January 2016: The Value of Sharing Stories

In this era of scarce recreation programming resources due to heightened financial accountability and demand for efficiency, it often becomes challenging to justify new program ideas. This seemingly ongoing challenge to balance the books oftentimes takes precedence over offering the most appropriate or needed program in your community. How might you get the focus back to doing what is needed? Sharing a story might be a solution!

Personal Stories Can Be Powerful

The power of sharing the personal experiences of program participants can be a very powerful tool when promoting your ideas to decision makers. Anecdotes and stories help to highlight benefits – of the program to the end-users which many times gets overlooked when number crunching and finances are the determining forces in decision-making.
Stories do not provide quantitative justification – but can be valuable because they may re-position a discussion by focussing on the outcomes. Outcomes are often overlooked because they are hard to measure and quantify, but when shared in the right context at the right time might be what you need to get your program idea approved and funded.

Using Stories Effectively

To effectively use anecdotes and stories to support your cause it is important to be truthful and state the outcomes from the perspective of the individual affected. For example, a youth learn-to-swim program may be important to the participant’s family because the parents don’t know how to swim, and therefore didn’t make use of a beach area nearby because of their fear of water. Knowing their children know how to swim gives the parents more confidence to access local facilities and will increase their likelihood of taking lessons themselves.
Another example might be the influence of a positive adult role model in an after-school sports program. The child participant may be attending for the activity and to learn sport related skills – but the real value and outcomes are in the interaction with the positive role model (coach) and not just the sport skill being developed. Developing relationships that may lead to future positive interactions is an outcome that rarely shows up on a spreadsheet.
These two examples present benefits that are difficult to measure and often go unnoticed when evaluating programs (i.e. how many attended, what were costs vs. revenues, etc). However, when shared with decision-makers they are very powerful indicators of a program’s importance. When combined with quantitative reporting methods personal stories and anecdotes may play an integral role in helping gain the support needed to offer programs in your community.