Stories That Work is a database that showcases and organizes collections of personal experience narratives created by projects, campaigns, and organizations. The database is being developed to be both a practitioner resource and a research tool, in a project led by Dr. Lisa Dush of DePaul University.

The project is currently (as of early 2015) under development; we’ve entered a small fraction of the story collections that are on our list, and we’re working on all sorts of usability improvements. While the database is small right now, it will grow over the coming months. We encourage you to explore! The Browse or Search All Stories page is a good way to browse or to sort using search criteria relevant to your interests: see the project’s search criteria and project codes to learn more.

We also encourage you to contribute. From the start, Stories That Work was envisioned to be a crowdsourced project, both bigger and better from the contributions that others make to it. If you’ve helped to create a collection of personal narratives online, or if you’ve stumbled across one, please let us know using the Add Stories form.

What Sort of Stories Are Collected Here?

Stories That Work is inspired by several related efforts to aggregate and organize promising examples of new media stories, especially the MIT Open Documentary Lab’s DocuBase, which collects interactive documentary projects, See3’s Daily DoGooder, which collects cause videos, and Stories For Change, which aggregates digital stories created in digital storytelling workshops.

The story collections in this database all contain digital personal experience narratives—they tell stories of ordinary people. The stories may be in any mode besides pure text—for example, audio recordings, videos, text with photos—and on any subject.

The database includes story collections that meet these three criteria:

  • the collection includes at least three stories;
  • the stories in the collection are personal—they present stories or biographical details of particular individuals;
  • the stories are being used for non-commercial aims (i.e., they’re in the service of a nonprofit or public service organization or cause).

Because of the nature of the Internet, most of the stories from collections in this database are brief, with individual stories within each collection taking less than five minutes to listen to, watch, or read.

A Few Specifics About Collections That Do and Don’t Fit Into This Database

Some texts that are described as “stories” on the web sites of organizations and causes did not make it into this collection: Bridge the Gulf, for example, is a smart community media project from communities along the US Gulf Coast, and the project’s web site has a tab called “Stories.” The stories collected there, however, are more in the genre of local news stories collected by ordinary people than they are personal experience narratives.

Bridge the Gulf Project
Many great projects that feature “stories” use the word to refer to news stories, not personal experience narratives.

Personal experience narratives feature a central character, and the stories recount or relay that character’s personal experience. The story collections here include many different types of personal experience narratives, from the plotless “glimpse,” to the less plotted, but more substantive profile or narrative, to the more crafted digital story or short documentary.

One prototypical example of personal experience narratives is the Stories from Skid Row collection of the Union Rescue mission. These stories both humanize and provide details about the Los Angeles rescue mission’s work, through stories about how individuals escaped homelessness with the help of the organization.

Stories from the Union Rescue Mission
A great example of digital personal experience narratives: Stories from Skid Row.

The Red Cross Stories collection is another example that’s easy to label digital personal experience narratives: though only “glimpses”—the stories are 30 seconds long and often lack a narrative arc—the personal experience and voice of the individual featured in each story is the key to the story’s impact.

Another sort of project included in this collection are interactive documentaries, or iDocs, which are often more polished and made with bigger budgets than are organizational collections of personal experience narratives. One such example is “Out My Window,” from Highrise, a professionally produced project included here because it meets our selection criteria: “Out My Window” includes more than three stories, the stories are personal, and the project is in the service of a nonprofit or cause, in this case, awareness of high-rise living around the world. Importantly, we hope that projects like Highrise, made with less pressure to be pragmatic and on-message than some organizational storytelling projects face, might show what’s possible and inspire nonprofits and social action organizations to try novel approaches to new media storytelling.

Highrise project
“Out My Window,” from the Highrise project

Why Gather These Collections into a Database?

The Stories That Work project has two primary aims. First, this database is designed to be a place where nonprofit staff and others with a compelling cause can come to get ideas about how to use personal experience narratives in their work. We hope visitors to this database will be impressed by the very compelling work that organizations and causes are already doing, and be inspired to make stories of their own.

The second aim of the project is research-related: we want to begin to give some order to the practice of organization and cause-based storytelling, naming the various ways it might be done—with these search criteria and project codes—and in doing so, learn more about the possibilities (and perhaps the possible problems) that accompany personal storytelling for organizations and causes.