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2 minutes to read Posted on Friday December 1, 2023

Updated on Thursday May 23, 2024

portrait of Nicole McNeilly

Nicole McNeilly

Impact Advisor , Europeana Foundation

How to narrate your heritage impact story and embed impact

Europeana started talking about impact over a decade ago, and as we celebrate the launch of a revised and now online Impact Playbook, we want to bring you along on the journey. Read on for the final post in our news series on the Playbook, dedicated to Phases three and four - telling your impact story and evaluating your impact approach.

An autumn landscape showing a wide, flooded river, trees with orange and yellow leaves and a sky with two large clouds
Autumn Landscape
Churberg, Fanny
Finnish National Gallery

What is an impact narrative?

A narrative is another word for a story, and impact or data storytelling is a type of narration based on evidence or data. We like author and data analyst Brent Dykes’ description of data storytelling. A data story consists of three parts: the data, the narrative and the visuals.

Why build a narrative when you can just present the data?

In most circumstances, just presenting the data won’t tell the story you want to tell or inspire the action you want to come next. Storytelling can help create an emotional connection between you and your audience. Decisions are often based on emotion and people remember stories, and things with which they have an emotional connection, much more than they do if it’s just facts and figures. The way you communicate the insights from your data will affect the way they are used and the impact that they can create.

In a 2016 Forbes article, Brent Dykes writes, ‘People hear statistics, but they feel stories.’ We would suggest adapting this to: ‘People hear statistics, but they feel, remember and act on stories.’

Taking a narrative or story-based approach to sharing your impact findings is key to telling a balanced, objective picture of your findings. What if you found something unexpected or if your findings weren’t as strong or as positive as you expected? These findings are just as important as your more positive or anticipated findings. Phase three helps you to build these findings into an impact story where you can think of these like plot twists or part of the story of how you as an organisation are learning and improving.

Where do I start?

Telling a great story is a craft - just ask our storytelling Task Force! Before you start the creative part, Phase three asks you some key questions, including:

  • Who is the audience for your impact story?

  • What does your audience need or want to hear? What problem(s) are you solving for them?

  • What do you want to achieve? What action do you want to inspire?

How do I build an impact narrative?

Storytelling is about creating a rich narrative that guides the reader through the most essential components: the setting, characters, plot and plot twists, and the reflection or conclusion. Once you have worked through all of these, you can map your story onto our narrative arc template.

The narrative arc template
Narrative Arc template
Europeana Foundation
The Netherlands
The narrative arc template

What about the visualisation?

Graphs and visuals make it easier to absorb information quickly and make your impact story even more impactful. Data visualisation can be off-putting if you haven’t done it before. But you don’t need to be an expert to present your data in a clear and accessible way. Phase three shares tips, tools and examples of great data visualisation, ranging from mapping to infographics to timelines.

What do I do with my narrative?

The narrative can guide much more than just your executive summary or conclusions. You can also use this to shape your whole report and influence your dissemination plan and communications. It is likely to shape how you and your organisation use your findings, too. It is important that you use the findings to inspire action.

Where does Phase four begin?

Phase four is devoted to evaluating your impact assessment approach. It first sets out methodologies that help you evaluate and improve your approach to impact assessment, and then sets out ways to embed impact more strongly in your organisation. You and your colleagues can begin while everything is still fresh in your head or after you’ve had some time to reflect.

Why do I need to evaluate? I’ve just completed an impact assessment, after all…

Evaluating should be at the end of every project cycle. This is good practice. It helps you to design activities that better meet your stakeholders needs and help you fulfil your mission, build impact thinking into your organisation’s processes, and help us bring the sector closer to our vision of having a common method and language for talking about the impact of digital cultural heritage.

What am I meant to evaluate?

You can evaluate any part of your impact assessment approach. This could be Phase one and your impact design approach - was your change pathway fit for purpose? Did you really know about your stakeholders’ needs? What about Phase two - did you collect the data you needed, and what were the biggest challenges with analysis? In Phase three, did you really harness opportunities to share your impact story and learn from the findings? What can you improve for next time and how?

How do I evaluate?

Evaluation is different from impact assessment in that you’re not assessing the impact that your impact assessment had, but rather, the effectiveness of the approach. We set out three methodologies for this. They range from a light-touch method of conducting a debrief (like in the scrum approach), to surveying your colleagues, to a more in-depth method of using Team-Based Inquiry to collectively learn and improve. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on a much bigger question: are we having the greatest possible impact, and if not, what can we do about it?

How do I find out more?

The Impact Playbook is now online for you to use in your work.