Tackling Social Justice Issues Through a Storytelling Hackathon
Why do we know more about yet another "hand-crafted small-batch premium vodka made only with the freshest of water from pristine location X" and not much about the 80,000 people in solitary confinement right now in our prisons, or the arbitrary detention of 34,000 immigrants every day, or the myth of our representative democracy?
What if we could find a way to make these pressing issues not heavy but engaging enough to inform and effect change? What if we could bring together the frontline advocates who are struggling to make their voices heard with the most talented designers, filmmakers, writers, technologists and other creatives in their city?
We set out to create a new type of hackathon—one focused on bringing the best storytellers to work on social justice issues, but in a highly guided way. Unlike most of the almost-weekly hackathons, where sometimes the principle of unstructure can lead to ineffectiveness and frustration, we would curate the stories, create teams, and strip away all the points of inefficiency.
But would it work? Would top creatives be interested? Would they put in the pre-work? Would our guidance allow creativity to flourish or would participants chafe at having decisions taken for them?
Over the StoryHack weekend, multidisciplinary teams of five to seven collaborated with the activist who nominated each story. The energy and enthusiasm was palpable as they innovated new ways to think and communicate these stories through writing, visuals, performance, and code. In just about 36 hours, the StoryHackers created some pretty impressive results:
- Run-for.us—An interactive and humorous campaign to encourage immigrants and minorities to run for public office
- Textandfound.herokuapp.com—A tool to use crowdsourcing to connect immigrants in detention centers to their families
- 15-days.org—One man's story of solitary confinement and a campaign to end this torture
- Instagram.com/bulletpoints—A series of video vignettes that reveal the stories behind the statistics of gun violence
- Fromhomelesstohouseless.squarespace.com—A campaign to bring humanity to the homeless
- Halfisnotenough.tumblr.com—A branding campaign to draw attention to the need for a living wage
So how did it work?