About StoryLab

The vision behind StoryLab

Imagine a world in which storytellers are part of the intake process at hospitals, eliciting patients’ own healing histories and resilience factors; in which call centers have been replaced by real human dialogue; and in which all generations pursue a path of deep listening and true telling, cultivating wholeness without sacrificing diversity.

At the Center, we envision a world in which stories are given their true value. Rapid-fire he said/she said is replaced by slow discourse, time to talk and to listen. The layering of stories gives us a truer, fuller picture of the present and of future possibility. Street-based stories have as much influence as stories from seats of power. The healing power of stories permeates and unites every social sector.


Making a difference

Our indicators for success include markedly expanded:

  • Use of first-person story as a catalyst for positive social change, inspiring expanded activism by example, as by sharing stories of multiple generations lifting their voices to address problems in their own communities.
  • Use of first-person story to capture value and enable learning in business, education, healthcare, environmental protection, philanthropy, and every public and private social sector, as by inviting the people closest to endangered places to tell the stories of local history, challenge, and possibility, catalyzing response.
  • Appreciation for and use of first-person story to heal individual and social trauma, as by sharing stories of those who have moved beyond the gender-based violence they learned by example in youth, and now work to end it.
  • Use of story circles and other group story-sharing processes as a mode of team-building, organizational development, and problem-solving, as by inviting colleagues across lines of status and responsibility to share their own deepest reasons for caring about their work.

What we've learned

Our aims and values are rooted in the Center's more than twenty years’ experience in surfacing and sharing catalytic stories. We have observed these truths:

  • Until our own stories have been told and received with respect, we can’t be fully present to others’ stories. Everyone’s voice counts; everyone’s listening counts. A sustainable civil society must be grounded in this understanding.
  • Culture precedes politics. Every positive social change that has been enacted in law or policy first permeated public awareness through depiction in story, music, still and moving image. Think about the songs, stories, and films that preceded the first civil rights legislation of the mid-20th century.
  • Story precedes culture. Every individual, family, community, and society crafts the story that supports and empowers. Who are we? How do we learn from experience? How do we envision the future? The way we shape our stories shapes our future.

The Center has helped people make 20,000 short movies telling their own stories, using them via screenings, websites, and TV to inspire with the power and creativity of foster kids and cancer survivors, Asians and Pacific Islanders living with HIV and Native Americans sustaining language and culture, homeless vets and family farmers.

More than twenty years ago, the Center invented digital storytelling. Today, the Center is a leader in a vast global community media field. We’ve helped thousands of people tell their own stories with their own words, sounds, and images, and we’ve brought this work to more than 40 countries and 46 U.S. states. The Center has curated eight Digital Storytelling Festivals in the U.S., and convened or cosponsored the four major international festivals. Our two books on digital storytelling, Digital Storytelling Cookbook and Digital Storytelling:  Capturing Lives, Creating Communities are the definitive written resources for the field.

Custom Project Services

We will work closely with your organization to design a customized project based on your needs, whether you want to use story in staff learning, create a public campaign, or highlight your impact. We lead a variety of story workshops, train trainers, and assist with story distribution via multiple traditional and social media platforms. We also develop curricula and training materials to accompany stories, organize and facilitate community screenings and dialogue sessions, document and publicize project accomplishments, and conduct qualitative evaluation research to explore outcomes.

StoryLab Project Partnerships

We will partner with you through StoryLab, the Center's R&D wing. We’re working with partners across the country and around the world, experimenting with media, platforms, techniques—whatever perfects new ways of capturing and using stories for personal and social transformation. We’re surfacing the stories most needed to shape our collective saga of empowerment, inclusion, and hope. We’re building on all that we’ve learned to initiate and innovate through new models of story in the service of civil society and a sustainable future.

StoryLab is all about flexibility. We’re developing model programs with partners that use face-to-face story sharing, theater, web-based intergenerational dialogue, online mapping systems, and other innovations to take story power to scale. The next page describes some programs in development. Every StoryLab project is flexible, open to collaboration and adaptation to fit partners’ aims and communities.

Talk to us. StoryLab’s development is being led by two key individuals, Joe Lambert and Arlene Goldbard. The Center’s Executive Director Joe Lambert cofounded the Center for Digital Storytelling in 1994. He authored many of the field’s most-used resources, including the Digital Storytelling Cookbook and Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. Contact Joe at the Center or via email at joe@storycenter.org, or by phone at 510-548-2065.

StoryLab’s lead planner and conceptual framer is Arlene Goldbard, a writer, speaker, consultant and cultural activist whose focus is the intersection of culture, politics and spirituality: www.arlenegoldbard.com. Contact Arlene at arlene@storycenter.org, or by phone at 415-690-9992.

StoryLab Projects

The first two are underway, the rest in development:

  • All Together Now connects two generations’ stories. Starting with two partners, The Future Project (high school students based on the East Coast) and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (active elders based on the West Coast), participants will portray their own journeys out of silence, standing to lift their voices in community. Their stories will seed a website and start a national conversation about what matters most, attracting involvement in partners’ “Lift Your Voice” campaigns. A successful IndieGoGo campaign helped launch this pilot.

  • The Desire Paths pilot asks how things would be different if people’s histories, feelings, and connections to the land figured into planning and public decisions. This pilot builds an interactive map-based repository of wisdom stories for activists, planners, and public bodies. We are forming partnerships with groups active on the Southeast Louisiana coastlands; Seattle’s South Park neighborhood along the lower Duwamish River, a longtime Superfund site; and the St. Lawrence Seaway in New York state.

  • The Learning Awareness Project asks how many random shootings, hate crimes, and bullying episodes we need before we change the story. Imagine doing it in this generation, with kids learning from their peers how to recognize and release the reactivity built into our brains and bodies. We’re in dialogue with four diverse California middle and high schools who want to partner in capturing kids’ stories of noticing and managing their own reactivity, creating curriculum—including a script anyone can perform—to be shared nationally.

  • Gender-based violence is often transmitted between generations. Change that story and you change the world. Imagine every father teaching his son to respect women. Fathers & Sons, Pathways to Change aims to promote gender equality and end cycles of violence. It uses “Snapshot Stories,” a poster campaign, and community radio to promote involvement and spread information. We are partnering with Saathi Nepal, Promundo in Brazil, and a U.S.-based organization addressing gender-based violence, and expect to submit proposals soon.

  • It’s a perpetual challenge for grantmakers and recipients to capture and convey the value of their work. Metrics can help, but are more and more refined metrics actually translating into significant improvement in awareness and investment in work for the public good? It seems that numbers alone won’t do it. Capturing Value says that the answer has to be story.

  • We are inspired to act by others like ourselves. How would your organization, company, campus, or community be different if people could instantly access stories like yours as a bridge to their own volunteering and giving? That’s the Center’s SharedTime project. We are seeking corporate social responsibility divisions and major nonprofit organization partners.

All pilots are designed to bridge generations, sharing essential knowledge for a livable future. Each project includes its own mechanisms to engage participants and share stories.


Republic of Stories

The entire body of the Center's work will be shared through a new online media bank, The Republic of Stories. StoryLab will share the stories from our projects through an online media bank called The Republic of Stories. You will be able to access thousands of stories from our archive and from StoryLab pilot projects that use stories to bridge generations, sharing essential knowledge for a livable future.