How story is helping local councils connect with their community
From the waterways of the Central Coast to the libraries of Hornsby Shire, find out how these local councils are investing in story to bring their work and their communities to life.
At the heart of our work at Digital Storytellers is the belief that stories should be, and indeed need to be, told by the people and communities who live and breathe them. When it comes to telling the stories of local communities, there are few organisations better positioned to amplify and share the narratives of local communities than councils. Across Australia, the work of local councils span everything from the day-to-day lives of residents, like rubbish pickups and libraries, to long-term planning on issues like sustainability, the economy and culture. Councils also hold another important responsibility: to listen to and act on residents’ voices – regardless of whether they’re expressions of frustration or delight – and what better way to do that than through story?
Over the past few years, we’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of councils across New South Wales (NSW) to create and share local stories – both by running workshops for Council staff or local residents to create their own videos, and also by having our team produce professional productions, such as animations and vision stories.
Along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two. Here are a few of our favourite examples of the storytelling and filmmaking being used by councils across NSW.
Amplifying and engaging community voices through the Waterways Storytelling Program – Central Coast Council Local Resident Digital Storytelling Workshop
Here’s one of our favourite stories from the workshop, Water for Pearls by local resident Esther Beaton
NSW’s Central Coast (home to the Darkinyung people, the Traditional Custodians of the land), is known for its gorgeous beaches and lakes, something that residents in the area are very passionate about. Whilst the Council does extensive work to educate local residents on how they can do their bit to care for these waterways, it’s often difficult to communicate these messages in a way that resonates. And this is where our Stories for Impact workshops come in!
The challenge was clear: how can the Central Coast Council provide a way for residents to create and share videos telling people why they’re passionate about the coast’s lakes, rivers and oceans, and what others might do to care for them?
In January, they invested in a storytelling and filmmaking training program for local residents, which consisted of three weekend workshops. Residents were invited to share stories about their local waterways. While the Council knew that the locals were passionate about the area they lived in, they couldn’t have anticipated the vast and diverse range of residents who turned out for the Waterways Storytelling program, with participants as young as 12 all the way through to 80. Participants were excited to learn the technical video making skills so that they could create digital stories about their lives on the rivers, lakes and oceans. Deeply passionate about voicing their concerns about how the local environment was being cared for, participants knew they wanted to channel that passion into content that would be heard by both the Council and the wider community. What emerged were authentic and powerful stories, ranging from personal perspectives and experiences to practical steps for the protection of the waterways. Check them out for yourself!
Here’s a story from one of the participants, Michael Wolfe, which features a cute dog AND practical tips on caring for waterways!
Elevating positive stories through ‘A Day in the Life of a Council Worker’ – Waverley Council Team Digital Storytelling Workshops
It can be easy to forget that, behind their official roles, council workers are often people who care deeply about their local communities and the work they do.
When Waverley Council’s Sustainability and Community Engagement teams reached out wanting to learn DIY digital storytelling skills, there was certainly no shortage of potential stories to share. From solar power initiatives, to the rich history and heritage in the area, and even sustainable business initiatives, these teams were so proud to tell the stories of the work being done in their community.
Without a doubt, one of our favourite stories to come out of the program with Waverley Council was ‘A Day in the Life of a Council Worker’. The team picked up their smartphones and followed a crew of Waverley garbage workers, or ‘garbos’ for their morning garbage run. We were thrilled to be able to jump on the shoot too, despite the painful 3:30am start! To be able to see and tell the story of incredible moments like seeing young kids run up to high-five the ‘garbos’ as they did the preschool garbage pickup was worth getting up at the crack of dawn for.
As you can imagine, when Waverley Council shared this story on their social media channels, not only did it spark lots of positive engagement from the community, with residents sharing stories of their local ‘garbo’, but the infectious personalities of council workers like ‘Todd the Garbo’ also caught the attention of Channel 7’s Sunrise, who picked the story up and ran it on national television. What a ride!
Get caught up in the world of ‘Todd the Garbo’ and his mates from Waverley Council
Sharing the magic of libraries – Hornsby Council Library Staff Workshop
Who doesn’t love a local library and not just because they are entire buildings dedicated to stories?! As free and safe public places, they are often spaces where people from all walks of life gather together in community and in quiet, a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of busy streets. Over the past few years, we’ve had the chance to work with the councils at Woollahra and Hornsby to share some of the magic that happens in their libraries.
The teams brought to life beautiful stories about several of the library’s programs from coding for toddlers, to author-talks and even stories promoting good library etiquette. By capturing these stories, the Councils were able to make these events more accessible to residents who may not be able to participate in-person, which became even more important during COIVD restrictions!
Here’s one of the interviews captured by Hornsby Library from their author talks.
Prefer to get the pros to do it? Check out this story, we created for George’s River Council
George’s River Council is an incredibly diverse community, something which is certainly a strength, contributing to their vibrancy and brilliance. We worked with George’s River Council to create this short video, to highlight that diversity and the inclusive and thriving community that is both rich in cultural diversity and natural beauty/
So, how can councils channel their passion and knowledge of local communities into creating compelling stories?
- Channel frustration into solutions and shared understandings
Frustration can be a great starting point for a compelling story. When there is frustration, there is passion! And passion is an essential trait of a great storyteller. The challenge becomes how to channel that frustration into a positive call-to-action to address the issue causing the frustration. Whether it’s the noise created by a local bar or the waste management practices, inviting dialogue from citizens on these issues through story, is a fruitful way to move towards solutions and shared understandings.
- Create space for story listening
While our instinct is often to shout about all of the exciting initiatives and programs going on from the rooftops, it’s just as important to gather voices and perspectives from others, including those who may not be as excited about our latest initiative, project or program as we are. As such, creating a space for story listening can help councils, and other organisations for that matter, to gather valuable insights from their communities and stakeholders. By creating space for story listening, concerns can be heard, experiences shared, and points of connection and empathy can be made. The important, and often most challenging, part is then for councils to act upon those insights in an appropriate, visible and tangible way. Again, story can be a great way for councils and organisations to share how they have responded to the needs, concerns and hopes of their community. In this work, we must listen first before we hear, and we must hear before we act.
- Share in ways that connect your community
Telling stories about your programs and initiatives is great, but if it’s in a format or medium that is inaccessible or that your community doesn’t engage with, it can be left on the shelf to gather dust. We all know the importance of visual mediums and digital platforms for spreading messages far and wide. Digital stories and videos are crucial for engaging audiences externally through social media and other forms of digital media. But their applicability doesn’t stop there. Being such big and often complex organisations, it’s common not to be across everything that happens across the various teams and departments even within council. By capturing and sharing these stories, we have also seen councils able to create a greater sense of connectivity and connection amongst staff internally and even inspire further contributions and collaborations. Win-win!
As you can probably tell, we love working with local councils! They are at the coal face of working in community, and community is where our hearts lie and the best stories are!
If you are a Council and you want to better connect with your community or you have a program or initiative you want local residents to know about, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and talk to us about how to use storytelling to amplify your impact and engagement!