If you work in organizational communications, then you probably know that turning technical staff into creative storytellers is like trying to herd cats. This presents a challenge because technical staffers are often the people who are closest to the nuts and bolts of your organization’s story. In my work centralizing storytelling for a global organization, I’m constantly looking for effective processes and tools to break down barriers to drawing the most significant and relevant stories out of our projects.
I’ve Often Heard People Refer to the Field Mentality as the Camp Mentality…
I like to start process or workflow design by looking for an analogy that put my challenges and objectives in perspective. In this case, it was easy because I went to sleep away camp. My parents were desperate to receive letters from me. They really didn’t care what I wrote, so long as I sent something. In return, they would lavish care packages full of candy upon me, mostly Twizzlers (they travel well). It was a fair trade.
One method parents used to guarantee letters, which a quick search on the internet confirmed is still a thing – fill in the blank letters. The “fields” of information on these letters cover the basics a parent might want to know, like if the child likes or hates camp, what the child's favorite activities are, if they've made friends, etc. It's basic, but it makes it easy for parents to get what they really want – in my case, a basic update to let them know that I was alive and not on the verge of calling them to pick me up. On a side note - I really hated sleep away camp.
So, I began planning my very own development story fill-in-the-blank, or “Develop-Mad Lib.” I thought through my personal experiences and realized that I was most productive and more likely to actually document an experience when it was fresh in my mind, either immediately afterwards or on the long international flight home from the field. I figured that while some would not want to go through the effort of writing a document on their laptop, many might pass the time by filling out a fill-in-the-blank form. They might even find it a fun or clarifying way to think about their experiences in the field. Ideally, the form would offer staff a means to capture the basics of project results, while simultaneously helping them think about our global impact as stories - a double-score.
The next step was to think about the different types of development stories and how to create a form that was neither overly simplistic nor like filling out the forms at a doctor’s office either. Also, my expectation was that no form would be a catch-all or storytelling magic bullet, so I wanted to create a starting point for a conversation - a bridge between the storytellers and technical staff.
Below, is the first Develop-Mad Lib. I hope it inspires you to tell your organization’s story. Feel free to click on the image and download from MSI's website. I hope it helps your organization find "the story."