want to move beyond the fact sheet or flyer – storytelling is an important tactic.

Imagine government communications that educates and inspires citizens.

For this to happen storytelling is the key. (Tweet now)

Columnists for Governing, Katherine Barret and Richard Greene say that “Most politicians fail to communicate the importance of policies to the public because they lack skills in the art of anecdote.

“Simple statements of fact supplemented by statistics aren’t enough when communicating with the public. Storytelling is the key to getting a message across not only to the public, but also to managers, legislators and public-sector employees.”

The City of Springfield in Missouri, USA has the art of using storytelling for government communications down to a tee.

When the City Manager of Springfield, Greg Burris started in his job he saw lots of good things happening in the city that were being unrecognised by the public.

His answer was to study storytelling.

He brought in the head of the theatre programme at Missouri State University and a children’s book author who were asked to identify the elements of a good story and to help train the city’s leadership.

In 2013, working alongside their finance department, they produced a year-in-review story on “How the City Spent its Money.”

In an interview with Timothy Tiernan from eCivis, Burris said “One of the things I do on a regular basis is work with our Finance Director, because in essence those numbers are individual stories. We work hand in hand to interpret what those financial numbers mean in terms of value of service provided to citizens.”

The result: stories that the citizens of Springfield could relate to and use to easily understand where, why and how money has been spent in their community.

Now let’s look at a theory on how to successfully create a story that will resonate with your citizens.

The SUCCESs Model, outlined in the popular best-selling book “Made to Stick” by the Heath brothers, has transformed the way people around the world communicate ideas.

The SUCCESs Model was developed to defeat the “Curse of Knowledge” – when the person sharing the idea [story] has all sorts of insider information that others don’t, so they have already framed the problem and understand its relevance.

Using these traits in your stories will help to defeat the Curse of Knowledge and make them “stick”.

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

In their book, the Heath brothers write, “Stories can almost single-handedly defeat the Curse of Knowledge. In fact, they naturally embody most of the SUCCESs framework. Stories are almost always Concrete. Most of them have Emotional and Unexpected elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is making sure that they’re simple – that they reflect your core message.”

I am sure if you had a brainstorming session with your team you could easily come up with at least 10 ideas for stories that encompass the SUCCESs Model and could successfully (see what I did there!) be used to communicate the policy or project you are charged with publicising.

I love a good story – so please send your examples my way!

Happy story writing.

Sophie McKerchar

About Sophie McKerchar

Sophie is a Senior Content Strategist at contentgroup. She is also known as the office honey badger, for her fearless pursuit of getting the best results for her clients. As far as writing content marketing strategies, Sophie is the office guru. She is known to have up to ten cups of tea each day.

More posts by Sophie McKerchar

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