Mass media outlets tend to treat migration as a purely demographic phenomenon: seas of people arriving in the country, often depicted as a threat to the population’s well-being. These meteorological metaphors (“fluxes”, “waves”, “floods”…) take away any humanity to this movement made of real women and men, reducing it to a “natural process, automatically determined by ‘objective’ causes – being economic or demographic” (Mezzadra 2006, p. 18).
Storytelling is, first and foremost, a powerful close-up picture of the individuals who make up those numbers. Not so much an indistinct, dangerous mass of strangers, but a multitude of single destinies who underwent a life-changing journey driven by human motivations, fleeing from war, violence, harsh economic conditions, or searching for a better future for oneself and one’s family, fuelled by the determination to fulfil a lifetime dream. Putting a face and a story to the new-comers is the first key step towards inciting empathy among the receiving community.
When dealing with migration, storytelling also means building alternative or counter-narrations to the dominant ones. It is important to know the difference between these two possible strategies, to select the one which is more appropriate for the campaign’s objective. According to Federico Faloppa (2020, p. 199-201), a counter-narration has usually a short-term frame and is aimed at responding directly to a specific discourse, highlighting its inconsistencies and delegitimising it; on the other hand, an alternative narration doesn’t simply deconstruct a discourse, but it builds a completely new representation of the world, providing alternative keys for interpreting a phenomenon, with the aim of introducing long-term changes.
From theory to practice
Follow a step-by-step process
If you want to build a coherent and really effective narrative, it is important to structure your campaign following a series of structured steps.
For example, the Reframing Migration Narratives Toolkit proposes the following process:
- Step 1: Finding a focus and opening (putting together a campaign strategy);
- Step 2: Build out the elements (including messages, stories, visuals, etc.);
- Step 3: Preparing for Responses & Engagement (testing the campaign and preparing the team);
- Step 4. Run the campaign;
- Step 5. Evaluate Reach & Uptake.
Check out also MobLab’s Campaign Accelerator resources for narrative building and pitching your campaign
This checklist provides a concrete tool for successfully planning a campaign.
Be mindful of your language
When telling a story, make sure you use a non-discriminatory and inclusive language (see also Migrants as protagonists), avoiding stereotypical, stigmatising or divisive terms and descriptions.
This attention must regard all levels of bias and possible discrimination, in an intersectional perspective, as suggested in the Diversity Style Guide, a comprehensive effort to list principles and examples to reduce bias in writing.
It is also important to always use a gender-inclusive language, for example avoiding the use of gendered nouns (such as mankind, or policeman), looking for alternatives (such as humanity or police officer), like summarised in several guidelines, such as the UN Gender-inclusive language guidelines.