Case study: Showcasing local sustainability initiatives through story

Partner: Merri-bek Council, Victoria

What makes this project special 

Wanting to build the capacity of local sustainability organisations to tell their own stories and shine a light on the work they are doing in the community, Merri-bek City Council (formerly Moreland City Council) initiated a Sustainability Community Storytellers program in mid-2022.

Designed to harvest a collection of stories that showcase local organisations leading sustainability initiatives in the community, participants were trained in video storytelling by experienced facilitators through a series of webinars and workshops. Find out what these budding storytellers created and how you can use story to bring communities together.

A bird’s eye view

  • WHAT: Bespoke six-week climate storytellers online course
  • WHY: To support local climate action changemakers and sustainability advocates to share their stories and foster community connection
  • WHEN: 2022
  • WHO: Local environment and sustainability community groups

THE RESULTS: Increased capacity and confidence; bank of stories to share; increased connection to community and local area

The background – for those who want to dive a little deeper

Merri-bek City Council has been investing in action and advocacy to address climate change and reduce corporate and community greenhouse gas emissions for over two decades. The second Victorian local government and the third in Australia to be certified carbon neutral for its corporate operations, in December 2021, Council endorsed a highly ambitious ‘Zero Carbon Merri-bek’ target.

But as the adage goes, if something great is happening, but nobody knows about it – did it really happen? Every day, there is extraordinary work happening all around us, and Merri-bek Council is no different. To better measure and communicate the impact that local groups are having to make the world a better place for us all, it’s time to tell stories.

The process

  1. RECRUITMENT: Following a short recruitment process for participants, the Merri-bek Sustainability Community Storytellers Program kicked off in June 2022. 
  2. WEEKLY WEBINARS: Six weeks of online storytelling where participants learned how to FIND, MAKE, EDIT and SHARE their organisation’s story in powerful ways, using smartphones and affordable tech.
  3. WEEKLY CHALLENGES: In conjunction with a hour-long webinar, participants were invited to undertake weekly challenges to sharpen their skills and put learning into practice.
  4. FILMING + EDITING: Over several weeks, participants conducted interviews and filmed B roll for cutaways, then learned how to add music, titles and transitions to their short films.
  5. OUTREACH + PROMOTION: Finishing off with an understanding of how to share their story for maximum impact, participants were supported to upload an original story about their project or organisation, which was then amplified through Merri-bek City Council’s channels.

What emerged – the key outcomes

  • Tools and frameworks to craft, produce, edit and share powerful stories which touch hearts, shift minds and spark audiences to action;
  • Increased technical skills for capturing high-quality interviews, pieces to camera and other footage with smartphones and affordable technology;
  • Enhanced connections to a community of sustainability organisations in the local area as well as to the initiatives of the Council; 
  • Greater confidence finding, shaping, editing and sharing stories for social and environmental good.

“Our community groups play a vital role in bringing a diverse range of people together to take local action on sustainability and climate. We can support our community groups by providing training in important skills such as video storytelling to share their stories for greater impact.” — Donna Luckman, Merri-bek Council 

Story artefacts – what was ‘created’

‘Story artefacts’ is what you have in your hands as a result of a storytelling process (e.g. videos, blog posts, animations, illustrations). Some of the story artefacts to emerge from the Merri-bek Sustainability Community Storytellers Program included:

  • Walk on Moreland → who created a series of videos, including practical advice for local community members to effectively advocate for safer environments for walking

  • Merri-bek BUG (Bike user group) → started a series of videos to highlight the diversity of bike users in the community 

  • SEEDS Communal Garden → created a film about their new community ‘sit spot,’ which blends Australian native plants, tree sculptures and rustic seating. The space provides a peaceful environment that welcomes people from the local community to come in and relax and connect, and their short film features music created by young members of the community. 

Three things we learned

  1. We must continue to rebuild connections → after the past few years in particular, even if we are part of the same community, we don’t always know each other or the great work that is happening to make the local area even greater. Stories are a great way to share and connect with each other. And it’s not just about creating ‘one’ story either! Instead, programs like this help community building ongoing storytelling and digital skills to continue to share long into the future.
  2. Frustration can be fuel for great storytelling → 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 lack of access to community gardens or the impact of uneven footpaths, inviting dialogue from citizens on these issues through story is a fruitful way to move towards solutions and shared understandings. Building capacity for storytelling in this way serves to strengthen civic voices and engagement.
  3. By the community, for the community → When growing your community, the most powerful stories you can tell will be the ones that are told by the people most impacted. So, when you’re considering how to grow your community with story at the centre, think of the ways you open up space for people to identify and share the people, places, themes and initiatives that are inspiring to them. Activate THEM to be the storytellers. This could be by simply asking for stories around a theme or issue via your social media, newsletters or at your next event. Or, you could run a more facilitated storytelling capacity building program or online ‘town hall’ session.

Could this work for your organisation or sector?

From the waterways of the Central Coast to the libraries of Hornsby Shire, local councils all over Australia are investing in story to bring their work and their communities to life. 

If you are interested in bringing a similar digital storytelling program to your local community, please get in touch to see what’s possible.


NEXT: We Know Your Name, But Not Your Story – Indigo Shire Council





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