“Storytellers for Good gives me a space to talk with hugely inspiring changemakers about what drives them, and how they do what they do. It’s an incredible privilege, but its also helped me understand how – by using my own media skills to share their work and ideas in a way that makes people care – I have the power to make an impact, too.” – Liza Yeager ‘17, Storyteller for Good

Swearer Sparks and Storytellers for Good

Swearer Sparks is a website that provides a space for Brown University’s social innovation community to connect with one another and share ideas, experiences, and beliefs through the power of digital storytelling. As a user of Swearer Sparks, one can access 200+ stories created by Brown storytellers and changemakers; 85+ profiles of students and alumni exploring social issues in communities around the world; and dozens of resources for active and aspiring changemakers.

The core innovation of Swearer Sparks is the way it uses storytelling as a tool for community-building; all of the stories, whether first-person blog posts or multimedia projects, are made by and about the Brown community. The stories focus on personal experiences of social justice and include questions, challenges, and models that others can learn from. The website’s core content relies upon the Storytellers for Good program – a select group of students that works intensively on building and applying skills in digital media (photography, audio, writing, film) to create stories with social impact. Their stories aim to show, not tell, what the terms “social innovation” and “social change” among the people and values that drive them. Together, the platform and program function as a dynamic, diverse storytelling and relationship-building machine powered by the Brown community.

Results

There has been quick adoption of the platform since launching in May 2014. As of December 2014, there have been nearly 11,000 total users with an average of 150+ page views per day. Swearer Sparks has highlighted over 200 stories thus far, with a total of over 100 authors. Due to the consistency and high-quality of the stories, it has become a primary source of content for Brown’s online platforms. Since the program’s inception there has been an significant increase in the number of applications for limited spaces on the Storytellers for Good student team. The open workshops and events host on campus also attract impressive alumni and speakers and consistently fill every open seat.

How can people become involved in or replicate your innovation? 

A template for the platform is being developed, making the code accessible to anyone interested in replicating it for a fraction of the original development cost of the website. Along with this template, the team at Brown is willing to provide advising and written documentation on this process to any other campuses interested in exploring this option.

For the Storytellers for Good program, the team also developed a curriculum to share and discuss with others. All of these opportunities for collaboration and future development have been coordinated to better understand how our platform and how the lessons learned about digital storytelling can be applied more broadly within other programs to build networks and raise visibility within the university.

Contact information

Alexandra Braunstein, Communications and Outreach Manager, Swearer Center at Brown University, alexandra_braunstein@brown.edu

Cordes Innovation Awards

In partnership with Cordes Foundation, Ashoka U seeks to recognize globally relevant teaching, learning, and partnership practices that may be adapted and replicated across the field.

2015