Mapping, impact, and digital storytelling: New tools and new insights

Guest Post by Christopher T. Coward, Principal Research Scientist & Director, Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School, and Joe Sullivan, Research Anaylyst, Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School

A compelling story is a treasure. Stories provide context that help make sense of (seemingly) independent data. Stories are memorable and can be retold; they help build shared understandings. The way a story is arranged and conveyed plays an important role in how people conceptualize challenges and imagine solutions.

As researchers at the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington, we have worked with Microsoft Community Affairs for more than five years to study the relationship between computer skills, employability, and social inclusion. We have used stories as a vehicle for communicating scientific research that is also more accessible for non-academic audiences. The stories conveyed additional insights that were sometimes de-emphasized using different formats and data, such as the question of metrics in India. Digital tools and the Internet have made it possible to share stories and combine data in new, compelling ways.

Now, as Community Affairs launches version two of the Local Impact Map, we look forward to the emergence of new stories and understandings. Microsoft grantees are doing fantastic, innovative work. We discovered many inspiring examples of technology programs that make a difference—to youth, to farmers, in cities, in rural areas. The list is long. We are pleased to see stories and data we collected alongside the many other stories in this map. Microsoft’s global reach and careful selection of its partners has provided resources, credibility, and exposure that catalyzes local efforts. Now the map has made it possible for greater connections among these actors and a better understanding of the impact of their work.

The stories and data that emerge through this map not only display the efforts of Microsoft’s corporate social responsibility efforts. They are useful for nonprofits and anyone interested in the ways technology can benefit those facing economic and social hardships. Anyone can “zoom” in or out and capture views of data—statistics, human impact stories, geographic patterns—and organize those views according to their own narratives. The tool gives people the ability to tell a high-level impact story supported by specific examples, in a way that was previously onerous (if possible at all).

We can imagine ways that we may use this tool. We can also imagine ways that other grantees will use this tool to tell “their” story in order to reach new audiences and strengthen their efforts. This expanded storytelling tool provides more momentum for the important work that is being done on the ground and in the lives of disadvantaged populations around the world. We challenge you to take a look at the Local Impact Map, absorb the stories of social responsibility from around the world, and envision how you could tell your stories with a tool like this.

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