StoryCorps: A model for capturing community voices

technology / Article

September 21, 2017 by Dean Haddock

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Photos courtesy of StoryCorps.

Dean Haddock is the managing director, digital and technical innovation at StoryCorps, an oral history project. Knight Foundation announced $600,000 in new funding to StoryCorps today.  

StoryCorps was founded in 2003 with a belief that everyone’s story matters. By giving people the opportunity to share their wisdom and life experiences with their friends, families, communities and the public at large we are honoring the humanity in each of us and preserving vital pieces of our shared history for future generations.

Prior to 2015, participating in a StoryCorps interview meant traveling to one of our recording locations in San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, or visiting our MobileBooth, an Airstream trailer that travels the country.

But with initial support from the Knight Prototype Fund, and follow up funding from both Knight and the TED Prize, the StoryCorps app launched in 2015 and brought the experience to anyone with a smartphone.

In less than three years, the StoryCorps app has grown to nearly 367,000 registered users; more than 129,000 stories have been recorded and preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress alongside the tens of thousands recorded at our recording booths.

In a 2016 survey of StoryCorps app users, 95 percent of people told us it made them feel more connected to others; 98 percent better understood the experiences of people different from themselves; and 92 percent said it led them to reflect upon their own life experiences and background.

These responses from early users confirm a couple of the experiments we set out to test in the early stages of the StoryCorp app’s evolution: (1) The StoryCorps interview model could be successfully scaled using mobile technology; and (2) User-generated interviews could be recorded with fidelity and therefore stand as another pillar of StoryCorps' lasting archive of contemporary oral histories.

Because we take an agile human-centered design approach to building these technologies, we have also uncovered a need to collect interviews from communities of users—schools, organizations, families, neighborhoods and other groups of people with a shared history or experience they wish to talk about, preserve and share.

The Community College of Philadelphia, for instance, has been using the app to build an archive of stories from Philadelphia residents. This is an ongoing project with over 175 interviews on our platform so far. Old Town School of Folk Music, Palmwood Generations, and the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries "Diversity Stories" are also excellent examples of communities that are using StoryCorps to preserve their experiences. Since piloting this feature, more than 200 communities have been created on the platform.

We have also discovered the power of listening to bring people together, through initiatives like our Great Thanksgiving Listen, in which high school students across the country recorded a conversation with a grandparent, teacher, mentor or another elder over the holiday weekend. In 2015, we gathered more than 50,000 recordings from 100,000 participants. Today we announced the Great Thanksgiving Listen 2017, moving us closer toward the goal of touching the life of every American.  

Now more than ever, we see the importance of supporting this work and continuing to grow and evolve our app and platform.

StoryCorps turns 14 years old in October, and this new technology has opened our doors to more people wishing to record and preserve their stories. It has allowed us to collect, hear, and share stories from new communities and individuals we would otherwise not have had the resources to reach—schools, museums, religious organizations, aid workers, hospice employees, families gathered for reunions, and military personnel, to name just a few.

As we focus our energy on improving the app by expanding access and creating greater interconnectivity, new Knight Foundation support is a vital component to reaching our goal of one day knowing that everyone everywhere will have recorded and preserved a story using the StoryCorps app.

The StoryCorps app is available for iOS and Android

Learn more about the Great Thanksgiving Listen at thegreatlisten.org

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