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Digital Storytelling Tool

Compiled information about different digital storytelling methods that can be used within projects to help share experiences.
Multiple Authors
A group of people around a table, looking at post it notes (Credit: Jason Goodman, Unsplash)
(Credit: Jason Goodman, Unsplash)

This tool is part of the SEI Urban Toolbox for Liveable Cities which has been developed by the SEI Initiative on City Health and Wellbeing. The Urban Toolbox is a collection of tools, developed within SEI or in coordination with SEI, aimed at supporting planning and decision-making for improving the health, well-being and resilience of city residents and urban systems more broadly.


About this tool

How does this tool work?

Throughout history people have used stories, such as myths and fables, to share knowledge, pass on custom and beliefs, and to record and explain events.

Digital storytelling (DST), the use of technology to tell stories, provides a modern creative solution for people to convey issues that affect them, and in particular directing their messages to the government officials, planners and service providers so that they are considered in future planning and policy decisions.

Digital storytelling encompasses a range of storytelling activities that use digital communication media such as photos, videos, digital art, images, texts, sounds, and other interactive elements. It originated from participatory action research approaches used for social work and healthcare interventions e.g. photovoice.

It is used as way to share and communicate knowledge about personal experiences and provides the storyteller with platform to tell their own story, in their own words. Digital stories are usually 2-3 minutes in length (although can be longer) and are different in style to classic documentary style videos, because it is based around a script, written as a story by the storyteller. That becomes the guiding narrative, unlike some other media forms where the narrator and the person whose stories are being told, are different people. The choice of material to depict the story is also personal –e.g. choice of photos and soundtrack. They can be used to provoke discussion and action e.g. new inclusive policy formulation.

Who might use this tool?

Digital stories give a direct and compressed insight into the lives and experiences of individuals. Any members of a project who wish to share their story can produce their own. Typically, digital storytelling is used as a means to engage with vulnerable or marginalised communities, enabling their participation in decision-making processes or to elucidate issues that often go unnoticed or un-surveyed using traditional scientific or engineering methods. Due to improvements in technology such as mobile phones and web platforms it is increasingly becoming more accessible to non-experts.

Which stakeholders are involved?

Usually, digital stories are created for a specific purpose such as to highlight health impacts (see Tupumue project) or highlighting access to services (see Inclusive Climate Resilient Transport in Africa proiect). Any stakeholder can be involved in developing digital stories, including urban planners themselves, but usually it is community members (defined as a group with a common interest, shared knowledge or people living in a specific neighbourhood). They are produced individually (or sometimes collectively) to enable engagement with other stakeholders. By listening to their stories, they can sympathise and empathise with individuals as well as improving understanding about their issues. In turn, this can help break down stereotypes, address misunderstandings and promote social inclusion.

What stage of the process does this tool support?

This tool can be adapted to be used at different stages of environmental assessment:

  • defining the issue
  • generating ideas
  • developing solutions
  • implementation
  • monitoring
  • evaluation

Tool overview

A digital storytelling project is a coproduction process whereby participants learn, create, and share experience. This builds capacity in the community to be able to raise awareness of issues to relevant authorities.

Learning includes how to develop narratives, planning stories using storyboards, film and sound recording techniques and also the use of software to create final productions. Usually, this takes place in a workshop setting which facilitates sharing of experiences, story idea generation and script development.

Content for the stories can be simply produced using some form of digital voice recording device and a camera that captures video and photo stills. The easiest way to do this using a mobile phone.

Software is then required to create and compose the storytelling video, allowing edits and additions of voiceovers, music, additional photographs, and other graphics, where required, to make a compelling story.

Application: digital storytelling case study examples

Using digital storytelling to share information in the AIR Network project: this case study uses digital storytelling to share information about air pollution in a Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya.

Using digital stories for inclusive climate resilient transport: the project case studies use digital storytelling to produce powerful stories about mobility infrastructurein Uganda.

Using digital stories for inclusive climate resilient transport: the project case studies use digital storytelling to produce powerful stories about mobility infrastructure in Zambia.

Capabilities and resources required

Capabilities required:

The process also involves holding workshops to train participants and so facilitators will need to be trained in the process beforehand. They should be able to support the participants in planning, recording and editing stories.

Staff with expertise in video creation and editing. As the digital stories can be developed on a variety of platforms (laptops, tablets, phones) it is necessary to have staff with general technical skills that can be adapted to the local requirements.

Resources required:

  • Access to suitable cameras (these can include mobile phones), digital voice recorders and microphones. Additional equipment such as tripods and lighting can help in recording the video but are not essential.
  • During the digital storytelling workshops participants will be producing storyboards and developing their scripts. This can be done on paper or using apps and software. Free versions of these are often available.
  • Provision of equipment computer/laptop/tablet (one for each participant) during workshop.
  • Access to editing software for compiling the video footage and other digital content into a digital story. In addition, access to online content (e.g. royalty free images and audio) is useful but not essential.
  • The presentation of the stories could be an event, hosted on a website or on social media (YouTube).

Implementation tips: key enablers and potential barriers

Key enablers:

  • Concept and approach of creating stories easy to understand.
  • Easy to use software to compile the final video. This can be done just using powerpoint, Apple iMovie or Microsoft Photos)
  • Access to good quality recording equipment for sound and visuals
  • Access to fast internet to allow upload of file for sharing and editing
  • Identifying suitable sources of free stock footage (also known as b-roll footage) including atmospheric shots of locations, royalty free images and sounds to enhance the stories.
  • An effective platform for disemminating the stories is necessary – this could be through a social media campaign or a physical event e.g. a workshop with community members and stakeholders.


  • Engagement with participants, especially those from marginalised groups, needs to dealt with sympathetically, and often a period of time is needed in which trust between parties is established before individuals share their stories.
  • Transparency – purpose for producing the stories and how they will be disseminated also need to be stated clearly.
  • Sometimes people are self-conscious in front of the camera and are not happy being the subject or talking on or off screen and so recruitment can be a challenge or skewed towards more extrovert participants.
  • Often the process to produce the digital stories is time-consuming and requires attendance at several meetings/workshops. Drop-out rates can be high.
  • Legitimacy issues related to the introduction of the methodology – parachuting in non-experts, issues viewed Global North perspective, political bias, tailored to funder objectives.
  • Can often be seen as tokenistic – engaging users but their involvement has little influence on decision making processes.
  • Not considered relevant or a rigorous approach by academia.

Potential integration with other tools

This approach can be integrated with many of the other tools in the Urban Toolbox, as it is an engaging way of capturing stories from different voices. It lends itself well with participatory mapping where issues are identified on a map interface. Storytelling could enable further exploration of the issue from the individual’s perspective.

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