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Storytelling and climate-smart everyday life

What does life look like in climate-smart everyday life? Emotional engagement is key to changing people's behavior.

What does life look like in climate-smart everyday life? Since 2019, Viable Cities has been developing a method to explain how climate-neutral cities can be experienced. The work is led by our Chief Storyteller Per Grankvist. The background is the realization that emotional engagement is crucial to change people's behavior - it is not enough to present facts in the form of numbers, reports and bars.

To describe the future, the methodology combines robust research on behavioral psychology with new findings on sustainable lifestyles and ancient knowledge on how to structure stories to engage audiences. The method consists of a number of processes that are based on cities' climate targets and result in a story about what it is like to live climate-neutrally for one day in that city. The aim is for politicians and officials to understand that it is perfectly possible to combine a high quality of life with low emissions already today, and for them to realize that their role is to make it easier for more people to live sustainably in different ways. Another effect is that the method seems to create an increased understanding of how the work of different administrations in a city contributes to the climate goals.

The method emphasizes that the story should feel documentary and not an embellished vision of the future. The "hero" we follow in the story is everyday and faces functional and emotional obstacles, gets irritated by things that don't work and encounters unexpected friction in different contexts. This creates the strong emotional recognition in the audience that is crucial to bring about change.

The method consists of five steps: 1 Choose a theme for the story, such as fossil-free transport; 2 Find a local feature that can become part of the story; 3 Create a day in the life of the hero; 4 Put the story together, in several layers. Tell partly what happens and partly how it is climate smart; 5 Let people gather around the story.

The starting point for the method is that a climate-smart everyday life is not much different from the life we live today. In short, it is based on classical dramaturgy with a hero who eventually accomplishes a mission. The method consists of five steps:

  1. Choose a theme for the story, such as fossil-free transport.
  2. Find a local feature that can become part of the story.
  3. Create a day in the life of the hero.
  4. Put the story together, in several layers. Tell what is happening and how it is climate smart.
  5. Let people gather around the story.

Methodology development and attention

The first pilot for such a story was created in 2020. In 2021, the method was further developed based on what we learned and we added more processes. During the year we let students at KTH use the method to design the campus of the future and during the fall we made four new pilots, in Umeå, Malmö and Gothenburg.

The method is receiving a lot of international attention. It has already been featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, the Times of London and Süddeutsche Zeitung. In 2021, the BBC's society program "The World at One" made a longer interview with our Chief Storyteller Per Grankvist. In addition to similar interviews in other media, he has been invited to talk about the method in a number of different contexts, including as a guest lecturer at the School of Architecture in Prague and at a Finnish innovation program for climate-neutral municipalities.

In 2022, Per Grankvist participated in the BMW foundation's global conference on the future of urban development. He has also been appointed to their Responsible Leaders Network, a network of over 1500 leaders from around the world who have demonstrated "an ability to inspire others, to lead by example, to create change and to generate change."

During the Stockholm +50 conference in June 2022, Viable Cities Per Grankvist presented his findings.

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Carl Larsson's painting 'Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in the Forest' is unmistakably Swedish.
15 February 2024

By combining behavioral research and fictional storytelling techniques, we are developing a model for engaging storytelling, the first version of which will be completed before the end of the year. At regular intervals Per writes about his reflections on storytelling as a tool, based on what is being done,...

More about the method

Deepening

Read blog posts and deeper explanations of the methodology on the Viable Cities blog.

In practice

Watch the video produced by Kristianstad Municipality where they talk about what it is like to live in a climate-neutral Kristianstad through the method of storytelling.

Publications

Curtis, S. (Author), Shabb, K. (Author), & Libertson, F. (Producer) (2021). Storytelling for Sustainability.

I media

Articles

Read English articles on the methodology in Cities Today, the first global magazine providing analysis, commentary and best practices on sustainable urban development.

Article in Bloomberg CityLab magazine about Per Grankvist and the purpose of storytelling.

Article in Resumé, a Swedish magazine in the media and communication industry, about how Per makes the audience laugh in order to make them take in hard facts.

Podcaster

Listen to episode 210 of the podcast "Cheer the Future" where Per shares his views on storytelling, filter bubbles and truth.

Listen to episode 3 "In the head of a storyteller" of the podcast "Martin snows in" where Per talks about the importance of a good story, a solid content calendar, less fuss and an eternal curiosity.

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Viable Cities is a strategic innovation program with the mission Climate neutral cities 2030 with a good life for all within the planetary boundaries. The program is funded by the Swedish Energy Agency, Vinnova and Formas and is coordinated by KTH.

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