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Communication & Engagement News

Community of Practice Inclusive Communication | Diving into storytelling

With the Community of Practice ‘Inclusive Communication’, we are learning together about inclusive storytelling. In the last session, we discussed some of the most common genres used in contemporary communication in development cooperation, from the problematic to the progressive, in order to better understand the distinct complexities of storytelling in the field and move ahead towards a future with more ethical, sensitive and inclusive communication.

07 December 2022

Below you can find extracts from the discussions within the Community of Practice, based on the second Future Brief made by The Expertise Centre of Humanitarian Communication about storytelling genres, which will be launched in January 2023.

Discussing various storytelling genres

Classical problematic genres such as poverty porn focusing on distant suffering and the white saviour inappropriately taking centre stage as the hero of the story, thereby sidelining and simplifying (the role of) the non-white people whom the story is actually about, are increasingly considered outdated and unacceptable in the sector. They are seen as harmful misrepresentation, a continuation of unequal power relations, a form of othering, spectacle, heroism, and proposing simple, individualized solutions to systemic problems that require collective political action.

The misery simulation and adventure journey are quite ambiguous as well. They play a role in drawing public awareness to humanitarian issues, but they often don’t challenge the root causes of the injustices and inequalities and can be reduced to simplistic stories and stereotypical images.

The genre of the individual changemaker is used a lot by NGOs nowadays. It can be seen as a progressive step towards shifting the focus, and therefore the power, from persons in the global north to the global south. In line with ‘shifting the power’, campaigns have increasingly highlighted community leaders as agents of change. Most of these campaigns concentrate on local individuals to make a transformative difference in their communities and societies. The genre of the individual changemaker allows for the visibility and agency of people in the global south. A challenge with the genre of the individual changemaker is that it tends to focus on individual solutions for systemic problems.

Towards ethical, sensitive, and inclusive communication

How can we make our communication more ethical, sensitive and inclusive? The answer must be sought in communication in which values such as agency, equality, solidarity, and, above all, humanity are central. Some suggestions came up front:

  • Create campaigns based on the perspective, self-reliance, and dignity of people in the global South and paint a more complex, nuanced and complicit picture of the adversities they are facing.
  • Represent nuanced agency, equality and solidarity when calling attention to social justice issues.
  • Use long-formatted genres that allow for complexity and sensitivity in the stories created, such as explainers, animations, (short) documentaries and podcasts. To respond to the fundraising call for short videos and texts, you could think of multi-layered or transmedia storytelling, i.e. telling a story across multiple (digital) platforms.
  • Make sure that the content produced is a result of a participatory process which includes, and is sensitive to, the people that the communication is about. In other words, ethical and inclusive communication is and should be participatory storytelling based on co-creation and other forms of collaboration

Storytelling for Social Change: Space for Authenticity and Imagination

One of the members of the Community of Practice, Asma Naimi wrote a blog about Storytelling for Social Change: Space for Authenticity and Imagination.

…we cannot measure the mobilizing power of stories by the sheer number of donations raised. We cannot use images to merely create a moral shock or provide simplistic solutions to complex problems. If we let our writing be limited by only pragmatic notions of social change, we will miss the true impact of storytelling: envisioning a just and equitable world for all.

Developing an inclusive lexicon

With a small group of participants, we are working on developing a lexicon with inclusive language and words. The words we use every day are less neutral than we often think. They reflect our blind spots and existing power relations. Through language, we can give important messages to our partner organisations, our supporters and the public. The group talked about various ambiguous terms, like ‘development’, which can be interpreted in the problematic sense of ‘the developed versus the underdeveloped’. Other terms we explored were: victims, marginalised groups, and the global south versus the global north. In the first months of 2023, we will continue our work on the lexicon. If you are interested in joining this work, let us know. For now, we would like to share some great articles about it:

Next Session about Content Production

The next time the Community of Practice will gather, we will dive into the topic of Content Production on an equal basis with our partners. This session is on march 28, CoP#7 15.00 hrs – 16.30 hrs (CET).

About the Community of Practice on Inclusive Communication

In April 2022, we started a community of practice (CoP) on Inclusive Communication to explore ways to make our communication work more ethical, inclusive and just in all senses. Not only through the stories we tell, or the words and images we use, but also in our ways of working with our international partners and communities involved. Together with The Expertise Centre of Humanitarian Communication and various members and partners, we create a space for learning and innovating current communication strategies towards more inclusive and ethical working practices. Based on insights gained from the narrative exploration, research and Learning & Innovations sessions, we develop inclusive guidelines for communication and a handbook.

If you are interested in joining the Community of Practice or one of the sessions, just reach out to Sera Koolmees.

Photo: Cottonbro studio