Community health educators propose model to assess digital storytelling as applied health intervention

UMass Amherst Community Health Education doctoral student Alice Fiddian-Green

Alice Fiddian-Green

May 29, 2019

Digital storytelling (DST) has becoming increasingly common as a tool for applied health interventions, with particular relevance for community-engaged research with marginalized populations. With its emphasis on community engagement, shared decision making and planning, and collaborative approach to identifying solutions to address health inequities, health promotion practitioners have found it to be an increasingly valuable and reliable tool.

Although there is a body of research that identifies the use of digital narratives as valuable tools to affect behavioral change, a standard approach to empirically assess the efficacy of DST as a health intervention does not currently exist. Now, in an article titled Restor(y)ing Health: A Conceptual Model of the Effects of Digital Storytelling appearing in the journal Health Promotion Practice, Community Health Education doctoral candidate Alice Fiddian-Green and colleagues are proposing a new conceptual model to remedy that situation.

The authors’ proposed conceptual model of DST draws from narrative, social cognitive and other theoretical frameworks. It posits that “engaging in the group processes of creating, sharing, and discussing a digital story can result in the emotional acceptance, social support, and self-efficacy necessary for individuals to engage in behaviors that promote positive health. These outcomes are mediated by the social rehearsal, emotional processing, and mastery experience that is inherent to the construction of a coherent digital narrative within a group setting.” The process of creating and sharing a narrative in a group setting, the authors conclude, leads to greater socioemotional well-being that can “increase individual capacity for behavioral change and, ultimately, bolster positive health outcomes.”

Their proposed model, they hope, can serve as a guide for public health practitioners and researchers interested in empirically assessing the potential benefits of DST as an applied health intervention. They call for a “rigorous methods approach to investigate the effects of DST on socioemotional well-being in varied contexts and populations, which would benefit from the empirical application and analysis of this proposed model.” Their immediate recommendations are to use established measurement tools such as the Narrative Quality Assessment Tool and other questionnaires examining potential changes in self-efficacy, perceived social support, and emotional intelligence among DST participants.

“The use of digital media is increasingly relevant to the field of community health education,” says Fiddian-Green. “The first important benefit of this article is to define digital storytelling as a distinct health intervention with a specific methodology. The second important benefit of this article is to provide a specific road map for practitioners and researchers to gather evidence on the socioemotional impacts of DST as a health intervention. My hope is that application of this model will produce data that compliments existing anecdotal reports that show DST as a valuable tool to promote social connection and positive health.”

The authors call for a rigorous methodological approach to apply and test this model across a range of health contexts and populations. A comprehensive assessment of this model, they conclude, should include a mixed-methods approach and a randomized control design, comparing outcomes between DST and traditional group-based health interventions, in order to codify its efficacy.