Research & Insights

Need Stories To Help Advance Your Cause? Ask The Crowd

In recent years, crowdsourcing has become a valuable tool for tapping into the wisdom and wallets of people for a range of projects and causes. Recently, researchers wanted to know what happens when you combine crowdsourcing with storytelling, specifically to help advance the work of nonprofits that serve niche communities.

For a study published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the 2013 conference on Computer supported cooperative work, communications technology scholar Jill Dimond and colleagues at Georgia Institute of Technology explored whether inviting victims of street harassment to share their stories online could lead to better outcomes.

Researchers interviewed 13 individuals who had responded to the crowdsourcing request from Hollaback!, a nonprofit that describes itself “as a movement to end street harassment” as well as “ignite public conversations” and “develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces.”

“We interviewed 13 people who submitted a story through the website,” write the researchers. “We selected participants by sampling from a variety of different Hollaback! sites within the United States and the UK as well as selecting for a variety of different street harassment experiences such as verbal, stalking, and assault. We emailed this sample and asked if they would like to participate in a research interview about Hollaback! …We wanted to understand why people contributed stories and how it affected them, but we also wanted to allow freedom for the conversation to go off-topic.”

The researchers found that the crowdsourced stories people told about themselves helped Hollaback! construct messages and create calls to action on behalf of the victims of street harassment.

“Telling and sharing stories online provided a different way of performing tradition core framing tasks (e.g. diagnosing a problem, proposing a solution, eliciting a call to action),” write the researchers.

For example, a story shared on February 8, 2015, reads:

“I live in the UK inner city. I usually don’t ignore harassment… But this time [it] felt scary and I was scared to shout back. I was on my own on an empty street about to cross as two guys in car pulled window down saying ‘hey … you are sh*t! F**k you! You are really really sh*t! All I did was note the car plate number came home and dialed 999. [An] Officer came to see me in an hour assuring this type of crime is taken very seriously. [The perpetrator] was traced, invited to the station and spoken to. The incident was [charged] as [a] public order offense, gender motivated. He was shocked someone would report it and said this is what he usually does. He now has a criminal record. Ladies please stop taking crap [from] people!”

“Because the stories are crowdsourced, people who experience harassment in public are helping to define what street harassment is and what to do about it,” say the researchers.

The researchers also found that participants felt empowered through storytelling. They felt in control of their situations and were able to see their experience as part of a larger epidemic. Stories helped engender positive feelings for potentially helping other victims.

“Our empirical investigation of women who have shared stories on Hollaback! has shown that it makes a great deal of difference, both to individuals struggling to understand their own experiences and to the collection of those individuals together,” the researchers write.

Proceedings of the 2013 conference on Computer supported cooperative work, February 2013

Jill P. Dimond, Michaelanne Dye, Daphne Larose, Amy S. Bruckman, Georgia Institute of Technology

Posted: February 16, 2015
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