SusTelling | Storytelling in Sustainability Communication

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The SusTelling project explores how youths and young adults learn about and for sustainability through stories and narrative communication approaches.

Team members: Daniel Fischer (lead), Hanna Selm, Anna Sundermann, Sonja Fuecker,

as well as Daniel Hanss, Elisabeth Hollerweger and Torsten Schaefer as external experts,

and Tanja Montag, Anna Schmidt and Lukas Heck as student assistants.

The project “Storytelling in Sustainability Communication” aims to make use of the approach of storytelling in a systematic and evidence-based way in order to tackle challenges in sustainability communication with young people and to contribute to a more effective processing of sustainability topics in journalism as well as in science and corporate communication. Although the storytelling approach is awarded high potential, so far there are only a few projects in the area of sustainability communication that integrate this approach in a systematic and sound manner. At the same time, despite a great deal of practical interest (for example in journalism, corporate and health communication), there is a paucity of empirical research substantiating the effectiveness of the storytelling approach.

Objectives

The aim of the project is to contribute new knowledge on how journalism communicates sustainability topics to young people. As such, the effect of storytelling formats will be evaluated and examined, focusing on a young target group of 18 to 22-year-olds in academic and vocational training. The objective is to explore in how far storytelling can contribute to an effective appeal regarding sustainability topics – targeting young adults who are rather reserved about such topics. Moreover, the findings will be systematically disseminated into practice during the final project phase.

Methods

Existing findings on the impact of storytelling will be reviewed in a systematic literature analysis. In an additional approach, practice actors will be asked about their experiences with using storytelling in sustainability communication. The hypotheses derived from the synthesis of these two research approaches are then tested in an experimental impact study, thus generating empirical findings on the effects of storytelling in sustainability communication.

A second, exploratory impact study will examine the reception of various storytelling offerings and thus will provide information on the scope, types, and preferences on media use for sustainability topics. By using qualitative in-depth studies, the project also aims to reconstruct underlying reception patterns.

Druck The project is funded by the German Federal Foundation for the Environment (DBU) with a total budget of EUR 293,000.

Duration: 10/2017-09/2020

Advisory board and partners

We are thankful for the expertise, critical feedback and support provided by our advisory board members Thomas Friemel, Maximilian Gege, Maike Gosch, Sarah Jastram, Dorothee Menhart, Gerd Michelsen, Thomas Pyhel, and Maren Urner.

The project is partnering with a number of organizations that are supporting us in the transfer of our findings.

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Publications

Fischer, D., Schäfer, T., & Borner, J. (2018). Narrations of Sustainability: How to Tell the Story of the Socio-Ecological Transformation. GAIA – Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 27, 334–336. https://doi.org/10.14512/gaia.27.3.14

Fischer, D., & Storksdieck, M. (2018). Storytelling: Ein Ansatz zum Umgang mit Komplexität in der Nachhaltigkeitskommunikation [Storytelling: an approach to deal with complexity in sustainability communication]? In T. Pyhel (Ed.), Zwischen Ohnmacht und Zuversicht? Vom Umgang mit Komplexität in der Nachhaltigkeitskommunikation [Between paralysis and optimism? Dealing with complexity in sustainability communication] (pp. 161–176). München: Oekom. ISBN: 978-3-96238-042-7, Chapter available here.

Presentations

Fischer, D., Selm, H., & Sundermann, A. (2018). Wie wirkt Storytelling in der Nachhaltigkeitskommunikation? [How does storytelling work in sustainability communication?] Workshop at the Conference “Narrationen der Nachhaltigkeit – Ideen und Erkenntnisse fuer die Praxis” [Narrations of Sustainability – Ideas and Insights for Practice], Darmstadt, Germany. [LINK, in German]

Fischer, D., Sundermann, A., & Selm, H. (2018). The Story of Storytelling Effects in Sustainability Communication: A Systematic Literature Review on the Evidence-Base. Presentation at the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) Conference 2018, Eugene, Oregon, USA. [LINK]

Selm, H. (2018). Wie wirkt Storytelling [How does Storytelling effect audiences]? Presentation as part of the session “Projektvorstellung Spezial“ at the 11th Forum Wissenschaftskommunikation [Forum Science Communication], Bonn, Germany. [LINK, in German]

Sundermann, A. (2018). Es war einmal … – Über die Wirkung von Geschichten in der Umweltkommunikation [Once upon a time … – About effects of stories in environmental communication]. Opening lecture to the 19th Lueneburg Environmental Film Days. Lueneburg, Germany. [LINK, in German]

Media Mentions

26.11.2018 “Der Unterhaltungsfaktor muss hoch sein” [“The entertainment factor needs to be high”]. In: Landeszeitung Lüneburg für die Lüneburger Heide. The article about Anna Sundermann’s research in SusTelling, held as the opening lecture at the Environmental Film Days Lueneburg at the SCALA cinema, can be accessed here (in German).

November 2018 “Die Märchenerzähler”. In: Natur. The article about greenwashing and other strategies, authored by Henrike Wiemker, can be accessed here (in German).

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