How to become a climate chef and avoid disasters

Submitted by Sam Woor | published 6th Jul 2020 | last updated 21st Aug 2020
how to cook an appealing story

Source: PLACARD

Introduction

Hundreds of organisations and thousands of people are working day in, day out to help people to deal with the impacts of disasters and climate change. 

While working with people from diverse backgrounds such as agriculture, urban planning, water management, nature conservation, humanitarian aid, and civil protection, you may sometimes experience difficulties in motivating them to prepare and act upon these disaster and climate impacts, to make sure they suffer less and recover more easily. You may also struggle with getting people to collaborate with each other to create a more resilient society.

Stories make us care! When we are moved, we may feel a need to act upon that emotion. Stories can also help to create a sense of control. In disaster risk response and climate change, stories – or narratives – help us to deal with the diversity of voices and knowledge. They help us to develop better solutions for disaster preparedness and resilience. 

This recipe book* for making stories can help you to get people engaged and working towards aclimate-proof and disaster resilient society. It provides you a recipe, i.e. an ‘ingredient’ list and instructions how to ‘cook’ an engaging story and use it as a strategic tool to engage people and to encourage them to take preventive and preparatory actions in the context of disasters and the changing climate. 

This recipe book is the result of a series of findings from studies and workshops. It also references scientific theories and literature on communication (see list of references on page 23 of the full text). While it focuses on stories for DRR and CCA, the guidelines are generic and thus can be applied in other fields too.

*Download the full recipe book from the right hand column and follow the links below for more information and resources. 

Strategic narratives: knowing and telling with a purpose

Everyone tells stories – we do it every day – but not always consciously, or with a specific purpose in mind. These stories are a rich source of knowledge. How communities describe these past experiences can tell us how these people might understand future events and how to prepare themselves. These storied ways of knowing are narratives.

Narratives are stories that make sense. They do not replicate an experience, but filter it to create a story with a purpose in mind.

The origin of the word narrative illustrates the relationship between knowing – which comes from the Latin word gnarus – and telling – the English verb to narrate. A narrative refers to a ‘spoken or written account of connected events, a story’. 

Why stories are powerful

The added value of stories is their potential to overcome communication and collaboration barriers that cannot be handled by “rational means” such as traditional science-based information and data. Often the information about future climate-related impacts and recommended solutions is available, and the necessary resources can be obtained, but nothing or little is actually done with the information. Well-constructed strategic narratives can help to overcome that deadlock by creating a momentum for joint action. Stories are easy to understand and can be “customised” to appeal to different kinds of people from various sectors or social groups. As a result, they can help to connect and encourage collaboration when people find common ground in these stories. The power of stories is that they are not only a way to communicate and understand reality, they can also deeply touch or move people, and as a result inspire collective and transformational action.

The limitation of stories and strategic narratives is that their success depends heavily on the value orientations of the people or target groups that hear the story. Values are often hidden and difficult to change in the short-term. When the story values are not in line with the audience value orientations, the impact on behavioural change will be hindered or limited.

Narratives cookbook: top tips for creating engaging narratives

Ideally, the construction of a new narrative is a ‘social process or performance in action.’ This means that the story emerges from a mutual understanding between speaker and listener.

By building a narrative together, the narrative gains strength. But there are a few rules that a successful narrator should follow. Some key guidelines and 'ingredients' are priovided below. See the full text for much more detail!


Source: PLACARD

Who?

  • Identify your target audience
  • Consider who will disseminate the final narrative – someone respected and familiar to the audience
  • Make sure you are credible and trusted yourself
  • View the narrative through other people’s eyes – will they share your interpretation?
  • Be sensitive to your audience’s values when selecting terminology, metaphors or stories
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences and norms when developing storylines.

What?

  • Your storyline must resonate with the audience and grab their attention
  • Visuals should be used carefully as they can be distracting. Someone looking directly at you is more compelling (potentially!)
  • Build a background and context around your story in a logical order
  • To create a narrative that different audiences can connect with, be selective – make fewer, clear points. Don’t try to add context to connect to multiple groups as that will diffuse your point and lose your audience’s attention.
  • Use data that is appropriate for your audience. Hard data is useful to make a compelling case for technical people, but might be overwhelming for other audiences. However, don’t dumb down the content of your narrative, it’s important to be able to back up your story with data or evidence.

How?

  • Listen and look at you audience’s body language; respond with empathy
  • Be flexible in adapting your narrative, but stay focused on the strategic point of the story
  • Make it personal to you – share your emotions, passions, drivers…

Other lessons

  • Your narrative may have multiple interpretations – so that different actors can make use of the story themselves
  • If the target audience includes a large variety in values, perceptions and discourses, opt for a sense-making process
  • Co-creation is an important principle
  • Participatory design
  • Consider different framing strategies

Ingredients of successful narratives

  • Empathy – draw on issues that your target audience is concerned about.
  • Connection – build on past or common experiences. A feeling of connection between the narrator and audience can increase the narrative’s effectiveness.
  • Listen – ask for solutions, co-create responses. Be flexible in adapting your narrative.
  • Focus points – have a few key points running through the whole narrative, and keep the conversation coming back to them.
  • Share lessons learned and good practice.
  • Speak to people’s perceptions – for example, ‘luck’, ‘fate’.
  • Framing – begin by talking about how the particular issue affects the positive picture, then provide solutions
  • Inclusivity & ownership – emphasise that the audience can be an agent of change, and that they are needed.
  • Core values – understand your audience’s values and incorporate them, for example, ‘protect family’, ‘attract investment’. It can be helpful to present shared values to build a relationship or legitimacy with the audience, for example, in city planning you could say: “I have grown up here and love X about the city…” which instantly provides a connection to audience and encourages them to listen more.
  • Explain what the new risks are for the particular situation, and how past strategies may no longer be robust enough to protect citizens. Use illustrative examples to demonstrate how to take action, an example of how others have addressed these issues.
  • Balance – your message must have good balance of security, awareness and uncertainty, for example, fire cannot be prevented but the impacts can be minimised
  • Link to the audience’s own activities, for example, suggest they build on a particular existing project or task.
  • Terminology must be used carefully – for example, it isn’t possible to ‘prevent’ wildfires. Don’t use jargon, and explain any technical terms. It is also important to use appropriate terminology for your audience – for example, ‘strategy’ and ‘regeneration’ for city planners.