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Stories for advocacy

version 1.0, april 2018

Stories for Advocacy toolkit

This toolkit:

  • Asks questions to help you develop a Good Strategy to use stories in your advocacy.
  • Gives you tips and templates to identify, capture and share Good Stories.
  • Was requested by advocates who wanted to use stories for their advocacy. They co-created it online, then tested it in real life and now reflect on how it worked (or didn’t!).

The ‘Review Group’ for this toolkit are all young advocates with Right Here Right Now, a global advocacy partnership in pursuit of young people’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) – free from stigma, discrimination and violence.

Review Group: "This is our toolkit."






Saint Lucia









What is this toolkit about?

What is in this toolkit?

This is a toolkit to help you use stories for advocacy. An advocacy strategy without stories will struggle to change how people think and feel, but a story without a strategy is just a nice tale.

So, this toolkit helps you develop good stories with good strategy – and provides you with real examples of how young advocates put this toolkit into action, and their successes and failures along the way.

How to develop: Good Strategy

  • Why does advocacy need stories? Why does *your* advocacy need a story?
  • Who do you need for your advocacy? Who needs to know this story?
  • What does your story need to say? What is the ‘moral’?
  • Where will your audience see this story? Where will you tell it?

How to tell: Good Stories

  • Identify
    How is a story different from a case study? How can you tell a Good Story?
  • Capture
    What do you need to make sure you capture in an interview, photo, or video?
  • Share
    How do you turn your raw story into something that will move your audience?
Get started: Ask yourself 'Why?'

Good Strategy


Why is using stories useful to your advocacy campaign?

Have you heard, or had doubts like these?

“Emotion is for getting money from the public, what decision makers want are hard facts and logical arguments.”

“My advocacy is targeted at my national government – stories are better for the internet, for international audiences.”

“Stories are about individuals, advocacy is about wider policy issues”

“Serious audiences would not take me seriously if I told them a story”

The Review Group had doubts too, but shared how they knew that stories were needed in their advocacy.

“Last week I found one policy maker but could only get his attention for 10-15 seconds. I felt I needed to make something small but powerful.”
“I’m trying to trigger emotion, strengthen our solidarity, and celebrate the achievements we’ve made so far.”
“Sometimes, when we do advocacy we bring all of this data, statistics, reports, international recommendations, etc. but we forget we are not just numbers, but we are humans and what we share is similar experiences regarding any matter. For example, if you speak with a female decision maker, remind her how hard it is to get there just by being a woman and how gender gaps affect her as well and why its important for her to get involved on our agenda.”

Why does your advocacy campaign specifically need a story?

Start with the overall objective for your advocacy, and then prioritise a specific objective that stories could help achieve, like Nicole from Kenya:

QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO ANSWER (Example answers are from Nicole in Kenya)

Why are you doing this in the first place?

Overall objective: to change Kenyan government policy to favour youth-friendly services for girls

Why will this advocacy campaign achieve that objective?

Tactical objective: Get partners and others in Kenya’s SRHR movement to agree on a joint statement calling for a review of the guidelines for youth-friendly services

Why could a story help?

To make that joint statement happen, Nicole wants to strengthen the bonds between the movement and give them an example to aim for.

Who do you need for this?

Good Strategy


Your advocacy campaign needs people to make change, and so your stories need an audience. Who?

  • 1) Say their name: Audiences are people, not categories.
    If you say your audience is ‘the public’, you are almost saying your audience is ‘everybody’.
    Even saying ‘decision makers’ is not very different from ‘everybody who sounds powerful’.
    Can you think of an individual who represents your priority audience, even if they are not a real person?
  • 2) Picture them:
    Who are they to their family, friends, colleagues?
    How do they see themselves?
    What do they currently think about your issue, your campaign?
    If you followed them today, from waking up to going to sleep, how do they get their information?
  • 3) Campaigning *at* them or *with* them?
    Have you picked this audience because you want to persuade them to make the change you need? Or do you want them to campaign with you to persuade a different audience?

A story meant for one audience can definitely reach others, but a story that tries to appeal to multiple audience from the beginning may not be clear to any of them.

Struggling to prioritise? Ask yourself who you are campaigning *at* and who you are campaigning *with*. Like Tendaishe from Zimbabwe did:

QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO ANSWER (Example answers are from Tendaishe in Zimbabwe)

Why are you doing this?

“My Objective: decriminalisation of termination of pregnancy in Zimbabwe, beginning with a parliamentary motion to review the existing Termination of pregnancy act of 1977.”

Who do you need to campaign *at* to achieve your objective?

“A small group of ‘persuadable politicians’ who sit on the Parliamentary Portfolio committees on Justice/Health/Gender committees. They will attend Community Dialogue Events soon.”

Who do you need to campaign *with* to influence that audience?

“To pressure the ‘persuadable politicians’ we also need ‘young women champions’: women who have not expressed a strong opinion on the issue yet, but who are motivated to attend those Community Dialogues. We also need them to later participate in public hearings if the motion is passed in parliament.”

"My question was: 'What is the maximum number of audiences? Can you have multiple audiences with one story?' I eventually decided to focus on the group I needed most for my 'short term objective': the Kenyan SRHR movement."
"I needed the second audience of 'young women champions' because we need people from the community to change their attitudes and create pressure on the 'persuadable politicians', and also because our method of meaningful youth participation means the women affected should lead the charge."
"Thinking through who you are speaking to is crucial when developing messaging for different targets. I learnt how to ensure my messages are targeting the right groups at the right time with the right message!”
Now ‘What?’ do you say to them?

Good Strategy


The moral of a story is the lesson we learn from stories. Morals from stories have a powerful effect on our attitudes and behaviours.

(Note: this is different from the meaning of the word ‘morals’: “a personal value or ethical belief in what is right or wrong”)

If you think about any story, the hero never tells you “the moral of my story is…” The story shows you the moral.


“I read this story in class. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ was the moral.”

Now you know your objective (‘Why?’) and audience (‘Who?’) you can decide what moral your story needs.

QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO ANSWER (example answers from Tendaishe in Zimbabwe)

What stops your audience supporting your objective?

“My ‘persuadable politicians’, do not think it is a big issue (because of lack of data) or that it is their responsibility to legislate”

What are the myths your story needs to challenge?

“The myth that ‘abortion is already available legally’ (in practice legal abortion is inaccessible for many)”

What could ‘the opposition’ attack your story with?

“Similar stories about child sex work have recently been attacked for being ‘falsified’ to ‘appeal to donors’ because they were anonymous.” my morals (or messages) are:

1) “Unsafe abortions are ruining lives now because of ineffective policy, so it is an urgent matter for parliament to tackle”

2) “Legal abortions are out of reach for many Zimbabweans”

3) “Unwanted pregnancies have wider impacts on women’s lives”

"I added the third moral because in the long term we want to build empathy for the other reasons pregnancies may be unwanted."
“In Honduras, we needed to tackle the myth that LGBT people don't deserve rights. The myth that being against abortion is "PROlife" when the real debate is if you are able to pay for a safe abortion or not. We need to break the myth that emergency contraception is abortive. We need to break the myth that Comprehensive Sex Education will corrupt children and they will be promiscuous and raise teenage pregnancies.”
Where will you take these messages?

Good Strategy


Where is the ‘battleground’ for your advocacy?

Where can you reach your audience physically?

Where do they get information they trust from?


“In Bangladesh we also say that Twitter is not that popular, but youth and even policymakers are active on Facebook – they share personal stories and even do “Live” (livestream video) from events”
“Same in Honduras, Twitter is mostly used by government call centers, not people.”
You have a strategy. Next find your story.

Good Stories

Identify: What is a story?

What is a story? If you use facts and case studies in your advocacy, isn’t that enough?

[by Rescue:Freedom]

“I liked the video because you could see the struggles she was going through in her expressions, before you succeed you go through the painful things… It’s important to have context when we do videos, to put a face to the story.”


How can you identify YOUR story?

Good Stories

Identify: What is YOUR story?

How can you tell a good story? Many of the most famous (fictional) stories follow a similar pattern: “the Hero’s Journey”, which this video explains. You could use “the Hero’s Journey” to give you ideas of how to tell your (real) stories.


“At first this confused me - I thought I needed to copy this storyboard exactly but I did not have all 12 steps of the “Hero’s Journey” in the story I was thinking of, and definitely not in the right order. It was much easier when I realised this was not a form I had to fill in, it was just a tool to ask myself the right questions about my story. Then it gave me ideas for the questions I needed to ask my ‘hero’ when I interviewed her to ‘Capture’ the story."
“Developing the hero story was quite challenging for me. I think I was so used to telling stories without planning the sequence of how I should tell it to have the biggest impact. It took time to place different bits of the stories together, I sometimes had to do it over and over to ensure I got it right. My biggest lesson was that you don't have to pick out the entire journey but customize your story the best way it fits.”
Now you can go and capture your story

Good Stories

Capture: Your List

Use your ‘key messages’ (from ‘What?’) and your storyboard (from ‘Identify’) to create your story capturing to-do list – everything you need to remember to capture to tell a story that will help your strategy.

Remember Tendaishe’s audiences (from ‘Who’) and her morals/messages (from ‘What?’? Now she’s going to turn that into a list for her to take with her when she looks for a story.

Story Capturing List (Tendaishe example - Zimbabwe)

Tendaishe's morals (or key messages)...

1) “Unsafe abortions are ruining lives now because of ineffective policy, so it is an urgent matter for parliament to tackle”

2) “Legal abortions are out of reach for many Zimbabweans”

3) “Unwanted pregnancies have wider impacts on women’s lives”

...become Tendaishe's Story Capturing List

We are looking for a woman (ideally 2 or 3) who is willing to speak about her story, and is:

  • Between 16-24 years old
  • From a peri-urban area
  • Had legal justification for abortion (because pregnancy was due to incest or violence, or health reasons)
  • Had an abortion outside the legal process because they were not able to meet the three conditions (because they were told they were ineligible, or because they didn’t have time/money, or because of any other reason)
"I chose women aged 16-24 who should have been eligible for legal terminations because that was the focus of my moral. I specified 'peri-urban' because that is my crucial *Where*"
Interviewing and photographing them

Good Stories

Capture: Interviews & Photos

Now you are with your ‘hero’, how do you interview and photograph them to make their story as strong as possible?


Interviews need good listening and good questions.


  • Ask other people what they find interesting about the story.
  • Prepare open questions that could help tell the story you need.
  • Prepare a location (private, quiet, and where they feel at home)
  • YOU MUST have properly informed consent from anyone featured in the story. They must do it voluntarily, fully understand why and how their story might be shared, and can stop at anytime – more details in the resource on consent below.


  • Let them start talking about something general to warm up (for example: “Tell me about [your family]”)
  • If you are recording audio or video, pause between questions, and let them repeat their answer if it is too long or they find a better way to express it.
  • Allow there to be silence after an answer – they might talk more.

“The tip using the bottle is awesome, it was such an easy way to improvise in the field.”


  • Explain how and when they can see how their story will be used
  • Take a photo of them.


How do you get these stories seen?

Good Stories


You have captured a story, but how do you edit the text, visuals, audio, or video together to make it powerful? If you have decided ‘Where’ you need to tell this story, what is the best format for it?

The advocates using this toolkit did not capture the perfect story first time. First they needed to experiment, and find the best way to use what they did manage to capture:

I have good pictures, but no audio or video

Try a photo story: Remember Nicole’s objective of triggering emotion, and strengthening solidarity between the Kenyan SRHR movement on youth-friendly services? Unfortunately she could not capture video of her ‘hero’, so she turned great photos and her interview into a photo story on her organisation’s blog.

I have a nice speech/interview, but bad video quality

Try a slideshow/text video: Natalia told the stories of young women from Honduras in her speech at a stories event organised by Right Here Right Now at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Although it was hard to capture good video, the audio from the video and photos taken at the event showed how popular her speech was, so it was turned it into an animated text video using the free ‘Headliner’ website.

My hero said some really interesting/powerful things, but I don’t have a whole story

Try a quote graphic: A photo of your hero and a short quote from them (maximum of one or two sentences) can be an effective way to introduce your audience to your message. The free tool Canva is easy to use, and you can create ready made templates in your brand colours and font – we have created a team account for RHRN members to use, ask Dance4Life for the login.


Try speaking about it at an event: If you (or ideally, the hero themselves) have the chance to speak to your audience in person, that is incredibly powerful. If you can find a creative way to present those stories they will be remembered longer.

The young people whose stories Benson & Nicole collected for Right Here Right Now Kenya could not travel to the CSW, but another Kenyan and Dance4Life activist, Rasheed, performed a spoken word poem inspired by those stories.

"By using the Hero's Journey and interviewing tips, we got a much more personal journey from our interview with Binti (the hero in our photo story)"
“I did meaningful youth consultations with young girls living in rural areas, I asked them if they could share their stories with us so we could take them to CSW 62 at New York City, they trusted us and authorized us to do it. I listened with respect. I told several stories of different women in different situations, they were all victims of violence, some were raped at a very young age and others are just surviving. I am an empath and so, I channeled these stories and felt every single word I said, I used this energy and it got to the public. I made them see that these stories are real.”
Is the story finished?

Good Stories

Review and improve

You have shared a story, but how do you know if it was a good story that helped your advocacy? How do you know if it was worth it? Go back to your strategy and ask yourself the hard questions:


  • Did it contribute to achieving objectives?
  • Now you look back on it, were they the right objectives?


  • How did your priority audience react?
  • Did you reach other audiences you had not expected?
  • Were they the right audiences?


  • Did your story emphasise the morals/messages you wanted it to?
  • What kind of effect did the morals have on your audience?


  • Were you able to get your story seen in the places you wanted to?
  • Are there other places you should be taking your story to reach your audience?
"I was not sure how to co-create this online but when the process started, it seemed a fun and learning experience for me so that I managed my time and efforts to be present in every session and the followup tasks. There were some effective and easy techniques shown to us and now I am confident to use these for my advocacy purposes."
“As advocates we need to humanize our work, people are not just statistics or reports; we feel, we breathe, we live and this is what we need to remind every decision maker, if they don't make the difference, there are real consequences with people's lives.”
"By getting involved in this toolkit review group, I have learned and understood how to use stories, framing and images powerfully and creatively to do advocacy. If you are a young advocate trying to use innovative tools for advocacy, I would recommend to use the 'Stories for Advocacy' toolkit which can help in creating powerful stories to influence decision making."
"Now more than ever, I can compile and share powerful stories of young women and girls that are targeted and have more of an impact than ever before. This toolkit will be awesome in amplifying the work I and many other young women are doing. It will be a great addition to the advocacy space. I would advise other young advocates to use it to build on their efforts to change our world, one story at a time.”

Thank you for using this toolkit.

The Review Group and Dance4Life would appreciate your feedback on how it could be better, you can reach us on Facebook, Twitter, and email.


CONTENT Sho Konno, Susan Van Esch, Rachel Walker.

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