Storytelling is an important aspect of community engagement – that’s why Inform is the first step on the participation ladder. Storytelling cultivates a foundational understanding of an engagement topic, the parameters and criteria for engagement, and sheds inspiration for engagement. For better participation projects, cities should tell these stories in more informative, interactive, and immersive ways.
4 ways to tell better stories about community participation
1. Storytelling should lead with emotions
Start by thinking about the emotions you want to elicit with the story you are trying to tell. For example, if you’re working on a neighborhood planning project, you might want to elicit people’s memories of the area so they can share the elements they want to keep and those they want to see improved, like this placemaking project did in Philadelphia. Moreover, you can make your projects more personal by introducing City Managers alongside their profile photos and contact information to add a ‘human touch’ and lend credibility and transparency to the project.
TIP: Be careful not to include every factual detail of the project, or you may end up diluting and overcomplicating the story. The first step is to entice the readers by piquing their interest in your story and project.
2. Clarity is key to good civic engagement storytelling
Once your community starts taking interest in your project(s), the rest of your story should be clear enough to follow and understand. There should be a central call to action in your story, and your tone should match your target audience – consider a more casual, fun tone if you’re trying to reach school-age youth, for instance. It should also be intuitive to follow the layout and structure of your project; for this, you’ll want to use appropriate headers, sub-headers, and images and make these layouts and structures consistent across different projects. Most importantly, consider the accessibility of the texts and images you are using while crafting the story. They should be easily readable by both people and screen readers.
Example of a city providing detailed information about the skating ground & material used
3. Keep civic engagement interactive
The clarity of a project’s story is important for communicating its foundation and the parameters of the engagement project, but clarity is not enough to inspire people to action. That’s why having immersive and interactive content is a key factor in your storytelling. Photos, infographics, presentations, and videos can help you tell your story in a more engaging and emotive way.
If your project has multiple sub-stories and details, you can use third-party services to provide interactive options to explore more details related to the project. Integrating online mapping tools such as ESRI and collaborative documents such as Google Docs or Konveio can make your storytelling more visual and interactive. When your project has numerous figures and complex financial details, you can include data visualization tools such as Power BI or Data Studio and make it easier for your readers to understand those numbers.
Example of a city providing an online map of their bike spaces as part of their project on improving the area’s bike lanes
4. Update often about civic engagement progress and results
Even after augmenting your stories with visuals and interactive experiences, your journey of informing the participants is not yet finished. Community participation is a process, new information will come up along the way, and it is important to regularly keep your community informed of those updates. These new updates can be highlighted as part of your project descriptions. With the use of phases or timelines in your engagement process, the participants can clearly understand what they can do at each stage. Along the way, the cities can also use emails and other official feedback mechanisms to keep the community in the loop.
At the end of the project, it is crucial for the city managers to share the results of the engagement project with the participants. This builds trust and motivates the participants to engage in future projects.
Example of a city providing highlighted updates to ensure the community is in the loop with the progress
Increase levels of civic engagement in your city today
Using clear narratives and storytelling principles, you can set your civic engagement projects up for success from beginning to end. By leading with emotions, providing clarity, staying interactive, and closing feedback loops on a digital community engagement platform like CitizenLab’s, you’ll be able to meet your community where they are and make engagement exciting.
Want to learn more about digital community engagement? Read more: