Background: Complex issues need to be communicated in a comprehensible way to generate engagement and action. There is a link between effective science communication and good decision making. Science has traditionally been communicated as isolated logical ideas with little context given to the target audience, risking that audiences place new knowledge into preconceived understandings. Storytelling, a well-known and powerful means of communicating messages and engaging audiences, has historically not been commonly used in science communication, let alone evidence syntheses. Yet, an increasing number of studies show how narratives are useful for developing trust with audiences and increasing knowledge retention and the ability and willingness to learn and take action.
Storytelling for stakeholder engagement
We present a framework to integrate storytelling in systematic reviews and maps at stages where stakeholders are actively involved, in evidence synthesis across sectors in general but particularly in environmental management and conservation. We argue that storytelling holds potential as one of many tools for stakeholder engagement in evidence synthesis, serving two purposes (Figure 1). 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 stories gathered from stakeholders to gain an understanding of their perspective. Second, creating a central story that faithfully presents the review results but situates them in the contextual narratives can contribute to effective communication of the results to stakeholders and to a broader audience, potentially increasing their engagement and the implementation of evidence-based decisions.
Conclusion: Storytelling holds untapped potential for communicating evidence from systematic reviews and systematic maps for increased stakeholder engagement. It is time for researchers and research networks to support and emphasise the importance of exploring new tools for effective science communication, where integration of storytelling may be one such tool.