Applying Digital Storytelling to Projects

I’m currently working with colleagues from JISC Netskills to work out how we can apply some of the learning from and techniques of Digital Storytelling to the way in which JISC projects communicate their outputs. These are my notes from a pilot workshop we organised with some of our very own critical friends…

What is Digital Storytelling?

At the start of the day we defined Digital Storytelling as ‘using media from different sources to produce a story’. There’s a technical aspect to it in terms of finding images, the creation of the final output, and publishing it. At this point we didn’t get too caught up in the term ‘story’ although my personal definition would probably align with that of Oxford Dictionaries (3):

“an account of past events in someone’s life or in the development of something”

What are stories for?


  • are entertaining and engaging
  • make things memorable
  • make complex ideas understandable
  • help to address the question ‘so what?’

We also discussed the way in which a collection of digital stories could provide a shared sense of purpose/identity—particularly relevant for programmes.

How is a story built?

Chris Thomson provided an excellent overview of a typical story structure:

  1. Before state (status quo)
  2. Trigger—stranger comes to town; or you go on a journey
  3. A development takes place
  4. Arrive at the ‘new normal’ (failure is fine, good to compare with the ‘before state’)

Kurt Vonnegut tells it good too…

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Applying Storytelling to a Project

When we started to discuss storytelling as part of a project we began to get boiled down in the question of ‘who is our audience’. The simple answer here is that the story is for anyone outside of your project team. It’s up to you what details you leave in or take out but don’t get hung up on this question.

We also discussed the idea of this not being the whole project story but that it would provide an entry point into more detailed information. A ‘softening of the edges’ if you will.

Trying this out

Discussions we’re quite in-depth throughout the day and so we needed to speed things up a little. We ran an exercise with everyone where we gave them just ten minutes to write a story relating to their project/or the programme. No other guidance was given, they were free to do what they wanted. Having tried this out before I kind of had an idea how the attendees would react to actually writing their own story in such a short timeframe. However, despite their initial concerns and worry that they couldn’t possibly do something in that time, everyone around the table had produced either a full draft story/or intriguing start to one. They were amazing and I think the attendees themselves were surprised at the quality of what had been produced. Unfortunately we didn’t get them all recorded but believe we have a really good foundation upon which to run this again with projects.

Since the workshop I’ve discussed at length with my colleague Will Allen whether we’re really talking about storytelling here. Our conclusion was that it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is to try and apply some of the thinking and structures of storytelling to our projects. In fact it was interesting to see that the structure Chris had outlined during the day matched almost exactly onto a piece of work we’ve been doing around ‘evidencing impact’. To effectively communicate we’re ensuring our projects are capturing baseline information (before state), monitoring that progression throughout (trigger being the project itself), and comparing the ‘new normal’ with what went before. Exciting times! On the way home I decided to write something, giving myself just ten minutes. I’ve embedded this below as a digital story, along with the creation process.

Creating a digital story

Talking you through all the different ways you could make a digital story is almost impossible. It depends entirely on the time you have, the funds you have, and the purpose (tool for logging your thoughts or publishing to the world). I tried to create the story above (is it a story?) as simply as I could think of doing it. Here’s how I did it, step by step:

  1. Writing. I set myself ten minutes to write the story. I used ‘Notes’ on my iPhone to capture it. You could jot it down or use any other wordprocessing software e.g. Notepad, Microsoft Word, Pages, etc. My story actually took 15 minutes to write.
  2. Recording. I recorded my story using ‘Voice Memos’ on my iPhone. I’m sure your phone will have something similar. If not you could buy a cheap microphone and record it on your laptop. Audacity is a great free audio tool that you could use. It took me three takes to get it nailed.
    1. I then had to transfer my soundclip to my computer. I just emailed it to myself and saved it to a relevat location. Please remember however to then store any material in a shared folder which is regularly backed-up (information management and all that).
    2. For my method I had to convert my file into an MP3 file. I did this using iTunes and their very helpful how-to articleWhen you do this the location of your MP3 Sound File will be located within your Itunes Music Folder.
  3. Image Set-up. I then used Microsoft PowerPoint to bring my images together. You could just as easily use Keynote for a Mac. I’m a fan of widescreen settings so I set my presentation up accordingly. To do this choose ‘page setup’ from the ‘file’ menu. Then under ‘slides sized for’ I set it to 16:9.
  4. Gathering Images. I then set about gathering images. To keep things simple I used Flickr Creative Commons (NonCommercial, ShareAlike). I searched for images based upon key words/phrases in my story. This was the most time consuming task, taking about one hour and that’s just for five images. Sometimes the image you have in your head just doesn’t work or isn’t available so you have to have a rethink and work out what will.
    1. I always include attributions. I do this by adding a text box and writing “CC BY NC-SA INSERT_FLICKR_NAME”. I also include a thank you and links back to their flickr image as a final slide.
    2. Once I’ve published my content I also make it available under the same creative commons license.
  5. Upload to SlideShare. Once I have all my images I uploaded the presentation to SlideShare. You’ll have to create an account if you don’t already have one (sorry).
  6. Attach Your Audio. Once the presentation is available you need to attach your MP3 audio file to it. View your ‘uploads’ within slideshare. Along from the presentation you just uploaded there’ll be a link ‘add audio’. Click that and upload your audio file. SlideShare then takes you to a screen that allows you to set when each slide should change. By default it will set your slides to move on at equal time intervals. You’ll need to set it so that your images link to your keywords.
  7. Publish. Once your happy with it, publish it and share it!

Some of the instructions given above might vary depending upon your version of software. I should also add that I use a Mac so some of the file menus might be slightly different on a PC. I think this is a really easy way of creating Digital Stories. Overall it took me about 2hrs to produce. The only thing I would desperately like to improve are the transitions between slides in SlideShare but I can live with that.

For further information and inspiration I’d thoroughly recommend taking a look at Chris Thomson’s blog and Alex Henry’s Curiosity Creative. I hope you find this useful!

5 thoughts on “Applying Digital Storytelling to Projects

  1. Chris Thomson

    I particularly liked your use of Slidecast. It ticks the most important DS boxes and avoids getting people mired in video editing. It would be a great way of getting people started before introducing them to more complex techniques (if they want to).

    I was trying to think what it doesn’t offer and it’s mainly the refined techniques you mention like transitions, Ken Burns, etc.

    Any other things are to do with different affordances of video but there’s always the option of taking a screencast of the slideshare if necessary. It’s only when you start wanting to the production quality that video output becomes necessary.

  2. George Munroe

    Great review of the workshop Andy!

    Not a fan of slideshare?wasted too much time trying to upload stuff in the past?but looks as though you have identified an easy way to get folk started and I should revisit.

    Will also revisit iMovie?attracted by the flexibility this would provide, of a freestanding resource that can be used in a variety of ways.

    I ordered a Samsung Go Mic for recording?but your iPhone recording sounds grand.

  3. Andrew Stewart Post author

    Thanks George!

    I normally tend to use iMovie but was trying to avoid any Mac/PC confrontations. I’m not even 100% happy with that at times 😉

    I did have a problem when trying to link the audio on SlideShare but just took a break and went back to it. Seemed to be a glitch at their end, worked fine afterwards. The other issue with SlideShare is that you can’t make it private unless you have a Pro Account 🙁

  4. Jacquie Kelly

    I believe that digital storytelling could be a very powerful tool for project review so very pleased that you ran this workshop.

    I use Audacity and iMovie – they make the whole process quite easy (and dare I say?) enjoyable!

    Just a point about the images that you are using – I find that the story is more powerful if the images are your own. Given that many people use their smartphone to take images, the personal images should be available to use in their story.

    And recently you have taken some fab photos, Andy, so you should be using your own 🙂

  5. Pingback: Video/Audio Descriptions : Transformations

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