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Reflecting on the Impact of Family Planning Voices

Family Planning Voices became a global storytelling movement within the family planning community when it launched in 2015. One of its founding team members reflects on the initiative’s impact and shares tips for those interested in starting a similar project.

My interview with Kyomuhangi Debra, a family planning client at an MSI clinic in Kampala was a team effort. We sat outside under the shade of the clinic’s awning, the clinic manager interpreting from English to Luganda for us, as Debra held her baby in her arms while her three-year old son disassembled my pens and played with the microphone. I felt a kinship with Debra―I had two young daughters back home in Chicago―and was grateful for her willingness to talk even though she was clearly busy.

Debra wanted to wait a few years before having another child. “I got my IUD six weeks after my youngest son was born…. It sounded like a nice option without many side effects,” she told me. I had done the same after my youngest daughter was born. “I’ve been having lower abdominal pain since I started using it,” she continued. “I will talk to my health provider and see what they recommend.”

Before I could help myself, I told her, “I had the same problem. The first few months were rough. But now the cramping has subsided. I’m glad I gave it time.” Debra nodded as the manager interpreted.

Later, the family planning provider came over as I was packing up my things. “I don’t know what you said to her, but before, she was thinking about having her IUD removed. After the interview, she decided to keep it and give it a little more time!”

Though Debra and I lived a world apart, that day we connected as two moms doing our best to care for ourselves and our young children. Two people whose family planning decisions―like those of many―are informed by the stories of people we trust: sisters, friends, colleagues, providers, influencers. As FP Voices showed, stories have the power to inform and to connect us, from a very personal level to a global level. Hearing so many of those stories firsthand was a great honor.

– Liz Futrell, Former Project Lead of Family Planning Voices

Family Planning Voices (FP Voices), a storytelling initiative launched by the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project and Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), began with the idea of adapting the wildly popular Humans of New York series, to tell the personal and human stories from those who are passionate about family planning. This initiative sought to elevate the voices of those working in family planning as well as those benefiting from family planning services by interviewing and showcasing quotes from program implementers, donors, service providers, religious leaders, community members, and clients, among others. The carefully curated quotes were accompanied by photographs, many of them headshots taken by a professional photographer, and posted to the FP Voices website and social media, using #FPVoices. Launched in 2015 prior to the International Conference on Family Planning, FP Voices quickly grew momentum in the family planning community, resulting in more than 600 individual voices being captured through more than 1,000 posts to the FP Voices website and social media.

Why storytelling?

Data is essential for successful family planning programming but attaching stories to the data compel people to take action. Stories can be an effective and memorable way to share and amplify tacit, experiential knowledge and they shed light on the human, personal experiences of our global community. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted an impact assessment of FP Voices and found that stories and storytelling have a lot of power to impact knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Specifically related to knowledge application and collaboration as a result of stories and storytelling, the assessment found:

  • 85% of survey respondents agreed that it provided them with a new idea or way of thinking
  • 68% of survey respondents agreed that it led them to focus on a new family planning topic
  • 65% of survey respondents agreed that it encouraged them to start a new family planning activity
  • 74% of survey respondents agreed that it prompted them to collaborate with family planning professionals outside of their organization

The importance of the story

The impact of a story depends on how well it resonates with its audience. Powerful stories are personal, unscripted, emotional, and honest. In order to tell stories that resonate, individuals should consider the following tips:

  1. Stay simple and focused – bring in one or just a few characters, focus on one key message, and distill the story to its essential elements.
  2. Get personal – personal stories, especially those that touch on triumph over adversity, engage people on a deeper level.
  3. Be relatable – if your audience can see themselves in the characters or the situation, they will pay attention.
  4. Make it social-media friendly – an enticing opening, concise, sharable, and captioned.
  5. Consider multimedia approaches – incorporate audio, visual, video, data visualization elements.
  6. Show, don’t tell – instead of telling your audience about a certain story, try showing them by describing the setting or characters with vivid details.
  7. Incorporate essential elements of a story – including details of the context/setting, the character(s), a conflict, a turning point, and a call to action.

The Family Planning Voices Stories

Through countless interviews at international conferences and country/regional meetings and trips, the FP Voices team was able to pull out and document the experiential knowledge from people living and working around the world.

The momentum that was built around FP Voices during international conferences, such as the International Conferences on Family Planning and Women Deliver, had a great impact on name recognition and people’s awareness of FP Voices. In addition, we secured the stories or voices from several high-profile champions of family planning early on, which built the excitement for others to be interviewed and featured on the platform.

The FP Voices team also paid special attention to the environment to ensure it was optimal for the interviewees and the storytelling process. This included both physical and more subtle aspects including:

  • A comfortable, quiet, and private space to conduct the interview
  • A small team of one interview, one photographer, and one interpreter, when needed
  • A set of good, open-ended questions to guide the conversation
  • A skilled and prepared interviewer that listens well and has done their research on the interviewee prior to this conversation to tailor their questions and demonstrate a genuine interest in this person

Founding members reflect on their vision for this platform.

The Impact

During the implementation of FP Voices, the K4Health team conducted two assessments in 2017 and 2018. The results from the first assessment implied that FP Voices had positively impacted knowledge, attitudes, and self-efficacy related to family planning; increased collaboration among individuals working on family planning initiatives; and strengthened storytelling capacity among global family planning practitioners. At conception, the FP Voices team had both hoped that this storytelling initiative would highlight and strengthen advocacy for family planning and also build support and interest around using storytelling as an effective tool.

The second assessment focused on how FP Voices affected young family planning professionals who had shared their story. The results of the second assessment showed that young professionals working in family planning/reproductive health felt validated and recognized when their experiences were documented and disseminated through the FP Voices website and social media. It also provided them with a sense of increased visibility within and outside of their networks. The FP Voices team, formed with many early to mid-career level individuals, aimed to create a website that equally celebrated the voices and stories of each person, regardless of their role in family planning or their seniority. Therefore, the findings of the second assessment were an important one for the FP Voices team.

At the end of September 2020, the five-year FP Voices journey concluded but the FP Voices website will continue to be available for inspiration, reflection, and knowledge sharing for the family planning community. While this chapter of storytelling has come to a close, storytelling remains an important method of sharing experiential knowledge. Learn tips and tools, gained from the experiences of the FP Voices team, for collecting stories of your own.

Managing the Collection

Storytelling itself is a knowledge management approach but organizing and managing this collection of stories was another entire facet to this initiative. The FP Voices team used Google products to collaborate, store, and organize the outputs from hundreds of interviews conducted by various team members. Specifically, the team employed:

An overarching Google Drive to organize folders upon folders of interview content from various conferences and events over a five-year period. This system allowed us to continually come back and find the information we needed quickly, while storing a massive amount of content online.

Google Docs to collaboratively transcribe and curate the stories of hundreds of interviewees with input from various team members. It also provided a transparent and seamless method for story review by interviewees to ensure we had captured their stories accurately and respectfully prior to publishing on the website.

Google Sheets to track each interviewee and the publication schedule, not only to ensure accurate publication details but also for reporting purposes - for example, an interviewee’s country is shared within the post on the website, but it also helped us understand our geographical reach for donor reporting. The Google Sheet also employed filters and tags to ensure that the posts within a period of time were diverse across geography, gender, and affiliation with family planning.

Elizabeth Tully

Senior Program Officer, Knowledge SUCCESS / Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Elizabeth (Liz) Tully is a Senior Program Officer at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. She supports knowledge and program management efforts and partnership collaborations, in addition to developing print and digital content, including interactive experiences and animated videos. Her interests include family planning/reproductive health, the integration of population, health, and the environment, and distilling and communicating information in new and exciting formats. Liz holds a B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences from West Virginia University and has been working in knowledge management for family planning since 2009.