Can Communications be truly collaborative?

Earlier this year, in an attempt to get fit, I started running. Well, jogging really. Okay, fast walking. Only instead of becoming the streamlined, long -distance runner I’d imagined, I took a nasty fall and tore up my ankle. It was bad. Really bad. Can’t leave the house for a month, bad. Months of pain and physio ensued. In a cab on the way back from my final physio appointment, I relayed this story to the driver. He offered his own anecdote about his Dr telling him that he should go to the gym. He lamented that he worked 12 hour days and the last thing he wanted to do at the end of that was go to the gym. He then told me about the time he owned a takeaway, and his plan to up sticks and leave for sunnier shores in the coming years. He spoke about his dismay that neighbours no longer speak to each other and shared a vivid childhood memory about his father. At the end of the ride we thanked each other for the conversation, each leaving, I think, a touch fuller, feeling a little more connected.

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of stories. I write and perform stories using various mediums, theatre, film, short stories and have worked in communications for over 15 years — mostly internal communications where I have been tasked with sharing the stories of an organisation with and to the people who work there. I have generally kept these two sides of myself separate — the creative and the corporate. Organisations generally do not see the value in creativity and storytelling — however much they like to convince themselves otherwise. Marketing and communications can often just be seen as completing a number of tasks and hoping for the best. Define your audience. Create a newsletter. Build a website. Set up a Twitter page. Evaluate. A to-do-list to be ticked off.

While of course there will be many tried and true communications principles that underpin the work I do, at Make/Shift I am keen to experiment with different ways of working – to shift communications and marketing away from something that is done by rote, using tools and processes that are always used, only because they have always been used rather than because they are truly effective or joyful or needed. My questions are these:

How can we tell the story of the Make/Shift project?

How do we do that effectively in a way that is collaborative and impactful?

How can we make sure that the storytelling is respectful and dignified?

Can we co-design communications?

Can we do this in a way that is iterative?

I plan to blog about the experience of exploring these questions with all of the highs and lows that will inevitably arise. This is the beauty of an action-research project — we get to try, fail, try better.

One of the areas that I am interested in trying a more iterative approach is with the creation of our visual identity. Can we create an identity that is informed by the community, shaped and refined by their explorations with making and creativity, which also develops over time as we continue our work with this community? It’s going to be uncomfortable and slower than the conventional process of creating a visual identity but I think it’s also an opportunity to surprise ourselves by what is created.

I also hope that this is the beginning of my own research and greater understanding of how to work in a way that aligns with the values that underpin the foundations of Make/Shift. It’s a chance to generate learning and explore the possibilities of how we can tell the story of a Creative People and Places project.

In my upcoming blogs, I’ll be delving a bit deeper into our decision to approach the creation of our visual identity by piloting a designer-in-residence model. I’ll also be sharing some of the work of people and organisations who are re-framing storytelling, and positioning organisational and societal narrative as a tool to create change. But before all of that, I’ll be getting back to some outdoor exercise — only at a much gentler pace.

Hayley Davis — Communications and Storytelling, Make/Shift

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