Getting Started

When getting started with any project, it is important to ensure that all team members are on the same page. Below are guiding questions created by the DSMuse participants thought were helpful when developing a project.

Digital Age Storytelling Toolkit

In her blog “Introducing The DSMuse Grid”, Annie Polland, The Executive Vice President of Programs & Interpretation at The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, addresses the need to create a way of organizing digital-age storytelling projects that is grounded in the role of storytelling. The DSMuse Grid first groups projects by the storytelling tactics being used, and then breaks projects down by “digital superpowers”, or by how digital technology is being used to elevate story and storytelling.  Just like the DSMuse Grid, this digital-age storytelling toolkit emphasizes the importance of good storytelling as the foundation for any digital-age storytelling project.

During the 2016 DSMuse Conference and the Reunion in 2017 we worked together to define certain terms and vocabulary.

When getting started with any project, it is important to ensure that all team members are on the same page. Digital projects, because of the various technologies that can be involved, are particularly challenging in this regard. Before diving straight into a digital project, it is important to define some basic vocabulary. In the end this discussion helps shift the focus off of the technology and back onto good storytelling practice.

From the first conference our vocabulary underwent a transformation. Participants moved away from using the term digital storytelling to using the slightly longer term “digital-age storytelling”. Listen below to hear Amelia Wong explain why it is important to see digital as the technique rather than the central focus.

While this new term encompasses an ever growing number of experiments, Amelia Wong identifies three core commonalities that unite these projects.

  • Media Convergence: Digital age storytelling projects allow us to bring together video, audio, text, photography, etc.
  • Interactivity: Interactivity in terms of participation, but also creating interactivity and hyperlinking between pieces of media.
  • Spatial Dimension: Not only can stories be told chronologically, but through digital stories can be told laterally as well. Digital technology allows us to create an alternative story world that is not limited by time or physical space.

DSMUSE PARTICIPANT REFLECTION: Ed Rodley, Peabody Essex Museum

“Part of my initial interest in the workshop was my fixation with how we use the word ‘digital’ in museum work without any clear consensus on what it means. … Digital is a polarizing term, I think, largely because it’s an adjective usually looking for a noun.  One of the first and most important outcomes of the initial workshop for me was the validation by the group that ‘digital storytelling’ has nothing inherently digital in it and would probably be better described as ‘storytelling in the digital age’. Clunky, I know, but definitely more accurate. So what is different about storytelling in a digital age that makes it worth clarifying and defining? I think there are several ways that ‘digital age storytelling’ is a symptom of larger transformations in media theory, and in museology. New kinds of media = new kinds of storytelling (plus all the familiar kinds, too)”

One theme that emerged from the 2016 Conference is that DSMuse participants found it difficult to own the role of storyteller.

During the 2017 Reunion Amelia Wong explained: “It may be uncomfortable in a lot of professional environments to adopt more of an artistic, creative role. I think it is important to be comfortable in owning this role [of storyteller]. It is complicated, because storytelling is a rhetorical device and it can be manipulative of emotion, and it is important to think about those ethics. Being a good storyteller is not an inherent talent, like creativity it can be learned.”

No matter the reason for our uncomfortableness with the title, it is important to understand that storytelling is a skill that can be learned and practiced.  Below, Amelia Wong outlines how to practice storytelling and certain basic rules all good digital age storytellers should follow.

How To Practice “Good” Storytelling

Anecdote & Storytelling In Digital Projects

Show Don’t Tell & Multi-Media Experiences

The Elements of Storytelling & How They Relate To Digital Media

DSMUSE PARTICIPANT REFLECTION: Kim Guise, The National WWII Museum

“Through discussions with my colleagues and work shopping methods, I’ve been reminded of the act of storytelling itself. And this may require a big step back in one aspect of my practice, from imagining all of the different narratives possible, all of the stories that are encountered in an object or a topic, to perhaps, a single story.  Sixteen million Americans served in World War II and I cannot recount the number of times I have been asked about a database where one can search a family member or friend’s name and be able to place them and discover their role in the war. So given these inquiries and given my daily practice, I am often faced with the difficult and beautiful task of too many stories. But digital storytelling does not equate to a database. So as a digital-age storyteller (not just a cataloger) I’m faced with the task of distilling stories down for presentation in meaningful, digestible chapters.”

During the 2016 DSMuse conference, participants wrestled with how to organize and try to group the ever growing number of digital age storytelling projects that exist. Do you group them by medium? Do you group them by user end experience? How many categories is too many?

In response to this challenge, the organizers of the 2017 Reunion proposed grouping digital age storytelling projects by the storytelling tactic. This once again, put the focus back on storytelling, and allowed projects to be grouped into three very broad categories that were independent of the media utilized. Participants worked within these groups throughout the reunion and found them extremely helpful in defining their own projects.

Structure

Story as the structure for the experience as a whole.

Technique

Storytelling techniques are used to engage people within a traditional project.

Platform

Providing a platform to collect stories.

DSMUSE PARTICIPANT REFLECTION: Chelsea Bracci, Maryland Historical Society 

“By shifting our focus from ‘digital storytelling’ to ‘storytelling in the digital-age’ we were able to ground our conversations about our projects first and foremost in how we were approaching storytelling. So rather than categorizing our projects by the digital technologies utilized (which is like trying to throw a net over an ever expanding balloon), we were able to group our projects by storytelling tactic. The third category, of providing the platform, is slightly different than the others. The Museum is not taking on the role of storyteller, but remaining the collector or preserver of stories. By empowering our communities to be the storyteller and elevating their voices, the Museum comes away with a powerful collection of stories and a renewed connection to their audience. Museums like the Tenement Museum, Smithsonian, and even smaller institutions like the Maryland Historical Society are creating their own frameworks, but it will be exciting to see how museums will continue to evolve and expand projects like these.”

Throughout the 2016 DSMuse conference and the 2017 Reunion, participants began to unpack and identify what digital media does well in terms of strengthening our ability to tell stories. We have come to call these “The Digital Age Storytelling Super Powers”

  • Immersion / Presence
  • Multiple / Diverse Voices
  • Telling More Complex Stories
  • Moving from Listener to Participant
  • Timeline Shift

DSMUSE PARTICIPANT REFLECTION: Julian Jackson, Milwaukee Public Museum

“As we’ve collectively delved into the subject of digital story-telling, we’ve looked at all sorts of factors. But what, precisely, differentiated digital story-telling from the other commonly used methods in museums; e.g. video, audio, text panels, etc.? Certainly there were a few key factors: digital media can be used to gather, organize and allow audiences to select stories they are interested in in new ways. How could we use existing museum features and behavior to tell better stories? How could we bring stories ‘along side of’ the activities they were already engaged in in the space? We also wanted to layer multiple stories and perspectives onto an exhibit. But how does one provide a wealth of information without overwhelming the visitor or drowning out the experience of being in a museum itself?

One of the opportunities provided by digital storytelling, and, arguably, it’s biggest differentiator from other media, is that it has the potential to be responsive. The most basic forms of digital responsiveness- pulling up a piece of information in response to the pressing of a button- have already been extensively explored. But these hardly take advantage of the factors that make museums or talented docents such compelling storytellers.”

Below are articles members of the DSMuse Network look to as resources. 

Is there an article, resource, or blog that has been helpful to you? Please contact us so we can share it with the DSMuse Network.