Giving Compass' Take:

• The Stanford Social Innovation Review discusses how strong narratives can help us understand complex systems, leading to positive change.

• Do enough organizations use storytelling effectively? Data is important, but without showing the human element of social work, it's difficult to win over hearts and minds.

• If you're looking to harness the power of storytelling for impact, read this.

In Liverpool, an exhausted homeless shelter worker puts her head in her hands at the end of another long day. The system she works in is failing the people it is supposed to serve, and she feels powerless to change it.

In Qatar, a group of migrant workers toil under a blazing sun, building the new stadium for the World Cup. Soon they will return to a filthy, overcrowded labor camp for a few hours rest. Subjected to forced labor, they are dying in record numbers.

In Singapore, a group of scientists, policymakers, and NGOs try to understand how to build a resilient agricultural system. They struggle to agree on anything.

Each of these bleak scenarios illustrates the role of story in changing a system. Stories make, prop up, and bring down systems. Stories shape how we understand the world, our place in it, and our ability to change it.

Story has many different qualities that make it useful for the work of systems change. It’s a direct route to our emotions, and therefore important to decision-making. It creates meaning out of patterns. It coheres communities. It engenders empathy across difference. It enables the possible to feel probable in ways our rational minds can’t comprehend. When it comes to changing the values, mindsets, rules, and goals of a system, story is foundational.

Story helps illuminate the past, present, and future, thus lighting up the paths of change. Specifically, it:

  • Highlights the fault lines in a system and makes visceral cases for change.
  • Illuminates outliers and builds a cohering narrative around their work.
  • Shines a light on visions of the future that change the way people act in the present.

Read the full article about the power of story to change systems by Ella Saltmarshe at Stanford Social Innovation Review.