Digital Storytelling: Making Good Ideas Great Again

Photo of Patrick Sims Patrick Sims · November 4, 2017

The policy world needs digital storytelling. This may not sound particularly earth-shattering— especially coming from someone who recently launched a digital storytelling company. But it’s worth saying.


Because in addition to building awesome products for our happy clients, I believe this approach to communicating ideas has the power to solve — or at least help mitigate — some of the larger existential challenges we face in the information age.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen the formation of insular communities along ridged and fractured understandings of politics, culture, and identity. And as we saw in the recent election, the policy world’s inability to communicate impactfully to this rapidly evolving audience enabled what seemed like an instantaneous takeover by peddlers of fabricated information.

Purveyors of fake news continue to exploit the growing entrenchment of existing biases and bubbles—sensationalizing information to resonate with preconceived and increasingly polarized views of the world.

Any hope of salvation now rests on our willingness to prioritize action that leads us back to healthy debate. Even in the fiercest of disagreements, we form unity around a commitment to our civility—to furthering the goals and achievements that mark our democracy’s success story.

Which brings us back to digital storytelling.

This approach uses technology to break into various bubbles and echo chambers that have come to define the “post-truth” era. Take, for example, the New York Times’ recent project around Hurricane Harvey. By entering your zip code, this digital storytelling product allows users to compare their average local rainfall to the deluge Houston received.

No matter where you live or what your views about potential causes of extreme weather are, this tool forms a personal connection between the user and the facts about Hurricane Harvey.

By placing the individual at the center of the experience, we can use technology to create personal connections to the truth. In other words, we can start thinking about solutions to break through the noise that don’t require us to double down on the strategies that make fake news successful. Instead, we can garner attention by making the truth compelling—by making it personal—and wean our audiences off of an over-reliance on fiction.

While it’s likely politics will continue trending in an adversarial direction; while it’s likely television performances will continue dominating news hours, it’s my hope that we use this opportunity to find a new path toward consensus.

When we operate from the same facts, we debate our priorities. But when facts are for sale—when they’re so commonly obscured or altered—we question the very foundations of our truths, we frame our neighbors as good and evil, and we hold staunch opinions of right and wrong.

We may not always agree about the right path forward, nor do I believe that such ideological homogeneity would be good for our democracy. But facts have always been our salvation, the tools we use to defuse political arguments—not our rhetorical weapons of choice. Although we may be struggling to see the light, we must begin reclaiming the truth in order to make good ideas great again.