Effective sustainability communication is essential to the successful creation, implementation and maintenance of effective sustainability solutions. As journalists are often the intermediary between sustainability scientists or practitioners and the general public, they have a responsibility to learn how to tell these stories in a way that motivates audiences to design and support more substantive solutions. My project is an experiment in this kind of sustainability storytelling.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo I saw firsthand the harm that ineffective storytelling can do. There the dominant narrative of sustainable development – as something Northern citizens do in the South – has had a dampening effect on grassroots development efforts. In an effort to combat this narrative, I created a short-form documentary that follows the stories of one exemplary Togolese changemaker who successfully developed his own solutions to sustainability challenges in his community. The film was published online in both English and French; shared with staff, Volunteers and local counterparts of Peace Corps Togo; and modified into a shorter video profile for distribution via WhatsApp, the primary social media platform in Togo.
Focus groups organized to evaluate audience responses to the film indicated that it effectively elicits feelings of hope and inspiration in viewers, as well as an increased motivation to address problems in viewers’ local communities. Participants also noted that its emphasis on local-led solutions counteracted Western development myths. This early feedback supports a growing body of evidence that solutions journalism more effectively spurs behavior change than its problem-centric counterpart. It also suggests that shifting the focus of development narratives from foreign to local leaders can also shift audience’s perceived agency.
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