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Building Community Capacity Through the Storytelling Network: Improving Community with Communication

Do you want to strengthen you community?

Our research demonstrates how understanding and leveraging the “storytelling network” of a community is one of the best ways to strengthen its capacity.  Working with and through the storytelling network, you can better address a variety of issues, including residents' civic engagment and outcomes related to health.

Remember, the neighborhood stroytelling network consists of three key elements -- community residents and their interpersonal networks of friends and family, geo-ethnic media, and community-based organizations. 

Here are several ways to improve a community's storytelling network. More may come from your peers in discussion -- see our Collaborations section and make sure to sign up for our Listserv.

Connect all three groups as a network

Too often, practitioners focus on just one group:  sometimes community members, other times on media organizations, or else on peer community organizations.  Of course, each is important -- but our research shows that together they are more than the sum of their parts.  One of the most powerful things you can do is to bring all three into conversation.

How to go about connecting these groups in conversation?  You might organize an event that brings together individuals from these different groups.  You could make a concerted effort to build relationships with the geo-ethnic media outlets that residents rely on most.  You may partner with several other organizations to hold a community dialogue or volunteer event with local residents.  The key is to encourage communication across these three vital pieces of the storytelling network.

If a direct conversation between groups is beyond your means, at least make sure that you have a strategy for each group that is (a) consistent, and (b) builds awareness of the other groups and how to work with them.

Test your messages at the point of crossover between groups.  Key messages in the storytelling network can stall when crossing the intersections between the three groups we outlined. In the process of communciation, the frames we use with one group are not necessarily the same frames we should use with the other. It is important to know your audience and tailor messages accordingly.  

For each intersection, test to make sure that the first group believes the second is receiving and understanding its message, and vice versa.  How can you optimize for this? Focus groups are one of the best ways to test this crossover, with special attention to message framing.  Additionally, if you are running a survey, it's worth asking each group about any messages they feel might not be spreading that should. Here are the three intersections emphasized by our research:

1. community members =>  <= media organizations

2. community members =>  <= nonprofit organizations

3. nonprofit organizations =>  <= media organizations

More communication is often the most important factor.  The network grows stronger with use.  Brainstorm with your network members about why they communicate, and what keeps them from communicating with each other more.

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