Storytelling is a two-way interaction, written or oral, between someone telling a story and one or more listeners. It is a well-known and powerful means of communicating messages and engaging audiences. In this commentary paper, we present a framework for the integration of storytelling in systematic reviews and systematic maps at the stages where stakeholders are actively involved.
Using storytelling to explain complex research has, in the past, not been considered a rigorous method of communicating science. But an increasing number of studies are showing how narratives can be useful for developing trust with an audience and increasing knowledge retention as well as the ability and willingness by audiences to learn and take action. Being easily digested by the human brain, stories help bridging between our logos and pathos; when an audience becomes emotionally receptive of facts, chances increase that they will respond and act on the knowledge.
The authors argue that storytelling holds potential as a tool in systematic reviews and systematic maps, serving mainly two purposes. First, collecting contextual narratives from stakeholders at the stages of question formulation and protocol writing can help to inform and generate relevant research questions and review designs (contextual narratives are defined in the paper as stories gathered from stakeholders to gain an understanding of their perspective).
Second, creating a final story that faithfully presents the review results, while also relating to the contextual narratives, can contribute to effective communication of the results to stakeholders as well as to a broader audience. This approach can increase their engagement with the science and the implementation of evidence-based decisions.
The paper concludes that storytelling holds untapped potential for communicating evidence from systematic reviews and maps for increased stakeholder engagement. It is time for researchers and research networks such as the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence to support and emphasize the importance of exploring new tools for effective science communication, such as storytelling.