Can Storytelling Be the Key to Your Community's Economic Success? Absolutely.

Can Storytelling Be the Key to Your Community's Economic Success? Absolutely.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 / Unsplash

Community development relies heavily on data, like needs assessments, grant proposals or applications for funding. 

It’s not all about the data, however. Storytelling can play a key role in community development and economic growth. Every community has a story to tell.

Let’s explore ways to use storytelling to foster collaboration for economic growth.

Storytelling To Foster Community Development

Luckily, we’re not the first to explore this concept. 

Researcher Emily Kombe explored this idea during an internship at The Movement for Community-led Development. She wrote an article for CDA Collaborative Learning Projects in which she concluded that storytelling is a “powerful tool” to facilitate community-led development. 

Here are her conclusions:

  1. Economic development is often focused solely on quantitative data. Growth storytelling provides a strong addition to that data.
  2. Stories allow us to hear those who aren’t normally heard. Storytelling for collaboration reveals community knowledge and experience by engaging those without technical expertise, power, or privilege.  
  3. Collaboration stories build trust, helping diverse communities understand what they have in common.
  4. Stories highlight community assets and agency, rather than focus on what’s missing in a community.
  5. Stories evaluate development and community investment from the community’s perspective.

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Being Heard is Essential to Community Development

The Movement for Community-led Development characterizes development as having 11 attributes. Among those are participation and inclusion, voice, and collaboration.

Storytelling—whether that’s economic development storytelling, business storytelling, or simply sharing the community’s success stories—provides a means for participation, inclusion and collaboration while giving the community a voice.

Put another way: effective storytelling can “build a sense of belonging among new residents and locals alike.”

man standing in front of people sitting beside table with laptop computers
Photo by Campaign Creators / Unsplash

Storytelling is Still Marketing

Economic growth is often driven by information about job opportunities, investment potential, and other community successes. Chambers of commerce, for instance, provide data on what makes their community stand out from others from an economic perspective. 

Storytelling is often seen as “soft” marketing compared to the more aggressive business storytelling. That’s OK! Soft marketing is all about authenticity, engagement, and community building. Storytelling aims to captivate and resonate with an audience. So translating your data into compelling stories will powerfully highlight key community features. 

That doesn’t mean you should forget about the dollars and cents—which will still be available in the data. The story of your community will augment the important numbers. 

Your Story’s Audience is Always People

Economic growth and community development are big concepts, but whatever your goal, don’t forget that your audience will always be people. 

People are “hardwired to connect deeply with stories.” A city storyteller reminds us that stories have been passed on by people via “word of mouth, etched in stones, written on parchment, bound in books, and are more available than ever in our digital age.”  

When it comes to economic storytelling, “stories have the power to move people and shape decisions.”

How can your community, organization or non-profit use storytelling to foster collaboration for economic growth? 

people sitting on floor front of table
Photo by tribesh kayastha / Unsplash

Essential Questions to Ask to Build Your Community's Story

Let’s say you play a role in community development and economic growth. That could be as part of the tourism sector, or maybe you have a role in a community organization, a museum, school or heritage site. 

In order to create a narrative about your community and foster economic growth, here are three questions to consider to tell the story of your community.

1. What historical events shaped your community?

2. What is your community known for? 

3. What sets your community apart from others, or what can the community offer that others can’t? 

Here’s what storytelling for economic growth looks like in action. 

Case Study: Topeka's Transformation Through Storytelling

Choose Topeka is an economic development initiative that writes a new story for the city of Topeka, Kansas. There was a cash incentive for people to relocate—but other cities offer that too, so Topeka needed to build a narrative that enticed people to move.

white concrete building under white clouds during daytime
Topeka, Kansas - Photo by Megan Burns / Unsplash

With plenty of negative news coverage, dated photography online and little awareness of the assets of the city, Choose Topeka wrote a story using these tactics:

  • developing a library of new photos and videos of Topeka and its lifestyle assets, including the Equality and Transgender Houses, Black Lives Matter murals, Topeka’s hip new restaurants, and the luxury Cyrus Hotel 
  • using Mayor Michelle De La Isla, the city’s first Latina mayor, as a key spokesperson for the campaign
  • promoting individuals that relocated to Topeka in front of their new homes 
  • promoting partnerships with companies in the area

The campaign secured 73 media placements in its first year, including in Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, and received applications from over 4,500 people from 48 states and a dozen countries. In the end, the program reports that 40 professionals relocated, with an estimated regional economic impact of $3.2 million USD. Topeka was also named one of the nation’s hottest housing markets by

Sharing Your Story, Building Your Future: Why Community Storytelling Matters

Your community has a story to tell that can support the more data-driven economic growth narrative. Many communities are using Facebook groups, for instance, to reach out and share their stories. There are better options out there to gather and share your community development stories. 

Using memoryKPR, for instance, is intergenerational and doesn’t require an account with a social media platform, but still allows connections to social media when you want it. Communities can white label their story to add their own logo and can build a searchable database with our content management system. 

Embrace the power of collaborative storytelling. Collect memories, gather donations, and transform ordinary spaces into portals to the extraordinary—all through the simplicity of memoryKPR. We're dedicated to supporting your economic growth and our design is easy to use, with no applications or codes required. 

Ready to see how easy (and powerful) it can be? Explore memoryKPR today. Your stories—and your community—deserve a vibrant future.

Transform Your Community's Digital Presence with memoryKPR

Schedule your free demo today and take the first step towards a more connected community.

Book a Demo