The Story of Storytelling Effects in Sustainability Communication: A Systematic Literature Review on the Evidence-Base

Activity: Talk or presentationConference PresentationsResearch

Daniel Fischer - Speaker

    Sustainable development is a notoriously complex concept that integrates different dimensions (e.g. planetary boundaries and socio-economic foundations), topics (e.g. climate change, poverty, consumption), scales (e.g. spatially and temporally), as well as different normative assumptions (e.g. weak vs. strong sustainability). With these features, sustainable development is often considered a concept too ubiquitous and elusive to address and convey in different communication venues like science communication. At the same time, acknowledging that sustainable development requires participation and deliberation, communication scholars and practitioners are called upon to develop approaches that enable a broader public engagement with sustainability as a guiding idea for the development of societies.
    In the search for new and promising approaches to reach new audiences and social segments in sustainability communication, the storytelling approach has received growing attention in the past years. Although it is awarded high potential, so far there are only a few projects in the area of sustainability communication that integrate this approach in a systematic and sound manner. At the same time, despite a great deal of practical interest (for example in journalism, corporate and health communication), there is a paucity of empirical research substantiating the effectiveness of the storytelling approach.
    This paper addresses this gap. It reports findings of a systematic literature review on empirical effects (both quantitative and qualitative) of storytelling reported in the peer-reviewed journal literature. From an initial database sample of N=596 papers, we excluded papers that were not empirical, not studying storytelling as a communication approach and/or not exploring effects of this communication approach on individual recipients. Our final sample of remaining papers was analyzed for definitions of storytelling underpinning the use of the approach, description of the storytelling approach employed, target audiences, study designs and methodological approaches used, and effects reported.
    Our review finds that empirical research on storytelling is scattered across a high number of different disciplines and based on diverse understandings of the approach itself. It is addressed most prominently in the fields of public health/medicine and education. Among the most commonly reported categories of effects are attentiveness, motivation as well as memorization. Based on our review, we present a typology of effects of storytelling and discuss its relevance for the field of sustainability communication. We conclude by offering a critical reflection of study designs and research approaches, and an agenda for future work in the field.

    Together with Anna Sundermann and Hanna Selm


    International Association for Media and Communication Research Conference - IAMCR 2018: "Reimagining Sustainability: Communication and Media Research in a Changing World"


    Eugene, Oregon, United States

    Event: Other