Multimedia storytelling can be a powerful tool for reaching communities in non-traditional ways, but also poses challenges we don’t face when creating a brochure or a poster. Holding community meetings to discuss and review content is a crucial step for resolving the many issues that can arise when trying to create materials that are both entertaining and informative.
In these types of projects, primary challenges include:
- Keeping things realistic while also demonstrating or role modeling the desired behavior.
- For example, in the HIV education project Heads or Tails, the community group agreed that in a casual sexual situation, a given character would probably not use a condom. We facilitated a discussion to decide whether we could include condom use in that scene anyway in order to normalize the behavior, and if so how could we make that choice seem realistic. The solution was to show the character’s internal monologue in which he debates whether to use a condom and decides he’s getting tired of worrying about his status and is going to try to do better starting with this moment. In this way, we’ve stayed true to the fact that it’s not something the character might normally do, but we’ve also demonstrated that new, healthy choices can be made.
- Incorporating health education information as naturally and seamlessly as possible.
- Unlike more didactic materials that might simply list the details you want the audience member to learn, utilizing characters’ experiences and stories to convey information often requires a more subtle and thoughtful approach. For instance, for many viewers it wouldn’t make sense for a young adult to have an encyclopedic knowledge of HIV prevention information at the ready to share with their friends. We work with community members to identify realistic methods to incorporate that messaging within the story, often asking during the writing process, “How would a character know this?” so we can give context to the knowledge. This can include showing the character doing internet research; having the character flash back to a clinic visit when a clinician was educating them; or giving them a relevant backstory, e.g., their partner is a trained peer educator, or they recently started PrEP and want to tell a friend about it. For a community information outreach project about genomic testing, the community members chose to make the main character a nursing student who has a conversation with her father about what she learned in school. This helps establish her as both a reliable and realistic source of health information.
- Keeping it short and sweet.
- User feedback on previous projects suggests that each animated segment shouldn’t last longer than 8 minutes, and ideally should be 5 minutes or less. For context: 8 minutes of scripted audio is roughly 1,500 words, or no more than 3 single spaced pages in a 12-point font. That’s not a lot of time or space to tell a compelling story and include some facts! We work with community members on multiple revisions to pare down our scripts, to break content down into shorter 3-5 minute “episodes” with specific learning objectives, and to develop user interfaces that make the extra content available to the user outside of the main story (e.g., a pop-up box in the margin with links to NLM websites).
In the first round of focus groups for our ACIOP project, the community members expressed an interest in having a variety of characters in the story since they felt a lot of existing HIV information was targeted only at the LGBT community. Along with continuing outreach that for YMSM, they suggested including a young woman who may be at risk of HIV due to her partner’s infidelity, and who also may not feel safe negotiating HIV prevention with her partner. The community also wanted an older character who’s perhaps not at risk, but can role model how parents can learn new information and comfortably share it with their children. Finally, since family is very important in many Hispanic communities, it was suggested that at least some of the characters be related.
The creative team then held multiple meetings to discuss those suggestions and to draft stories that would incorporate those preferences, while always keeping in mind the need to keep it realistic, educational, and short! The next blog post on this project will detail the development of the story outline and draft scripts, as well as the community feedback that finalized our stories.