”Humans in all cultures come to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are inveterate storytellers."
- Owen Flanagan, leading consciousness researcher at Duke University

Narratives are important for human culture, as they can help us make sense of our daily human experiences, or as Susan Sontag once put it: “narratives can make us understand”.
The sharing of narratives is as old as mankind, but the digital age has created a new way to facilitate such sharing. People no longer have to be physically present to tell or listen to a narrative, now one can simply lean back in front of the computer screen, television or radio and listen to stories from across the globe.

New developments in digital media provide great potential for new and re-imagined platforms designed to share narratives; new media creates possibilities for furthering intercultural understanding and it might remind us of our shared humanity. At the same time, it presents challenges, because the infinite, continuous stream of information online can also make us pay less attention to the narratives we encounter.

Some have claimed that our world has turned into a global village due to the digital revolution. But if this is to hold true, it is necessary that we pay attention to our neighbors across the globe and that we listen to what they have to say. Digital platforms do not necessarily lead to listening.

In this wiki, the concept of digital narratives is explored by investigating some of the innovative ways that people are sharing narratives on digital platforms. It presents a number of case studies that show how digital platforms can be used to disseminate narratives, and how people are learning from these initiatives. The cases also illuminate some of the challenges the initiatives face and suggest ways to overcome these challenges.

In short, the case studies explore the promises and perils of different types of digital narratives to see how digital narratives can help further social change.



A recent Harvard graduate moved to Mexico and started a school program in a community named Oaxaca de Juarez in Mexico. H.E.A.T. (Hip Hop, Education, Activism and Transformation) is a hip-hop based arts and education program working with youth. Most of the projects with H.E.A.T. revolve around dance or music production. The dance classes offered include breakdance and hip-hop dance and the music production classes teach kids learning how to spin tracks on professional DJ equipment, to playing guitar, to recording music in a studio or in and around the community, to then mixing the music on a laptop using special software provided by the NGO.
H.E.A.T. was hosted by Jacaranda Education, a community center and school in Oaxaca; but when the funding was cut, Christopher Prossnitz, founder of H.E.A.T. looked into other venues for making money, especially social media. With a degree in arts education and education reform, Chris had, as many NGO workers in the field experience, no training in social media use. While some projects can afford to hire experts in transmedia advocacy, such as the Half the Sky social blitz phenomenon, most organizations attempt to use the social media platforms that their staff are most familiar with. Even this, however, can be done more or less strategically—basically by gathering more or “hits” for the website or websites of any particular project. Hopefully, if done correctly, a social media campaign increases “organizational visibility”, and if funding is a goal, increases donations. My goal is to discuss the difficulties of this kind of project for individuals that are not trained to use social media and how they can get around that. My goal is also to offer suggestions to NGO's like H.E.A.T. that are underfunded and without access to wizards of social media. The goal for these organizations is to be able to harness social media and empower themselves with the benefits of using new media.


StoryCorps collects audio stories from ordinary Americans, and broadcasts the stories with the proclaimed goal of “reminding one another of our shared humanity, while also strengthening and building a connection between people”. In contrast to mainstream media, StoryCorps does not rely on images; rather StoryCorps encourages active listening by intentionally reducing the amount of impressions that the listener is exposed to, thus offering a refreshing break from the sometimes chaotic digital universe.
The stories help give voice to the ordinary Americans, and these voices will be preserved forever, thus becoming a part of our collective memory of America in the beginning of the 21st century. While this is an important ambition, it is also important that StoryCorps makes sure that it does not exclude any groups of society, as this could create a distorted view of America. In this regard, it is a challenge that those who wish to share a story have to pay to do so. This risks excluding the economically disadvantaged groups, and StoryCorps could consider a different model to avoid this.


Founded in 2008, Mobile Voices is a storytelling platform that serves low-wage immigrant communities in Los Angeles by empowering them to narrate their individual and collective experiences to counteract negative portrayals in mainstream media. Project participants utilize low-cost cell phones to capture storytelling elements such as photos, video and audio which they upload to a blog on the main website. Storytellers explore relevant policy issues, exercise their political voice, learn about their rights, document abuse, and cover community actions and marches. Mobile Voices seeks to engage the low-wage and immigrant community, elected officials, the general public, and the media by conveying a narrative that adequately depicts the experiences of the marginalized. Based on an information-sharing and participatory model, Mobile Voices invites activists to use their open-source code, conducts mobile storytelling workshops and maintains a resource wiki so that everyone has equal access to knowledge and resources.


Transmedia is the term used to describe storytelling through multiple media platforms, with each component having its own identity, and together creating a richer, unified storytelling experience. When applied to the field of development, transmedia can be a valuable tool for reaching larger audiences and more effectively engaging them in taking action than more traditional forms of documentary storytelling. “Half the Sky,” a project inspired by the book of that title by New York Times journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is a recent example of a transmedia project, using film, social media, online and mobile gaming, digital imagery and music to raise awareness about global oppression against women and to inspire people to take action. While not inherently solving the problem of agency that impacts so many traditional documentaries, transmedia opens doors towards the potential of increased participation of subjects in the telling of their own stories.


Lives of children are rejuvenated at the Cateura landfill in Paraguay. Guided by musician and ecological technician Favio Chávez, children whose lives centered around recycling at the landfill have found inspiration in playing music. Each instrument tells a story, fashioned together from discarded objects while each child finds inspiration to recreate their own life.


Data collection, personal recollection and community development blend together in the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project. GlobalGiving is a 501c3 charity organization and fundraising website that is dedicated to matching donors to community initiatives. The GlobalGiving Storytelling Project began with funding from the Rockefeller Center and a desire to improve the effectiveness of charitable donations. Surveys are collected and quantified- and each survey has a variety of interesting elements. Every survey begins with the question “Tell us about a time when a person or an organization tried to change something in your community.” and includes prompts for writing and mark making for stakeholders to describe their memory.

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Homegrown and Grassroots; The Struggle of Guerilla Social Media

Moving narratives to the digital platform is a new phenomenon intended to return a story to its owner and expedite its expression. While there are many projects organized by individuals familiar with new media platforms, such as KONY phenom Jason Russell, and other projects that hire experts to run a blitz social media campaign, such as those behind Half the Sky success, there are many more individuals for whom new media is often times unfamiliar, inaccessible and not utilized.
A lot of projects would, however, be massively benefited with use of new media. There are some entrepreneurs who are trying to explore the venues of digital storytelling.

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These are images from Mexico's H.E.A.T. Oaxaca project. H.E.A.T., (Hip-Hop, Education, Activism, Transformation). As a project dealing with art production, this organization has a unique social media opportunity to share youth based projects directly onto social media platforms; it is one of the most emotionally affecting and therefore fundraising-effective strategies. H.E.A.T. uses four main platforms in their social media strategy.

"The World's Funding Platform. Go Fund Yourself." The Indiegogo platform:

Describing itself as "an International Crowdfunding Platform to Raise Money", Indiegogo is trying to create a space for individuals and organizations to be able to fundraise globally. This makes Indiegogo one of the most useful of tools for NGO's creating social media campaigns, if their goal is to move past publicity and into the realm of fundraising.

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How does H.E.A.T. Oaxaca use Indiegogo?
The H.E.A.T. Indiegogo page is most directed at global and foreign audiences. It uses a combination of video, audio and images to update and publicize ongoing projects. Most importantly, the Indiegogo site is the platform where donations can be made to the project. This makes indiegogo one of the most important parts of the social media campaign for H.E.A.T. They offer some specific insight into the missions of the group, including a simple "about" section:

"Through a hip-hop based arts and education program, HEAT seeks to provide youth in the neighborhoods of Ex-Marquesado (on the outskirts of Oaxaca City, Mexico) with resources to develop their own creative and expressive capacities in a safe and supportive learning environment. In doing so, we also aim to develop critical thinking skills among youth and to promote community activism through the arts.
The HEAT program is a project run by Jacaranda Education in collaboration with La Calera. The Calera, a refurbished Lime Stone Factory, is located as an island in the heart of the old neighborhood of Ex-Marquesado, a disenfranchised and under-developed part of Oaxaca City which lacks spaces for opportunities for local people to develop their education and interests."

The Indiegogo page also offers a section on H.E.A.T.'s plans for development, a section on the impact of a contribution, an "other ways you can help" section. It hosts some videos and a gallery of images that aren't immediately noticeable, but do provide insight into the project. There is a section devoted to recognizing "funders" or individuals that have funded the project. It is an effective way to encourage donations.

Most importantly, Indiegogo constantly updates viewers on the amount of money that any particular organization has raised so far, as seen here, and the amounts of money that are recommended for donation.

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This image encourages action from viewers naturally because it offers immediate opportunities to contribute. Probably the most effective way to utilize Indiegogo is to constantly direct traffic from all other social media onto this page.

It started at Harvard. The Facebook platform:

The December 11, 2009, Entertainment Weekly edition asked us,
"How on earth did we stalk our exes, remember our co-workers' birthdays, bug our friends, and play a rousing game of Scrabulous before Facebook?" The most used social network in the world, Facebook is not only a way to connect with friends and family and maintain relationships with individuals that live outside your community, it is now one of the most commonly used methods for social activism.
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How does H.E.A.T. Oaxaca use Facebook?
The H.E.A.T. Facebook page is used to update individuals on the project's development and goals. Facebook allows for image and video updates for the project, but most importantly, Facebook is the social media platform that is the most personally connected to its audience. A huge amount of individuals will use Facebook daily while they may only browse other forms of social media a few times, or on the impetus of a Facebook suggestion. This is one of the biggest strengths of the medium, the captive audience comprised of "Facebook friends".

Facebook allows any individual to see how their networks and "friends" are responding to an NGO's facebook page.
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While it may seem insignificant, actually, if your community of friends is supporting a project you are more likely to support it yourself. This group mentality moves outwards in larger and larger circles. This is how huge social media compaigns start and grow on Facebook. Any Facebook group page should have one goal; to eventually be a part of most Facebook users newsfeeds--this is a tremendous strategy in social media given the size of the Facebook-using network and the personal relationship that most people have with this medium.
The H.E.A.T. Facebook page needs to connect easily with the other social media platforms in order to incite action and gather donations more aggressively. Facebook is the most surefire way for an NGO without a social media transmedia expert on staff to get an audience, get support and get funding from other communities. This means that it must be easy to link from Facebook to the Indiegogo page. Also updates from Facebook must bring it up constantly in its supporters' newsfeed, which will navigate them onto the organization's Facebook page and therefore onto the Indiegogo website. Since this is the space where individuals can make donations, Indiegogo should always be the final web-navigated location for viewers.

"Your videos belong here." Used by both The White House and Britney Spears. The Vimeo platform:

It attracts almost 65 million users per month. In 2009, Britney Spears premiered a music video for her single "Radar" on Vimeo. The White House regularly uploads high-definition videos of its broadcasts onto the platform as well. Though it does not have as many registered users as Facebook, Vimeo is still a trusted social medium for uploading videos, both for personal and professional projects. For any NGO that uses an element of video production, Vimeo lends some professional network-building to its video-hosting website. It is an effective website to show video to an audience and link to other social media platforms.

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How does H.E.A.T. Oaxaca use Vimeo?
There is a link from the H.E.A.T. Facebook page onto the H.E.A.T. Vimeo page. Here, H.E.A.T. shows a video that the students of the program produced for the project. The page features the first video that students produced within the context of the program; it is called H.E.A.T. Street.

It is followed with a brief description of the contours of the project:
"Breakdancing students in the H.E.A.T. program at La Calera went out into their neighborhood to record this promotional music video."

This page, like any involved in the H.E.A.T. campaign must link visibly and clearly to the Indiegogo page. This will, again, increase contributions to the projects by clearly drawing a line from the work that the project does and the material that students create to a way that the community outside of Oaxaca can contribute to the program's success.

"Hear the world's sounds." The Soundcloud platform:

The main page says that Soundcloud enables us to, "explore the largest community of artists, bands, podcasters and creators of music and audio." Soundcloud is an increasingly popular space for artists and producers to network with other individuals in the audio business. It is a website with a technologically-conscious audience that often works with advanced equipment and with an intensely artistic community. Therefore, an NGO that is using some of this technology for artistic musical production is a unique member of the Soundcloud community while still being welcome. This makes Soundcloud an excellent social media resource for NGO's that are able to work with music or audio to publicize their projects.
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How does H.E.A.T. Oaxaca use Soundcloud?
Music is one of the most important finished projects of the many projects that H.E.A.T. participants create. The H.E.A.T. Soundcloud page posts the music that the students in the program record and remix using the skills they've learned via the program and create tracks that individuals can then listen to on soundcloud. One of their first tracks was called "Remix del Barrio".

It also hosts a truly inspiring facet of the H.E.A.T. Oaxaca project called the Seeing Sound project. In the context of this project;
"Music students in the H.E.A.T. program learned how audio and visual elements work together to convey meaning and evoke emotion. Students chose a photo by Reynaldo Ruetas Cayetano Jr, analyzed it, and then created this short track to express their interpretation of the photo."
oaxaca seeing sound.jpgFor the first Seeing Sound project, students chose this photo by Reynaldo Ruetas Cayetano Jr.
They then created this track in response to it.

Monitoring "social media visibility" for Beginners:

We don't know what the metrics are, but why are they not out there? Mashable has created a series of spreadsheets intended to monitor social media visibility that are easy to use for beginners. They can be accessed here; Social Media Visibility Monitor.


H.E.A.T. has so far focused on 4 social media platforms. Indiegogo, Facebook, Vimeo and Soundcloud. And while each of these sites are informative, interesting and engaging, only one of the four asks for donations, and none of them clearly connect to the other. Perhaps clearly relaying a connection to Facebook is the most important if Prossnitz wants to get a connection to his own peer community for donations. If he is seeking attention and bigger funding opportunities from organizations, then he should consider creating a LinkedIn profile to help direct traffic. Probably the most important thing he can do is to mimic the OYE Honduras model by having a main web page, first of all, from which to connect the other platforms, and also a system in place to analyze the analytics of the social media used by viewers. I recommend to Prossnitz that he install a highly visible, organized “sharing bar” from which his viewers will have ease in promoting the site and H.E.A.T.’s fundraising plea.

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Digital audio narratives: a case study of StoryCorps

By: Anna Gaarde

How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
Have you thought about that recently?
Imagine if you were to talk about this for 40 minutes with a colleague, with your child, or with your partner. Where would such a conversation take you?
StoryCorps facilitates exactly such conversations, which often take the form of an interview, but the abovementioned question is only one amongst an infinite number of potential questions. Often, the interview takes point of departure in one of life’s “great questions”, meaning that they are universal, open-ended and personal.
By facilitating interviews about such “great questions”, StoryCorps wants you to think about some of the universal questions of life, and just as importantly, StoryCorps wants you to share and explore such questions. This has been the purpose of StoryCorps since David Isay founded it in 2003.
So far, StoryCorps has facilitated more than 40,000 interviews that have all been recorded and are now preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, thus preserving ‘the American voice’ of the beginning of the 21st century. Every week NPR’s Morning Edition broadcasts some of the stories, whereby millions of people get to listen to them. Some of the stories are also available online on StoryCorps’s website, where people can search for stories on specific topics or be led by serendipity to find a story to listen to and get inspired from.

The objective

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit organization that facilitates and records interviews between people, usually between people who already know – and care about - each other.
The objective of StoryCorps is to record narratives of Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs. These narratives are then preserved and shared to remind one another of our shared humanity, while also strengthening and building a connection between people. This helps further inter-personal understanding, and since the conversations are all preserved, it also helps further inter-generational understanding.

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Audio narratives

StoryCorps is part of the oral history tradition, where narratives are constructed through speaking and listening. The interviews are audio recorded, but they are not filmed, and StoryCorps thus relies mainly on sound to convey narratives. The physical appearance of the parties involved in the interview is only portrayed through a single photograph. StoryCorps thus relies only on the spoken word to portray the parties in the conversations and in this way StoryCorps differs from the mainstream approach to digital narratives, where the image is most often in focus.
StoryCorps has, however, turned a few of the most beloved stories into animated shorts, whereby the spoken words become accompanied by a cartoon. The animations are cute and simple, and they do not distract the attention from the spoken words, so these animated shorts do not undermine the approach. The idea is still to focus on the spoken words and encourage the listeners to create their own images using their imagination.


The fact that StoryCorps does not rely on images to tell their stories makes StoryCorps stand out in the media landscape. Mainstream media tend to try to keep media consumers’ attention by applying a strategy of excitement and rapid change, whereas StoryCorps encourages immersion and thoughtfulness. By explicitly not providing the listeners with a stream of changing photos, the experience will rather depend on the listeners’ own imaginations.

Participatory storytelling

This reliance on the listener’s imagination engages the listener in creating the digital narrative. In the process where imaginary pictures are combined with the spoken words, there is a space for the listener to participate in the story, and this engaging approach can be cerebrally stimulating, and it can make the listener pay more attention to what is actually being said (Scientific American).
Thus, listeners are engaged in the production of the digital narratives, which is different from most production processes of digital narratives, where there most often is a strict line between the narrative producers and narrative audience.
StoryCorps also differs in the sense that there is no middleman to convey the narratives. There is no third-party interviewer who is trying to grasp the stories of a stranger. Rather, the interviews take place between people who already know each other, which makes the interviews take more form of a conversation rather than of a formal interview. The interviews are very intimate, and the fact that the parties know each other from the offset, makes it easier for people to open up to talk about very personal matters.
The interviews take place in a ‘neutral space’, i.e. in a designated story booth provided by StoryCorps. Some are permanent in bigger American cities, while others are mobile story booths created in vans that drive across the country to make it accessible to all Americans. The ‘neutral space’ creates an opportunity to escape the dialogue of everyday life and engage in a more profound an intimate form of dialogue, where thoughtfulness is in focus rather than rapid exchanges that characterize the way we communicate in the daily humdrum.

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Giving voice to ordinary people

StoryCorps is open for any American, who wishes to share her story, and the initiative thus celebrates the universality and beauty of the ordinary. StoryCorps offers a break from the non-stop newsfeed on celebrities that we are fed on a daily basis and offers instead stories of people, who could be your next-door neighbors.
StoryCorps drives around the entire country, and special attention is given to reaching out to minorities and to those who have not heard of the initiative. In this way, StoryCorps tries to represent America in its whole and it tries to bring forward those who normally shy away from the spotlight. It is thus the ordinary Americans, who are given voice from the initiative, and it is a way for them to get heard and express themselves.
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Creating connectedness

StoryCorps facilitates conversations between the interviewer and interviewee, but StoryCorps does not interfere in the actual conversation. The interviewer and interviewee are free to choose whatever topic they would like to discuss, but StoryCorps has made a list of “great questions” which they can choose to take point of departure from. The proposed “great questions” are all broad, open-ended and personal, which call for somewhat philosophical considerations.
In order to fully understand the purpose and effect of StoryCorps, you (yes, you) should try to consider some of the questions that the people in the storybooth are proposed to discuss. Give yourself a moment to consider the following questions:

  • What was the happiest moment of your life?

  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?

  • When in life have you felt most alone?

  • How would you like to be remembered?

  • Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to me?

Learning through listening

The proposed questions all revolve around universal issues that we all can relate to. We all have hopes and dreams, experience joy and deal with regrets. We are all learners, who look to others for guidance and assistance, and we are all teachers in our ability to inspire others. StoryCorps is basically just a platform for this sort of interpersonal exchange.
Both the interviewer and the interviewee learn from the experience. While the interviewer gets answers to the questions that he or she poses, the interviewee is encouraged to stop up for a moment and reflect upon questions that are important for the “human experience”, which can be a valuable learning process. Furthermore, the general public can learn from the interpersonal exchange, as the interviews are made publicly available, and some of the narratives are broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition on Friday mornings.

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Potentially, listeners can learn and get inspired from StoryCorps in many years to come, as StoryCorps takes place in a sphere of timeless time; The stories told reach back into the past, but the preservation of the stories reaches into the future, and thus the past and future converge. This gives StoryCorps a potential that extends beyond the present. However, StoryCorps also serves immediate purposes, such as fighting ‘continuous partial attention’ (see below) and as a means to give voice to people.

Fighting ‘continuous partial attention’

The digitalization of everyday life has made it possible for us to pay simultaneous attention to a number of sources of incoming information, and our lives seem to be characterized by what Linda Stone has called ’continuous partial attention’. We click around in cyberspace, skimming articles and mass consuming the images we are presented. While this process of multitasking enables us to absorb a big quantity of information in a small amount of time, it does not guarantee that we will actually remember or learn from the information.
StoryCorps differs from this mainstream approach to media, as it attempts to hold its listeners’ attention for a longer period of time than what is usually practiced in media. The attention span of media consumers is often expected to be extremely short and is counted in seconds rather than minutes. Mainstream media produce its content accordingly, and there is a tendency to condense, shorten and summarize rather than to encourage immersion and thoughtfulness.
By refusing to follow the traditional rules of media, StoryCorps stands out in the media landscape. It is however, aware of the challenging task of keeping the listeners’ attention, and therefore the interviews that are broadcast are edited into 3-minutes podcasts. But within these 3 minutes there are small moments where one can hear that the person being interviewed takes a pause to reflect upon something, and during these moments, the listeners are implicitly encouraged to reflect upon the questions as well.
However, at the same time, StoryCorps is dependant on new media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, as these are the places that the stories are shared. According to founder David Isay, without these new technological means "StoryCorps would not be" (Isay 2012).

Listening as an act of love

It is the irony of our digital age that although we have been given a broad range of new tools to speak up to the world, it is getting harder and harder to make people listen carefully to what is being said.
Asking a question and listening to the response – really listening – demands time, focus and attention. This is why founder of StoryCorps, David Isay, has called listening for an act of love. By carefully listening to what someone else has to say, you acknowledge that the person is worthy of being heard (Basting 2009). StoryCorps creates a platform for such careful listening, and StoryCorps thus not only immortalize the voices of Americans, which will be interesting for historians and future generations, it also has the more direct and immediate benefit that the people involved feel appreciated.

Who is not being heard?

StoryCorps is a voluntary initiative, and everyone who decides to share his or her story has chosen to do so. In order to reach out to as many as possible, StoryCorps has two vans that drive around across the country to collect stories. While this is a good initiative to make sure that everyone has access to StoryCorps, it does not guarantee that socioeconomically disadvantaged groups will embrace StoryCorps. First of all, it can be intimidating to share one’s personal stories, and second of all, StoryCorps ask all participants to contribute $25 to StoryCorps to cover some of the administration costs and the costs of producing a DVD with the interview. While some might not consider $25 a huge amount of money, others might only have $25 to spend for a whole week’s expenses. This creates a risk of an inherent bias in the stories that StoryCorps collects.
If StoryCorps wants to ensure a broader representation of American voices, StoryCorps therefore could consider to make the $25 contribution voluntary, or even better - to search for other sources of finance to cover the expenses.


Audio narratives, as constructed through StoryCorps, build on the very simple concept that we all get richer through dialogue and listening. This is by no means a new revelation, but it is an insight, which has been pushed a bit into the background in the modern media landscape. StoryCorps gives its listeners - as well as the people who share their stories - a chance to push the pause-button for a few moments, so that we can reflect upon some of the “great questions of life”, which can put our lives into perspective and inspire us in our daily humdrum.There are many inspiring aspects of StoryCorps, but the organization needs to make sure that it collects stories from people that represent all of the United States if the organization wants to be able to claim that it collects and preserves “the voice of America”. If the story-sharers are expected to pay to contribute to the project, the economically disadvantaged people might not have the means to participate, which creates a risk of a bias that can lead to a distorted view of America.
StoryCorps has already collected many beautiful and thought-provoking stories, and hopefully there are many more to come. Go to StoryCorps website and listen to the stories:

Here below are a few links to some of the stories.

Listen, think and share!

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Listen to minister Beau Harris talk to his daughter Kioni "Popcorn" Marshall about the changes their family has seen over the years.

Listen to Priya Morganstern and Bhavani Jaroff interviewing their father, Ken Morganstern, who has Alzheimer's disease.


Listen to Denny Meyer talk about being gay in the Navy in the 60’s.

Also, listen to Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, talk about StoryCorps' past and future:


"Mobile Voices es Nuestra Realidad."
by Alanna Savage

(Mobile Voices video,

"Mobile Voices is our reality," a Mobile Voices storyteller proclaims.
Mobile Voices provides an online space for the traditionally voiceless to poignantly narrate their stories in video, audio, photo--and mobile SMS.
Their stories are personal, but often relevant as they explore issues that impact the low-wage and immigrant community of Los Angeles.

Galileah posts about the toxic substances we unknowingly consume daily.
JoelFilms advertises an artwork exhibit "Manos a la Obra" by day laborers, gardeners, domestic workers and children.
Madelou exhibits a photo essay of hands. "Hands. The hands of the hard-working women and men who come to give everything they can to contribute to the economy of this great nation." Madelou, a veteran Mobile Voices contributor, also shares an audio interview with Jacqueline, a woman who left her family behind to look for work in the U.S. She participates in a hunger strike for reforms for an easier path to legalization for individuals with undocumented status.

Madelou, "Hands."

About Mobile Voices (Voces Móviles, VozMob)

The Mobile Voices Mission: “In VozMob we read reality to write our own history, and strive to make visible the true stories of those who have been excluded, marginalized, and made invisible by the traditional mass media. VozMob appropriates technology to create power in our communities and achieve greater participation in the digital public sphere.”

Mobile Voices (VozMob), a mobile-phone storytelling platform for immigrants and low-wage workers in Los Angeles, was founded in 2008 from a collaboration between the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA). Several interested parties—IDEPSCA’s Popular Communication Team and staff, Drupal developers, USC researchers, media activists and volunteers—took part in the platform’s development, design, and implementation.

Recognizing that day laborers had cell phones but limited access to computers, VozMob designed an online platform to meet the technical specifications of low-cost phones.[1]The program developers identified five day laborers to do a pilot of the project, as VozMob worked on the platform.[2] The program started with a $40,000 grant to distribute cell phones and train day laborers at job centers on how to upload text, photo and videos to the blog space, which is housed on the main VozMob website.[3] Developers using Drupal designed the platform, which is now open-source and downloadable.

Today, VozMob conducts periodic workshops to teach participants how to use their mobile phones for storytelling and documentation. Upon acquiring new skills, laborers and household workers capture their daily experiences through text messaging, photo, audio and video. Storytellers can send an MMS message to the VozMob email address, send an SMS text, leave an audio recording on a local voicemail and sign up for mobile blogging.[4]VozMob and IDEPSCA sometimes consolidate stories into a periodic PDF newsletter, La Jornada.

In 2010, VozMob won the United Nations World Summit Award, an award to recognize innovators who use mobile content to promote access and voice for underserved communities.[5]

IDEPSCA’s Popular Communication Team, along with other affiliate associations such as the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), continue to administer and strengthen the project with their frequent contributions to the narrative of the immigrant and low-wage worker community in Los Angeles.
VozMob has received support from the following donors: Macarthur/HASTAC Digital Media and Learning Competition, Nokia, Instructional Telecommunications Fund, Social Science Research Council, Annenberg Innovation Lab, Annenberg Program on Online Communities, Netsquared Mobile Challenge. VozMob have also applied to the Ashoka Changemakers Citizen Media Competition and the Knight News Challenge.[6]

Creating Voice

VozMob, utilizing its popular communications approach and IDEPSCA’s Popular Education methodology, seeks to give voice to those who haven’t had the “privilege” of growing up with computer access and Internet connectivity. Instead, VozMob reaches out to the digital “non-natives,” the marginalized communities who have stories to tell but didn’t necessarily have the digital tools to meaningfully engage in the digital sphere. Yet these communities are entrenched in the important debates in the political and social realm—issues such as immigration reform, urban poverty, health care, the juvenile justice system, the economic recession, and the education system. Although these policies directly concern them, they are often rendered invisible in the public discourse. One key objective of VozMob is to empower storytellers so they can be the “architects” of their own legacies, countering the negative portrayals and stereotypes that pervade the media. Furthermore, VozMob provides a platform for the immigrant community to learn about and assert their rights and document human rights abuses.[7]

The cultural critic and author on topics regarding new and social media, Toni Ahonen remarked, “Differing from the legacy mass media, all of which are witnessing a decline in their audiences and revenues, mobile like the internet, is an interactive media enabling it to fully capitalize on social networking and digital communities."[8]

This community-based platform fosters dialogue, reflection and action within immigrant worker communities. Taking the movement outside of the digital realm, IDEPSCA encourages community action through conferences, marches and activities that challenge anti-immigrant policies and discourse.[9] Then, VozMob storytellers document these actions via photos, audio and videos and share them online, therefore closing the circle of discussion, action, and reflection.
Sasha Costanza-Chock, one of the founders of VozMob, envisioned the potential of pairing a passion for activism with mobile technology: “My research suggests that social movements are most effective when the media opportunity structure shifts and opens; when they engage in cross-platform production and distribution; when they develop a praxis of digital media literacy; and when movement organizations shift from top-down structures of communicative practice to horizontal, participatory structures that include their social base.”[10]

Given that VozMob is a voice-giving platform for the marginalized and people of color, it established an application process to participate. As VozMob believes collective organization is the best strategy for creating social change, it requests that potential participants to take part in a workshop or action before applying to be an active member of VozMob. To be an affiliate, a potential participant must belong to a group that has been traditionally invisible or voiceless within broader public discourse. The application process involves a written form as well as interviews with current affiliates and VozMob staff. If the applicant doesn’t meet the criteria, then VozMob encourages the applicant to use the open-source code to create his/her own version of the site.

Digital Access and Information for All

In line with distributing stories of the traditionally “voiceless” for all to hear, VozMob works to make its training materials and platform design available to all, so that community-based organizations may replicate their model.

Utilizing a participatory approach, VozMob offers hands-on workshops in formal and informal settings that cover topics such as basic computer and Internet navigation skills, handling phone functions and using social platforms. The open-source platform encourages participants to be innovative and provide feedback on software development and interface.[11]

To facilitate information sharing, VozMob created its own wiki on project information and the Drupal development process and relevant documentation.

Drupal Camp L.A. - Participatory Design & Development: Lessons from

Who is listening?

While creating voice is a major benefit of online and new media platforms, this benefit is coupled with the existence of overwhelming amounts of information. Therefore, it is important to consider whether VozMob is really accomplishing its goal of amplifying voices if they are being lost among the din of others. Who is listening and how well are they listening?

VozMob identifies its target audience as the public and media “ ‘who do not have a good perspective on the lives of day laborers,’” the immigrant community, elected officials and employers.[12]

Soon after launching the platform, several media outlets, including the LA Times, PBS Media Shift and Univisión picked up the story of the emerging VozMob.

Univisión “Ahora y Aqui: ‪Pasando la voz de abusos contra inmigrantes”
(Left photo: Univisión, "Ahora y Aqui," Youtube.)

Meta Reporting: Mobile Voices Bloggers document the production of the Univisión piece
(Right photo: Madelou, "Live on Univisión 10-11-10,"
Univision screen grab.jpg univision_en_vivo.wmv.thumb4_0.jpg

VozMob has a Twitter page, Facebook page and an inactive Wordpress blog. The Twitter page has 407 followers and posts tweets, with links driving people to the blog, a few times every week to two weeks. The Facebook page has 276 likes, only three photos, and posts inviting people to view the blog, with some occasional political posts regarding the election of Obama, “Voto Latino,” and a like of “Todos somos Arizona.” Interestingly, their post on November 5 indicated solidarity with a strike in Canada: “Hi! is temporarily offline. We're trying to reconnect our server, but it's a little complicated because there's a strike in the university in Canada where our server is located... and we don't want to break the picket line for our reboot :) We're trying to do it remotely; thanks for your patience!”

The main website is where the blogging platform resides. Several bloggers have their own “pages.” While a public reader can share the blog post on several social media outlets, he/she can’t comment on the blogs themselves, unless he/she is a VozMob affiliate with an account. Therefore, it is difficult to gauge how many people read the blog posts and actively engage in conversations on the issues the bloggers present.

On Mobile Phones in Citizen Media and Storytelling

In the report "A Mobile Voice: The Use of Mobile Phones in Citizen Media" for USAID, Katrin Verclas and Patricia Michael survey the landscape of mobile phone projects and examine the role of mobile phones as tools for citizen media. They note the emergence of mobile phones as another form of mass media, but one that is fragmented in that technology developers have failed to create applications that translate to all types of mobile phones. Furthermore, they find that mobile phones are revolutionizing global communications via the type of information transmitted and the rapid speeds at which information is dispersed. Cell phones are becoming ubiquitous accessories that are transforming how people worldwide are sending and receiving information.

"A Mobile Voice: The Use of Mobile Phones in Citizen Media. An Exploration of Mobile Citizen Media Tools and Projects."

For More Information on Immigrants’ Rights and Advocacy

Below is a list of organizations and databases of policy documents concerning immigrants’ and refugees’ rights. These organizations perform awareness raising activities regarding the special issues facing immigrant communities in the U.S., conduct research and policy analysis, and build coalitions to lobby policymakers for policies that protect the human rights of immigrants—both documented and undocumented.

[1] Knight News Challenge: Mobile contest, VozMob Entry, Aug. – Sept. 2012
[2] Pokharel, Prabhas. “Mobile Voices: Creating a Voice for Day Laborers.” Mobile, 18 Feb. 2010. Also: Pokharel, Prabhas. “How Mobile Voices Enables Day Laborers To Tell Their Stories.” PBS MediaShift/Idea Lab, 25 Feb. 2010.
[3] Bermudez, Esmeralda. “Giving immigrant laborers an online voice.” Los Angeles Times. 19 Sept. 2010.
[4] Pokharel, Prabhas. “Mobile Voices: Developing a Citizen Media Platform.” Mobile, 20 Jan. 2010.
Also: Pokharel, Prabhas. “How Mobile Voices Developed a Citizen Media Platform.” PBS MediaShift/Idea Lab, 25 Feb. 2010.
[5] Mobile Voices Wins UN Information Technology Award, USC Annenberg News. 15 Nov. 2010.
[7] Ashoka Changemakers, Citizen Media: A Global Innovation Competition application, 14 Sept. 2011.
[8] Verclas, Katrin and Mechael, Patricia. “A Mobile Voice: The Use of Mobile Phones in Citzen Media.” November 2008. Accessed October 1, 2012.
[9] Ashoka Changemakers, Citizen Media: A Global Innovation Competition application, 14 Sept. 2011.
[10] Grant, Sheryl. “Sasha Costanza-Chock of Mobile Voices Moves to MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program.” August 19, 2011. Accessed December 17, 2012.
[11] Ashoka Changemakers, Citizen Media: A Global Innovation Competition application, 14 Sept. 2011.
[12] Pokharel, Prabhas. “Mobile Voices: Creating a Voice for Day Laborers.” Mobile, 18 Feb. 2010. Also: Pokharel, Prabhas. “How Mobile Voices Enables Day Laborers To Tell Their Stories.” PBS MediaShift/Idea Lab, 25 Feb. 2010.

Storytelling through Transmedia: Case Study of “Half the Sky”
by Victoria Pettibone

external image hQwpWJDPyryh11aYkc2fcDoJ64v-88vWdz2wCZmHQdSdIcDR51YX6YQRIpntjAiPTNczSO7NzwQqlDPWF8i6VcOU_ev2Vqznv21xACLZiqKqc7-fHGjZ

Transmedia has become a buzz word within new media discourse. Most cite Henry Jenkins as first coining the term in 2003, in his article for MIT Technology review on filmmaking and video games [1] . Jenkins describes transmedia as storytelling across “multiple media platforms, with each medium making distinctive contributions to our understanding of the world, a more integrated approach to franchise development”[2]. Scholarship agrees that within a transmedia project, each piece of content should be able to stand on its own, but together enrich the overall experience. While first championed by commercial projects (The Matrix and Lost are two entertainment projects often referenced as having used transmedia well), it stands to reason that those working in the development field have realized the potential of transmedia in generating increased audience engagement - as donors, volunteers and activists - in their development projects and causes. As the use of smartphones and tablets has increased, transmedia, which is particularly suited to these devices, has gained increasing attention.

"Half the Sky" has been noted as a good example of a current transmedia project within development [3]. Among its many accolades, it was a 2012 award nominee for Mashable’s Innovation Index for Social Good. The project began as a book by Nickolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, written to raise awareness about oppression against women around the world and ignite people to take action against wide-spread human rights violations occurring to women globally. In order to fulfill this mission, it has been developed into a transmedia project, including a documentary, a social media campaign, Facebook and mobile games, and related music downloads. Its website is titled "The Half the Sky Movement", and bills itself as “a landmark movement…working to amplify the book’s impact…galvanizing even more people to join the burgeoning movement for change.” [4]

The four hour documentary by the same title as the book is organized into six sections, each focusing on a different aspect of oppression against women in a specific geographic setting. The film tells its story through the lens of The New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and an accompanying US celebrity who visit local individuals making a difference for women in their communities. Kristof and his cohort for the segment (America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, Olivia Wilde) interact with and interview the change-makers, and t
PBS Documentary
PBS Documentary
he women and girls they have dedicated their lives to helping. The film highlights both an aspect of oppression (rape, prostitution, sex slavery, female genital mutilation, economic oppression, educational discrimination) and the inspiring individuals and their NGOs that are addressing those issues in their communities.

Transmedia components of Half the Sky:
The “Half the Sky” project consists of:
  • A 4 hour documentary which premiered on PBS October 1st and 2nd, 2012 followed by a wide release in the US and Canada starting November 13th, 2012. The movie is also available to download via iTunes and Netflix (for a fee).
  • An organized twitter campaign during the PBS premiere.
  • An on-going social media campaign active on multiple platforms including Facebook, Twitter (@Half), Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, Pinterest and Good.
  • 18 short educational videos developed with partner NGOs to be used by NGOs for activism and awareness-raising in their own communities.
  • Six short film modules and accompanying downloadable lesson plans for high school and college students, produced with Independent Television Service (ITVS).
  • A Facebook game that turns play into activism by enabling players to contribute actual donations to featured NGOs as a part of the game. Additionally, J&J and Pearson have committed $500,000 worth of book donations and fistula surgery donations to be “unlocked” during gameplay. Produced with Games for Change.
  • Three educational JAVA-based mobile games for women in developing countries on prenatal health, de-worming and the importance of education for girls. Produced with Games for Change with funding from USAID.
  • Two social advocacy websites ( and including blogs, celebrities “diaries”, news feeds etc…
  • An initiative with ITVS called Women and Girls Lead, featuring screenings of over 50 films on topics relevant to the themes in Half the Sky.
  • A music-sharing program called 30 Songs in 30 Days, releasing singles by female artists for free download during September leading up to the PBS premiere.
  • A campus ambassador program providing resources to students to hold screenings and discussions and promote the project.

Transmedia as a vehicle for authentic voice?
While "Half the Sky" has been praised by many as an example of how transmedia can be used for social good, some have criticized it for its top-down, western-centric approach to storytelling, which is amplified through the individual media components that make up the project. Some have gone as far to say that the project is voyeuristic and exploitative. Others argue that while the various components, such as the video games, might be engaging and fun, they fail to address the root causes of the issues and fail to give authentic voice to the subjects. Whether one agrees with the critiques or not, the complaints make clear that the inherent editorial power that comes with traditional documentary storytelling is still applicable in a transmedia project. In contrast to some of the other new forms of digital storytelling which are designed to shift the perspective and editorial power to the subject of the story, a successful transmedia project relies on many creators who are experts in different mediums coordinating their efforts around one story. When interviewed about what made the twitter campaign so successful, the producers from Independent Television Service (ITVS), PBS and Show of Force noted the seamless collaboration between their offices, facilitated by the use of Google docs and Gchat [5]. In fact, eight companies are listed as being responsible for the various components of the Half the Sky movement, necessarily shifting authorship away from the subjects and requiring high levels of coordination. It is not surprising that the costs of producing a transmedia project are likewise significant, creating a barrier to many to use transmedia to tell their own story. While precise figures for Half the Sky are not public, USAID is supporting the games component of the project with a $1.4 Million grant[6], the project is also supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Ford Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and ITVS.

Transmedia does, however, provide opportunities for subjects to assert their voices in ways that do not exist with traditional documentaries. Many of the changemakers featured in Half the Sky tweeted during the PBS broadcast, and many maintain their own Facebook page, all of which are featured by and connected to components of the overall transmedia project. While many of the tweets either promoted the broadcast or repeated statistics and quotes from the documentary itself (as an example, activist Somaly Mam whose work is featured quotes the film, writing: "Failure to invest in these girls is nothing short of planned poverty." #halfthesky), the fact that these changemakers can contribute to the dialog around the film and communicate directly with viewers is a significant departure from pre-transmedia projects.

Transmedia as amplifier of voices
Bus stop advertisement for "Half the Sky"
Bus stop advertisement for "Half the Sky"

Transmedia’s greatest value lies in its ability to engage broader audiences in development issues than past forms of media, as well as its potential to increase levels of engagement. Kristof and Dunn have been forthright in their intention to reach new and wider audiences through the use of social media, games, and other facets of the larger transmedia project. They are also unapologetic about including celebrities as a way to increase viewership. When faced with the criticism that he always features “some bright-eyed young white person (almost always American) working in a foreign country as the primary focus,”[7] Kristof defends his choice, explaining, “...the conundrum is that frankly there's not a lot of interest in global poverty or Congo or South Sudan or Lesotho or whatever the issue may be. And I want to get people to read and make a difference.”[7] Kristof believes that his goal to engage viewers and inspire them to make a difference requires a method of storytelling that includes central figure who target audiences easily identify with. These identifiable figures not only create a bridge between viewers and topic, but they often come with a built-in audience base that can be leveraged by social media. When the figure is a celebrity, as in Half the Sky, this effect multiplies exponentially. Between Olivia Wilde and Gabrielle Union, the most active tweeters of the participating celebrities, 1.62 million people were guaranteed to hear about Half the Sky.

Once a transmedia project has captured the attention of viewers, it has more tools with which to facilitate engagement and action than traditional documentaries. Embedded in the Half the Sky broadcast were messages encouraging viewers to learn more and make a donation via the HTS website, with concurrent tweets including links to the sites, making the actions easy to take. With equal attention paid to the HTS website as any other of the transmedia project, a platform is in place for translating the emotion inspired by the film into multiple actions. A large “Take Action” button on the home page directs the viewer to a page where they have a menu of options to fulfill any calling. A philanthropic viewer can make a donation supporting one of the individuals they have just been moved by in the film, or to an organization supporting one of the causes featured. A shopaholic can “buy for good,” purchasing artisan goods supporting women and girls’ causes, and many of which are made by women featured in the film. The advocate can learn ways they can make a difference through action. The producer can learn how to hold their own screening of “Half the Sky.” The activist student or community member can learn how to become an “ambassador” for the movement. Through the site, which viewers are continually directed towards during the broadcast and via Twitter, emotion is transformed into action.

pinterest screen shot.jpg
HTS Pinterest board screen shot: Women Hold Up Half the Sky

Measuring Engagement and Impact

Measuring engagement and impact is challenging in the world of digital media. On the one hand, it has never been easier to track what people are looking at and clicking on. On the other hand, too many initiatives count “impressions” as equating “impact”, when simply viewing a tweet actually means very little. Fenton, a campaign-generating company that did some earlier work with Half the Sky, publishes a resource to assist initiatives in assessing the “ROI” of their social media campaigns [8]. They split basic metrics into “see, say, feel and do” categories to help differentiate the act of seeing (number of followers) from engagement (number of retweets or reposts) and action (number of retweets with original content added by person retweeting). The company notes that number crunching is only half the equation - interpretation of what the numbers mean is the most vital part of the assessment.

Liriel Higa [9], Director of Social Media Strategy for Half the Sky Movement at producing company Show of Force, keeps track of daily metrics across all platforms, creating a weekly internal report for her staff to assess levels of engagement and audience growth. They also examine Facebook Insights, a tool that provides metrics around a page’s usership, and use, a site focused solely on retweet metrics and insights. The team has also worked with a number of firms and partners who use account-based social media monitoring tools including Trendrr, Radian 6 and Nuvi. The data and insights collected continually inform the social media strategy. Higa says her greatest challenge post PBS airing is not only to continue building a following, but to keep the issues alive in the public sphere, maintaining the engagement of their current following.

Higa acknowledges that the primary goal of the movement is to help the NGOs and the people on the ground who are fighting oppression against women. Raising awareness is an important step towards larger social change but ultimately, those already doing the work need support. How well the social media campaign translates into support is more complicated to measure. While Higa can track donations through CrowdRise, a fundraising site linked to the HTS website, not all the money raised as a result of Half the Sky gets funneled through CrowdRise. The NGOs are asked to report donations attributable to HTS to supplement the donation tracking HTS is able to do.

The following metrics were compiled through online research and conversation with Higa:

  • The airing of “Half the Sky” on PBS (October 1st and 2nd) generated 265 tweets per minute the first night, 175 tweets per minute the next. These tweets resulted in 1 billion impressions in three days[10].
  • A partnership with GetGlue, an entertainment based social network app, enabled viewers to gain “stickers” for checking in while watching the program, automatically entering you for a sweepstakes to attend the Global Poverty Concert. The campaign generated more than 4 million impressions
  • As of 11/17/2012, based on numbers available on CrowdRise, $104,253 has been raised on the site for the 6 individual NGOs featured in the documentary, plus an additional $127.788 spread across 32 additional NGOs supporting the advancement of women’s rights.
  • Room to Read, one of the featured NGO, has raised $1.2 Million as a result of HTS and additional writing by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.
  • Individuals featured in the documentary have received undisclosed individual grants and support from viewers (during the live tweet, Nicholas Kristof wrote that Fumulaya, a rape victim who was being thrown out of her community was now attending boarding school thanks to Eva Mendes).
  • 18 advocacy projects directly inspired by the Half the Sky Movement are featured on the Half the Sky website
  • The Half the Sky Movement estimates that its mobile games and educational videos will be used by 1 million people.
  • As of 11/27/2012 The movement has inspired the enlistment of 600 Campus Ambassadors, 400 Community Ambassadors (launched more recently than the campus program) and HTS is on target to reach their goal of having 1,000 of each in the next 5 to 6 months.
  • As of 11/28/2012, HTS has 168,771 Facebook likes, 22,804 Twitter followers, 374,238 YouTube views, 35,125 Google+ followers, 2,339 Pinterest followers and a Klout score of 81.72.

While some may fault Half the Sky for an approach they see as ethnocentric, it’s mission was first and foremost to raise awareness among as many people as possible about the many forms of oppression against women happening globally and inspire westerners to take action. Those goals have shaped the project's use of social media, games and events to reach a wider audience, and better engage viewers in conversations around the issues while providing them an easy way to donate using a simple click of the button. Whether the use of transmedia will result in greater change over an extended time is still to be determined. While the six NGOs featured in the documentary have all raised valuable money, fewer of the larger organizations working with multiple or hundreds of NGOs have seem to have received similar levels of support. While specific individuals in the film have had their lives changed for the better, it is still to be determined if change for a greater population will be facilitated by the project. And while there may be greater awareness about oppression against women, the project does not address root causes of oppression including, as a number of critics pointed out, the role the US has played through larger foreign policy decisions, especially those related to war.

The question of authorship will always be raised by the medium of documentary, no matter what technical form or forms it takes. Even the most seemingly “authentic” documentaries have had editorial choices imposed on them. As Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director of the documentary production company POV asserted on a recent panel on the theme of documentary storytelling, “as soon as you put a camera in a situation, you are making an intervention.” He also asserts, however, that a good storyteller will straddle the line between narrative and strict documenting in order to achieve a “greater truth”. He, and the other panelists reminded the audience of the value of the storyteller and their ability to tease out a narrative far more engaging than if there were no director and editor involved. The film component of Half the Sky embraces its storytelling framework, acknowledging from the beginning that the viewer will experience the story through the eyes of six celebrities and Nicholas Kristof. It would be interesting, however, if as the project moves forward it could find more opportunities to present the perspectives and voices of its subjects, outside of the current storytelling framework. Broadening the scope of this transmedia project, it would be fascinating if the movement employed some of the narrative practices outlined in this wiki: for example, Storycorps’ model to capture stories arising between friends or family members from one of the communities; or Mobile Voice's model of empowering individuals to document their own stories. In both cases, the results could be curated on the HTS website through pocasts, via youtube, sent out via social media and so forth.

The project is far from over. Pre-production has begun on a sequel to the documentary, currently scheduled to air in 2014. More immediately, there are video games to be launched, screenings around the country to be held, and continued conversations on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other platforms. Educational games are being deployed to developing countries around the globe, and here in the US, educational modules are being incorporated into the classrooms. Already, new initiatives are adjusting to feedback from what has been created. The Facebook video game will focus not only on issues of oppression in developing countries, but oppression in the US as well. This inclusion is in part in response to criticisms that HTS created the impression that oppression against a women is an “us versus them”, “third world problem” instead of acknowledging that it is a worldwide epidemic. The ultimate success of the project will depend on the traction and impact these arms of the project take on. The work of a transmedia project does not end when the credits roll, it has only just begun.

1. Jenkins, Henry, “Transmedia Storytelling: Moving characters from books to films to video games can make them stronger and more compelling.” MIT Technology Review, January 15th, 2003. (Accessed 11/9/2012 at:
2. Jenkins, Henry Convergence Culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006
3. Clapp, Christina, “Editor’s Views: Half the Sky: Transmedia That Means Something”,, (accessed October 30, 2012) and Astle, Randy, “Half the Sky & Social Documentary Transmedia”, Filmmaker Magazine, October 1st, 2012, (accessed October 30, 2012)
5. Hirsch, Amanda. “3 Collaboration Lessons From Social Media Campaign for 'Half the Sky'” Mediashift, Your Guide to the Digital Media Revolution, October 12, 2012. Accessible at
8. Fenton 2012, "See, Say, Feel, Do" publication accessible via website:
9. Interview with Liriel Higa on November 27, 2012
10. Hirsch, Amanda (2012).

Narrative Stories: Social and Humanitarian Initiatives

by Nicole Margaretten


Cateura, Paraguay lies along the banks of the Paraguay River and is situated upon a teeming mountain of trash. Despite the river being Paraguay's most vital water supply, each day brings an additional 1,500 tons of trash. Most of the 2,500 families living in Cateura earn their income from the recycling industry, aided by their children who collect and sell trash from the Cateura Dump.[1] Ecological technician Favio Chávez had an idea to begin teaching music after working at the landfill and seeing children struggle as recyclers. The response was overwhelming, the children ran out of available instruments and the Landfill Harmonic[2] was created: from barrels, little cans, strings, wires and forks.

Recycled Orchestra: Practicing with handmade instruments in Cateura, Paraguay

The above video trailer is a wonderful preview to their upcoming film.
(For more information, visit their Facebook page)

Ode to the Landfill Harmonic by Nicole Margaretten, 2012

Colorful Guitars: fashioned from materials recycled from Cateura Landfill


by Nicole Margaretten

Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle left the World Bank to create a new platform for aid delivery that would also support NGOs with tools and training resources. Created in 2002, GlobalGiving works by connecting potential donors to a variety of projects developed by organizations and individuals.
To date, GlobalGiving has raised over $75,000,000 for nearly 7,000 projects.[3]



The knowledge management software SenseMaker, developed by Cognitive Edge, was initially designed for risk assessment and as a platform for governments to understand and predict the behavior of terrorists. GlobalGiving has incorporated SenseMaker Suite into their Storytelling Project to better understand specific impacts that projects have in the community. The following sections outline the ideas behind the Storytelling Project and how SenseMaker plays a critical role in achieving qualitative data analysis from collected stories.

The Storytelling Project began with the desire to improve the effectiveness of aid delivery by consulting directly with the community to better understand the experiences, desires and unaddressed needs of individuals and families living in Kenya and Uganda. Community members are employed and trained to travel throughout neighborhoods to speak to community members and encourage others to share their stories.
Every survey begins with the question “Tell us about a time when a person or an organization tried to change something in your community.” and includes prompts for writing and mark making for stakeholders to describe their memory.

Thousands of stories are available to search or discover randomly on GlobalGiving's storytelling project website. Each story is presented on its own page and includes the following elements: a short narrative transcribed unedited, basic information about the author(s), name of organization(s) involved, location on map, and visual cues for each participant to mark and label.

Browsing through the stories I encountered a wide range of stories and moments: Individuals receiving new bicycles for transportation, houses being rebuilt after a flood, financial start-up funds, water pumps built for small communities. There are also testimonials, written at an intensely personal level- stories about HIV/AIDS, police brutality and lost family members sometimes to very violent circumstances. Over 51,000 stories have been transcribed as of December 2012.[4]

Stories often have several ideas or themes, one way that this can translated quantitatively is by selecting topics or categories that each story encompasses. The following Venn diagram depicts themes that were drawn from surveys collected by the Storytelling project.[5] Some of the overlapping sections are logical and expected; it makes sense that stories which include the topic of HIV have additional references to Other health, Self-esteem and Social Relations. Some of the subtle connections are more surprising, for example how Freedom connects with Creativity and Water.


All About SenseMaker

Large numbers of surveys are collected, transcribed and aggregated into SenseMaker. The software generates quantitative data, allowing users to search for patterns and trends by organizing fragments of narratives in ways that reveal important relationships that would otherwise be left unnoticed.[6]

Screen Shot of risk assessment software SenseMaker, designed by Congitive Edge

GlobalGiving - SenseMaker Analytics

Each survey given to participants includes space to write and then provides triangular diagrams and sliding scales where participants can mark and draw their reaction to specific individuals, events or organizations. The above diagram (left) was created using surveys that were about specific organizations - while the diagram on the right only includes surveys that had no reference to any organization.[7]

It is important to acknowledge that SenseMaker was not designed for comparing "hard data" or statistical facts. Rather, the program is designed to uncover subtle differences such as the perceptions people have on a topic. The end result for GlobalGiving is the ability to visually represent and measure the impact of community projects to determine and improve efficacy.[8] Difficult questions can begin to be answered quickly, such as whether a person feels empowered by a skills training program or if a new organization is appreciated by their neighbors in a village.

  • Scale: Currently the project is located in Kenya and Uganda, is the project scalable to other countries and regions in a way that is financially sustainable?
  • Language Barriers and Illiteracy: due to the multitude of languages in the region and lack of educational opportunity in some areas and villages, are surveys reflective of all cultures and age groups within selected project regions?
  • Is there existing data that this project can build upon for Kenya, Uganda and future initiatives?
  • Data Collection: How are survey responses influenced when they are collected in a group setting in comparison to individuals who are not participating in a group setting?
  • Many interesting diagrams from SenseMaker were listed as strictly confidential, will these be available to share and learn from in the future?
  • Will SenseMaker be accessible for students to draw their own conclusions?
To help visualize and complete the Storytelling Project, GlobalGiving utilized the Ushahidi platform to begin mapping responses. Additional links to results will be added as they come available.

  1. ^

    Cabrera, A. (2010). "At a glance: Paraguay - Amidst severe poverty, community centres aid families in Paraguay." Retrieved December 12, 2012, from
  2. ^ Lebrecht, N. (2012). "More Heartbreak at the Landfill Harmonic." Retrieved December 12, 2012, from
  3. ^

    "About GlobalGiving." Retrieved December 12, 2012, from
  4. ^

    "GlobalGiving Storytelling Project." Retrieved December 12, 2012, from
  5. ^

    "GlobalGiving Storytelling Tools." Retrieved December 14, 2012, from
  6. ^

    "Signification Framework." Retrieved December 14, 2012, from,d.dmQ&cad=rja
  7. ^

    "GlobalGiving Storytelling Tools." Retrieved December 12, 2012, from
  8. ^

    "Signification Framework." Retrieved December 14, 2012, from,d.dmQ&cad=rja