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Dec 30, 2019 | by Simon Glenister

Digital storytelling and measuring wellbeing impact

This week’s guest blog is from Simon Glenister, Founder and Director of the social enterprise Noise Solution, which delivers personalised, one-to-one music mentoring programmes to young people facing a variety of challenging circumstances. In this post, Simon describes how Noise Solution uses a data-driven approach to improving subjective wellbeing, in an attempt to remove the ‘wooly’ from participatory arts impact. 

Noise Solution uses a concept called self-determination theory. This focuses on encouraging intrinsic motivation and provides an evidence-informed understanding of the three psychological needs required to increase wellbeing: autonomy, competency and relatedness. 

Noise Solution from Noise Solution on Vimeo.

What do we mean by digital storytelling?

We created a platform that allows us to create an individualised, private digital community for every participant. This enables the musician and participant within each session to capture the highlights of each session, using the music they create, photos and video of the participant’s experiences. The participant’s family and key workers receive a weekly update email that brings them into the participant’s feed and, like any social media experience, it is a two way process that enables stakeholders to interact with participant’s posts through ‘likes’ and leaving comments.

Key findings

We use an internationally-validated wellbeing scale, Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) to capture participants’ perceptions of wellbeing. WEMWBS has been validated for use by people aged 13 or above, and it is therefore suitable for Noise Solution’s target beneficiaries. 

The results from the WEMWBS questions – along with qualitative analysis of three randomly selected blogs and nine, hour-long interviews with participants, family members and professionals – show that digital storytelling has extremely positive outcomes on individuals that go through the programme. 

Most compellingly, among the 89% of participants that complete the programme, they experience a 6.8 point increase in their wellbeing scores on average. The differences between the participants’ WEMWBS scores before and after the Noise Solution programme are statistically significant. 

Given the small sample sizes (fewer than 50 users), it is typically hard to find statistical significance; but when we do find statistical significance with small sample sizes, the differences tend to be meaningful enough to warrant action.

Why do we think digital storytelling improves wellbeing?

Our theory of change sees digital stories as an active element in improving wellbeing. They are not just a means for capturing impact. Within traditional participatory arts practice, any ‘performance’ element is fleeting and open to reinterpretation over time, existing only in memory.

In contrast, when we look at digital storytelling, the research of Davis and Weinshenker show that:

  • Once the digital story is complete, its ‘telling’ does not require the participation of the storyteller: It stands as a work of art, a representation apart from the teller, an ‘object’ for reflection and critique.
  • The unchanging nature of each ‘feed’ enables it to retain a power to influence. The process of others seeing and engaging with the narrative (parents and professional key workers) may cement any self-realisations the process may have engendered. 
  • Without the on-going support of the community, the self-realisations participants report and the personal transformations they testify to are likely to fade from consciousness without translation into action. 

Having a digital narrative that remains unchanged, and its ability to externalise participant experience, may ‘scaffold’ participants’ ability to reflect and process their internal view of themselves. 

It is possible that the digital stories support the building of a new perception of self that begins to challenge internally held negative perceptions. The reinforcement of these new reflections may additionally be aided through third-party validation, in the form of commentary within the digital stories.

Want to find out more?

I published a paper  in the community music journal Transform looking at the quantitative methodologies employed in measuring well-being within the platform. Here you will also find a breakdown of the statistical significance of a year’s referrals. 

Our findings have also been independently evaluated through a year-long Cabinet Office funded impact audit. This study found the same high levels of statistical significance in subjective wellbeing of participants.



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