Rethinking your advocacy strategy with storytelling and design thinking

Our journey in exploring the best examples and inspirations for successful advocacy and civil society development in Norway and Greece started with a surprising email invitation from Higgs.

Before the project, we did not know each other and the project has brought two entities together in the first place, opening possibilities to learn from each country´s practices of supporting civil society at different levels.

In this article, I would like to share some of these insights and learned lessons with you with a special focus on good examples of advocacy tips from Norway and some useful tools to follow.

As many of you are aware, advocacy campaigns have objectives to raise public awareness and motivate people to care or act on relevant public, social, civic, political, and economic issues. So, any advocacy campaign will serve at least one of the following goals:

  • To educate a specific audience about the issue;
  • To motivate a specific audience to care about the issue;
  • To mobilize a specific audience to act upon the issue in a particular direction.

Your advocacy campaigns are more powerful and reach their goals when you can create an emotional connection with your audience. In this endeavor, storytelling and design thinking are two important tools. The empathy feeling you can generate through storytelling is a more powerful method than any rational change you propose in your campaign(1). Your audience, people are moved by emotions, not by facts. This is how our brain works and gets wired when we need to make decisions and act.

You may ask how to ensure we empathize with our audience. It is a long learning process but luckily there are some useful tools and methods that can help you to start better empathizing and storytelling. I would like to share two of them here:

  • Design thinking, for understanding your audience and tailor your message and campaign based on needs and insights you gathered about them;
  • The Story Canvas developed by Digital Storytellers, for impactful and meaningful digital storytelling campaigns;

Design thinking is a problem-solving process used mainly to generate innovative services and products and meaningful communication and storytelling campaigns.

It is a human-oriented method that helps us unblock ourselves from the self-imposed constraints we work within, challenge our assumptions, redefine problems, and identify alternative strategies that might not be instantly obvious. It focuses on solving problems, but what makes this process more remarkable is the focus on the “users”, on those for whom you want to re-design experiences as users, audiences, customers, clients, beneficiaries, etc.

The process includes five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.

In planning an advocacy campaign through storytelling, the empathize step’s main objective is to discover the needs of the users/your target audience. To really empathize, it is not enough only to ask people: What is your need? What do you want to hear? What will make you act or care? Sometimes they do not know, or they cannot express it in the best way.

A good tool to use for guiding you in this is empathy map you can find in this link.

After completing your emphathising, your storytelling for advocacy would have a better kick. For this. I recommend Story Canvas by Digital storytellers. The Storytelling Canvas is based on the idea that storytelling is a powerful tool to inspire and engage people, communities and organisations to contribute ideas, energy and resources to advance a cause.

To  achieve these results, storytelling must be strategic. After working with hundreds of nonprofits, social enterprises and impact organisations, the creators of this tool have distilled their steps for developing awesome stories into an easy to follow process, The Story Canvas. The Story Canvas is based on the Business Model Canvas’ and is a simple to use tool to develop and iterate your story ideas.

I would like to conclude this short guide to the world of design thinking and storytelling for better advocacy with a good advocacy example from Norway. SAIH is a solidarity organization of students and academics in Norway.

Since 1999, SAIH has been engaged in questions around how to raise. Awareness about lacking in nuance and focuses exclusively upon war, poverty and conflict.

A central argument in their advocacy campaign called Radi-Aid was that stereotypes and oversimplifications lead to poor debates and poor policies. To change the way that aid organizations communicate, they have created an award ceremony for the most harmful and the most creative charity campaign videos: The Radiator Awards.

The campaign received an enormous amount of attention. Here is one of the many campign materials that can inspire you and would like to invite you to evaluate it from design thinking and story canvas framework.

You can find more tools and tips about effective advocacy in the following links.

  1. Beudean, P. (2022), Storytelling Handbook for Young Activists

Vedat Sevincer, project manager at NorSensus – Media Forum

The bilateral initiative between HIGGS and Norsensus Mediaforum is being implemented under the Active citizens fund in Greece.
The Active citizens fund in Greece is supported through a € 13.5 m grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway as part of the EEA Grants 2014 – 2021. The programme aims to develop the sustainability and capacity of the civil society sector in Greece, and to strengthen its role in promoting and safeguarding democratic procedures, active citizenship and human rights. The Fund Operator for the Active citizens fund in Greece is Bodossaki Foundation in consortium with SolidarityNow. More information:
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the EEA Financial Mechanism or the Fund Operator of the Active citizens fund program in Greece (Bodossaki Foundation in consortium with SolidarityNow)

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