Tell Me a Story (Part 2): The Power of Stories for Diffusing Innovations

  • Susan Gary Walters


Stories are powerful tools for change. Providing practical illustrations of contexts where stories contribute to the process of bringing about change, this article explains the significant roles stories play in the innovation-decision process, the process through which people pass from finding out about an innovation to deciding whether or not to adopt it. Stories can raise awareness about the existence of an innovation. They can also present knowledge about the underlying notions of an innovation or tell positive experiences of peers who have adopted it. Additionally, stories give people a chance to try out an innovation vicariously and envision alternative, appealing futures. Stories functioning in these ways are particularly useful during the early stages of the innovation-decision process. In later stages, other kinds of stories are useful: ones that describe the parts of an innovation or display details about a new technology; ones that position the innovation in the local context and demonstrate how it relates to existing structures; and stories featuring opinion leaders using the innovation. Recognizing the benefits and challenges of using stories equips people to diffuse new ideas more smoothly, including across cultures. By carefully considering the power of stories, anticipating occasions for their use, and learning their local artforms, people can better use stories to support the spread of helpful innovations.

Keywords: story, stories, narrative, diffusion of innovations, change, narrative persuasion, narrative transportation, verbal art, verbal artforms

Acknowledgements: I am grateful to my colleague Heidi Cobbey who read multiple early drafts and encouraged me when I got stuck. I would also like to thank Katie Frost and Dennis Malone for their input and insight, which sharpened my thinking and strengthened this article.

Author Biography

Susan Gary Walters

Susan Gary Walters, with SIL International, has worked for over twenty years alongside people in Asia, contributing to local language development. She holds an MA in linguistics, a PhD in intercultural education, and is an adjunct professor in the World Arts department at Dallas International University. Her interests include exploring languages, supporting cross-cultural collaboration, facilitating learning and literacy, and helping communities enjoy and use their arts.