Visual Storytelling for Social Change:

Resources for Developing Media with a Mission

We understand our world through stories: the heroes we aspire to be, the conflicts we identify with, the ideas that move us. Visual storytelling—whether a photo series, an online video, a long-form documentary or virtual reality—can capture our attention, generate deep empathy, and move us to take action.

The resources below are designed to help both seasoned and budding social change activists imagine and design stories that boost attention to issues, engage audiences more deeply, and increase the influence of campaigns.


Design Tools and Guides

Harnessing Documentaries for Social Change

Whether it’s a theatrical documentary, an online video, or mobile media, “Harnessing Documentaries for Social Change” offers strategies and tactics to help organizers and advocates work with visual stories in order to expand their audiences, get noticed, and win victories on their issues.

With mini-case studies, interviews, and a sample worksheet, the guide:

  • Gives tips on partnering and working with visual storytellers, with a specific focus on documentary filmmakers.
  • Provides steps to building out campaign and partnership plans around visual stories.
Download this Report

Build Your Creative Team: A matchmaking tool for advocates and media makers

Promising partnerships are emerging between activists and visual media makers—from co-producing content to working together on distribution/impact campaigns. But advocates and media makers don’t always intuitively understand each other’s motivations, goals, and language. Whether you are starting with an artist you already work with or are looking for a creative partner who shares your strategy and goals, here’s how to make the most of any collaboration.

The “Build Your Creative Team” matchmaking tool is intended for advocates and media makers to:

  • Explore and understand each other’s motivations and goals
  • Support “getting to know you” conversations
  • Help design specific projects and partnerships
Download this Tool

Choose Your Creative Path: A Story Format Wheel

In this 24/7, multi-platform media environment, the opportunity and the challenge are the array of storytelling formats to choose from: a 30-second mobile video, a long-form documentary, or virtual reality. Each has its advantages. Social change organizations need to choose the one that best matches their narrative needs, impact goals, and organizational resources.

Designed to simplify learning, comparing, and making decisions, the “Choose Your Creative Path” wheel takes you through seven storytelling formats, offering:

  • Breakdowns of the type of of storytelling and audience engagement the format is best for.
  • Production and distribution pros/cons.
  • Necessary skills and tools.
  • Related evaluation metrics.
Download this Tool

Know Your Audience: A visualization tool

What kind of story will resonate with your audience—fiction or nonfiction? Are your desired audiences Snapchat junkies or more likely to see content on their Facebook feed? What action will they likely take once they engage with a story?

Knowing your audiences—who they are and what shapes them, their passions, fears, and influences—helps determine your story strategy and creative process. An “audience persona” is a popular visualization format in the fields of content marketing and user-centered design.

Use the “Know Your Audience” guide and visualization worksheets to:

  • Understand how to apply audience analysis to your story development and engagement process;
  • Gain tips on easy ways to start gathering audience data and insights;
  • Priortize and build out personas for your core and reach audiences
Download this Tool

About Visual Storytelling for Social Change

Increasingly, groups working on issues like racism, democracy, and gender equality aren’t waiting around and letting others shape narratives around their issues. Instead, they’re forming partnerships with media makers and telling their own stories.

The Visual Storytelling for Social Change program and its resources are co-produced by the Culture Lab and Race Forward in partnership with Ford Foundation, Creativity and Free Expression | JustFilms.

In addition to the public resources, Visual Storytelling for Social Change includes webinars and multi-day, in-person workshops and skills building. Participants have included local and national social justice groups working on racial and gender equality, reproductive rights, economic justice, fair democracy, immigration reform, and other issues.  

Special thanks to Jessica Clark and Dot Connector Studios, who consulted on the development and design of the resources.

ABOUT: Visual Storytelling for Social Change Co-Producers

The Culture Lab serves as an “action tank” (action center + think tank) to help social change groups tap into the power of music, movies, and entertainment to inspire action and move us closer to the just, equitable, and sustainable world we seek.

Culture Lab provides the resources, tools, and relationships to help changemakers meet people where they already are, make the most of pop trends and storytelling opportunities, and inspire action.  Our methods are designed to make it easier and faster for social change groups to develop cultural strategies.

Race Forward advances racial justice through research, media and practice. Founded in 1981, Race Forward brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity. Race Forward publishes the daily news site Colorlines and presents Facing Race, the country’s largest multiracial conference on racial justice.

Race Forward’s mission is to build awareness, solutions and leadership for racial justice by generating transformative ideas, information and experiences.

Visual Storytelling for Social Change is a partnership between