Urban Equity blogs

Developing Strategies Through Lived Experiences

25 June 2019 by André Darmanin1

We all have stories to tell in our lives, including our careers. Our lived experiences shape our careers, whether they equate to something fruitful or you’re destined to be somewhere else. I’ve noticed over the last year that I enjoy storytelling. So much so, I am thinking about writing a book. I digress.

My stories have come out through blog posts and public speaking engagements. From growing up in social housing to taking transit for most of my life, my story is being told and I would use those lived experiences to influence policy changes and strategies.

Politicians vying for office appreciate storytelling as part of shaping their campaigns. Chances are, unless they give a surname, the stories are untrue yet they are still believable. Personal stories resonate with voters.

Strategies and strategic plans can tell stories of their organizations and the direction they are going. Strategic plans are usually how one communicates within and outside the organization. Employees, especially the more introverted operational thinking ones, find it a tedious process they do not wish to be apart of. While they are not the strategic thinkers, they should be included because they are the on the ground implementing the departmental policies and procedures to customers.

“Simple statements of fact supplemented by statistics isn’t enough when communicating with the public. Storytelling is the key to getting a message across not only to the public, but also to managers, legislators and public-sector employees”, says government management experts Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene.

An example Barrett and Greene use is from Springfield, Missouri. The City Manager at the time brought in the head of the theatre program at Missouri State University to work with department heads and the city’s leadership team. Of course many city leaders have a tendency to be “stuffy” so this was a measure to make them more human. Good stories rise above the noise and help make stories concrete says Jay Geneske of the Rockefeller Institute.

In addition Marshall Ganz, who is a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s School of Government, teaches courses on “the public narrative”. In the two courses, exercises leadership by translating values into emotional capacity to respond to challenges strategically. Then follows through with the leadership challenge by building an empathetic bridge with agency through disprution of loss, difference dominance an change.

In this Inc. article “Why Storytelling is a Leaders Most Valuable Skill Set”, Raj Jana lists three reasons why it is a formidable skills and attracts and audience who deeply care about what you stand for.

  1. Stories build the brand. Tell a good story which is an extension of you and a way to express your personality. When I was asked to be a part of the Safe + Connected TO walk last summer, I mentioned my lived experiences, riding transit and how that shaped my career.
  2. Stories attract your perfect users or citizens. I dislike using taxpayers or customers as that nomenclature has no business in the public sector anymore. Continously tell stories that resonate with citizens, then you build a community of supporters. This could even relate to when your building a strategic plan internally. Sell it and make it relatable not only to the organization’s mission, vision and values, but to your personal experiences.
  3. Stories keep you growing. Stories tie together throughout your life and career. It helps you understand who you are, where you’ve come from and what you have the potential to do. Having strategies are knowing where you’ve come from, how you’ve grown and the lessons learned along the way, and collectively finding a path forward.

Strategies can include advocacy to bring about awareness of the shortcomings of the organizations to move forward. The story comes through in presentations, public consultations and efforts using government relations. They also come through with the data they present. Data can easily be manipulated to bring about the necessary changes to make their operations work more cohesively. Non-profits need to tell their stories even more because of the charitable work they do to better serve their communities.

Speaking of data, strategic plans need metrics. I mentioned this my recent post on adding social equity to transit metrics and programs. Conveying lived experiences to the transportation planning process as an example brings agency and outside the limitations of the typical measurements and key performance indicators that organizations and their departments apply. Not only are they measureable, but authentic. That added step of storytelling helps immensely.

In the end, think about strategic options as being a happy story about the future, says Roger Martin in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article. The strategic planning process is an arduous task and requires plenty of buy-in from political leaders to senior leaders to the front-line staff. Make it about telling those lived experiences and bringing those aspirational stories to life. Once you’re finished and ready to bring it forward to the public, bring it to life during public information sessions with authentic stories and you will gain the trust of the citizens you’re working for.

Let’s collaborate and let me know how I can bring your story to life when developing your strategic plans.

One comment

  • Roop

    26 June 2019 at 2:12 PM

    Well said!


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