Online Storytelling Part 1 – EdmontonStories
Roch Carrier’s short story The Hockey Sweater, based on an experience from his own childhood, tells one of the defining narratives of Quebecois, and Canadian identity. It reflects inequities and tension between Francophones and Anglophones and captures a shared national obsession with hockey. An excerpt from the story graces the back of Canada’s $5 bill, and never fails to make me smile.
Shared stories strengthen and even define social groups, from families to communities to nations. Personal stories communicate the lived realities of every planning issue. However, the reach of these stories is traditionally limited to the storyteller’s immediate community.
Innovative initiatives in two western Canadian metropolises are harnessing the power of personal stories to engender wider change. Today’s post looks at a municipal corporate branding initiative which has also supported local business communities and provided useful and personal information to prospective new immigrants. The second post in this series on storytelling will explore an online resource that is collecting personal stories not only to connect people, but also to demonstrate the need for a change in housing policy.
The City of Edmonton created the online storytelling repository EdmontonStories after corporate branding research revealed a big “perception gap” between local residents and other Canadians. Edmontonians generally love their city, with its endless sunshine, ample parkland and lively festivals. Outside of Edmonton, however, the city is often stereotyped as a shopping mecca and tax haven with miserable weather, little historical interest and poor liveability. In response, the City’s Corporate Communications department decided to start a website where residents and visitors could share their own stories of the city. The goal was to improve the city’s image in order to attract immigrants and other new residents, more visitors and new investment.
Speaking to an enthusiastic audience of municipal employees in Vancouver, Edmonton’s Mary Pat Barry described the difficulties of creating the site and assessing its success. How many hits per day should this kind of site generate? What percentage of visitors to the site should come from outside Edmonton? This is new and exciting territory for the municipality, and for the local business communities that have been a significant source of contributions.
One certain measure of EdmontonStories’ success is the sheer diversity of content now offered on the site. Stories are available in 17 languages, with both text and video content. Site administrators group the stories using tags, categories (and, coming soon, geotagging) so that site visitors interested in, for example Edmonton’s Chinese community, educational institutions, or a particular neighbourhood can be directed to the most relevant content. Visitors can also search for topics that interest them – many such searches seek information about Edmonton’s legendary winters, and find personal content like First Snow in Canada, the story of an immigrant from a tropical country experiencing snow for the first time.
The narratives captured on EdmontonStories articulate the diversity of experience in that city, sharing perspectives on immigration, festivals, homelessness, education, and much more. From these stories, threads of shared and distinct local identity emerge. For example, 23 of the roughly 300 stories mention hockey.