Capturing the impact of community-led work

Dusseldorp Forum, The Centre for Public Impact, and Hands Up Mallee have been exploring how stories can be used to more effectively communicate the impact of community-led systems change work.

Community-led place based initiatives are modelling new ways of working – shifting away from top down, program-focussed approaches towards an approach grounded in systems thinking and community-led innovations.

However, while these stories of change are sitting in communities, they’re often not being told or celebrated. We wanted to understand why this is, and what might be done to better enable these stories to be shared and heard.

The story of storytelling

We talked to a range of people to uncover the story of storytelling – including collective impact backbone team members, community members, storytelling experts, and those working in and around community-led systems change initiatives across Australia.

We explored the roles stories play in different communities; what good storytelling looks like; what barriers to storytelling might be; and what role stories can play in supporting systems change.

We have learned through this project that stories can be used both to change the system and to evaluate, understand and showcase the change that is occurring in communities. We have heard that different stories require different approaches – stories that are seeking to enable change look different to those that are seeking to celebrate change.

Our key findings included:

  • Different stories require different approaches – stories that are seeking to enable change look different to those that are seeking to celebrate change.
  • Great stories privilege the voice of the story-holder; are resonant, clear and relatable; and are guided and bound by agreed protocols.
  • Technical, structural and institutional barriers can get in the way of good storytelling.
  • To have an impact, stories need to be heard. For stories to effect change, the right people need to not only listen to the stories, but also hear them.
  • We need new kinds of infrastructure, investment, and explorations to support stories to be both told — and heard.

“You can’t unlearn someone else’s perspective once you’ve experienced it through a story.”

Dalit Kaplan, Storywell

“People need to be able to tell their story to change their story.”

Bre Macfarlane, Home Base Mildura

“If we’ve been telling stories based on colonial lenses, deficit mindsets, how can we expect to create new systems?”

Rona Glynn-McDonald, Common Ground

Where to next?

We’re looking to translate some of the ideas generated from this phase into practical action. We’re looking for backbone teams, government departments, community storytellers, and philanthropic organisations who would like to be co-authors in the next stage of this story.

If you’re interested in exploring how storytelling can be used to both enable and celebrate community-led systems change work, we’d love to hear from you.