Narratives are powerful tools.
These carefully crafted stories associate meaning to experiences; they can take the past and transform the future. Through single or multiple events, narratives recreate critical points in life that can be relived and shared among a community. Using thorough character development, a detailed background, and vivid sensory information, we find ourselves immersed in the story, as if we had experienced it ourselves. Narrative reminds us of where we’ve been and where we might go. It reminds us of being human.
How can we apply these stories to health?
Narratives in public health have been studied extensively, including research performed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Barbour et al., 2016) and many others. In lower educational systems, such as primary school, there is conflicting evidence suggesting that in the context of health education, narrative and non-narrative information may be equally effective in delivering public health messages. However, in the environment of community engagement through narratives, also referred to as “transportation”, some studies suggest that narrative information delivery is a superior method. [1,4]
Thinking about the potential applications this could have in community health engagement, we see narratives as powerful tools that could be used to demonstrate and inform health crises. Regardless of health literacy or level of resources available, we can utilize narratives to educate patients, health providers, and stakeholders to make vital decisions that transform one’s own health or the health of those in their community.
Whether we use narratives as written stories, discussion prompts, or even performances, we can start to understand and measure the effects that stories have on health outcomes and delivery. To gain a better understanding of how to capture the listener and develop these tools, we sat down with Chris Bailey – Coordinator of Online Communications at World Health Organization – who is using his expertise in performing arts, and his position at WHO, as a platform to empower change at an international level and reconnect the international health executives back to the front lines.