April 15, 2024

The Art, Craft & Biz of Storytelling in 21C

The Art, Craft & Biz of Storytelling in 21C

FreedomLab a campus that mixes collaboration, design and process

The democratization of the tools to create has enabled anyone to become their own media company. Disruption has ripped through the entertainment industry, challenging how things are made, distributed and consumed. But what does it take to build engaging stories in a fragmented digital landscape? What models will emerge and how can one take advantage of new opportunities? And who will become the digital whispers that help to bridge the chasm between story and code?

Over the weekend, I was in Amsterdam working in an amazing space called FreedomLab. A campus that has over 100 people collaborating across a multitude of disciplines. From design to neuroscience to data visualization to storytelling, groups drop in and out of each other’s projects. A community has formed and within it an opportunity to challenge the future of work and learning.

Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things a massive online/offline collaboration returns in 2016 with a special collaboration that will bring Artificial Intelligence into the project.

Since 2010, I’ve been collaborating with FreedomLab and Jorgen van der Sloot on a variety of storytelling and design projects which are often difficult to describe and equally challenging to archive. From simulating pandemic outbreaks in Park City during the Sundance Film Festival that connected 250,000 players in 5 days, to designing sci-fi worlds with foster youth that enable participants to emotionally feel what it’s like to age out of care, to most recently mounting a massive online/offline collaboration to engage over 1,000 collaborators from 60 countries to reimagine Sherlock Holmes through the Internet of Things - the work is ambitious and often on the edge. However in order to design, build, run and maintain such projects there needs to be a diversity of not only skills but of perspectives and collaborative input.

Brain Eno stretching the notion of creative genius

More and more I watch as leadership begins to shift to a role of facilitation. The notion of the auteur as one lone genius fades into a collective type of intelligence that gets stronger through engagement. Brian Eno summed this up when he coined the term Scenius.

“Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.” — Brian Eno

This notion presents an ecosystem in which there are no hierarchies. So does the future of entertainment and media rest in a move from the vertical to the horizontal? Can it be found within a shift from tasks tumbling down and up a chain to collaborative teamwork that opts for an adaptive approach that harnesses the wisdom of a crowd?

At the core of the New Media Producing class that I’m teaching, which I tend to call Building Storyworlds: the art, craft & biz of storytelling in 21c, rests a methodology that borrows from narrative design, game mechanics and design science. We often call it EDIT which stands for Empathy, Define, Ideate and Test. The four steps are not so much a linear process as they are a non-linear experience, one that is fueled by individual and group discovery. An adaptive approach that benefits from the collective intelligence of a community.

The reading list for my course at Columbia comes from the collective wisdom of top storytellers, game developers and experience designers from around the world. You can see it here

Learn Do Share

At FreedomLab a community of storytellers, game designers, educators, and activist are prototyping Learn Do Share, an open and free collaborative OS (operating system) for human problem solving. The OS is a combination of methods like EDIT, frameworks for measuring impact and a host of open tools and processes. To date the Learn Do Share OS has been deployed by Universities, organizations, governments and communities. For instance, we’ve been using the OS at Columbia University for the last two years as a foundation to help build the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab. In addition, Learn Do Share is part of a larger initiative at Columbia based within SPS (School of Professional Studies) that facilitates spaces for collaboration on campus and off. Earlier this year, I was appointed to the position of Director of Experiential Learning and Applied Creativity. My mandate is to R&D the future of work and learning through story, play and design.

So as I prepare for teaching next semester, I’m working to explore and share process. In class we will be experimenting with design principles that emerged out of the recent Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab prototype, Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things that was developed out of the film department at the School of the Arts and powered by SPS.

The design principles helped to scale a global collaboration that challenged notions of authorship and ownership of stories. Four design principles emerged over the course of the pilot of Sherlock.

THE TRACE the importance of being able to see a trace of your contributions within the story

GRANTING AGENCY balancing team and individual tasks enable participants to see where their decisions and actions impact the experience

THEMATIC FRAME designing an emergent space that has a thematic frame to anchor itself thus establishing an inspired common foundation for understanding

SOCIAL MOVEMENT through a kind of serendipity management we can design moments where participants “bump into” unexpected points of collaboration

The Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab taps the Learn Do Share OS to power a collaborative session for the Narrative Medicine Program about storytelling and care

Collaborative Practice

Starting in January, Building Storyworlds: the art, craft & biz of storytelling in 21c will take a deep dive into theory, process and design as it combines practical experience with insight into emerging trends. A mixture of lectures, collaborative design exercises and guest speakers, the class provides a detailed overview of what it takes to produce projects that combine story and tech.

In an effort to develop and refine collaborative practice, I’ll be documenting and sharing elements of the class. First up is a simple take on a living document that will serve as the syllabus for the semester. Over the course of the class the syllabus will evolve to document the collective learning journey of both my students and myself. In order to accomplish this we’ll utilize hackpad (google doc meets wiki), an open source solution with data portability. You can also follow along via the class tumblr.

So please join us as we work to bridge the gap between story and code.

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