Simon Staffans' "One Year in Transmedia"

Transmedia designer Simon Staffans created an ebook entitled "One Year in Transmedia," a collection of his own and others' posts, and interviews with transmedia specialists, to present a comprehensive industry snapshot in 2011 and beyond. Simon asked me to give an interview on what I believe is the future of transmedia, and its applications to social change and social innovation. I was honored to have my interview close out the book. 

Here is an excerpt of that interview. (For the full text and for the rest of the book (a worthwhile read), please download the book here.)

Q: A lot of transmedia evolves around fiction, around mythologies and fantasy and suchlike. Youʼre an advocate for transmedia activism; how do you feel transmedia can help when it comes to social issues?
A: [First, there] is a distinct opportunity here in using narrative and a designed experience to guide activists, influencers and members of the general public into your story universe and create engagement and action toward a solution. (When I analyze a story universe for social change, I think first in terms of an ecosystem of issues, social and cultural conditions, communities and solutions-- and not only about the narrative arc of the story.) As a community of storytellers and activists, we can move beyond awareness and outreach to engagement and action. A great example this year was Medecins Sans Frontieres' "Starved for Attention" campaign, which used a variety of media, film, video, objects and photos created by a number of authors and distributed via web, tablet, and real world installations to create a number of advocacy points that targeted a range of stakeholders and moved them in a nearly seamless fashion from story to their desired action...

Second, transmedia strategies, in allowing diverse and multiple authorship, have the potential to create better streams of participation for "local voice"-- i.e, voices coming from an affected community, to tell its own stories and participate in solutions-building.  This year, I'd point [as examples] to 18 Days in Egypt3 Generations, [and] The Invisibles...

Third, setting out a transmedia strategy may be an innovative way to create a co-creation network and to build community-centered collaboration.  Creation networks are an interesting way to think about two things: (1) combining community-driven solutions (bottom-up, grassroots) with resources and capacity (top-down, institutional)... 

Fourth, transmedia answers the question, "How do you tell the story of a system?" There's a danger in social change when you tell a story from one perspective or from one node in the system. True social change comes when solutions are systemic, and transmedia itself is a social innovation that allows us to view our ecosystem and create stakeholder engagement around systemic change.  The advantage to transmedia is that it helps us tell the story of a system by presenting multiple voices on a number of stories extending from the core over a number of distribution channels...

Q: How has the transmedia activism industry or movement evolved during the past few years? 
A: When I first started writing about transmedia activism and examining social action projects through its lens in 2008, there was no identifiable community of colleagues investing time, resources or thought into it. Today, it's still a relatively young construct-- it's more of a strategic framework than an industry or a movement yet-- but over the past 18-24 months, a number of creators and institutions have come to recognize the potential that transmedia has when applied to social change, and so there is interest in investing in tools and technologies that advance the field. Philanthropic institutions like the Ford Foundation and the Sundance Institute have started funding transmedia projects, which is cause for celebration. On the other hand, we haven't yet built a field in which there are a set of norms or business models. We have limited capacity globally, in terms of the numbers of strategists or practitioners who have experience in the design principles of a transmedia strategy, or the subject matter expertise in social innovation or social change. We need to build a community of practice if we're going to really create effective partnerships and implement sustainable solutions.

Q: What has been the most exciting or fulfilling or encouraging transmedia experiences youʼve encountered over the past year?

Aside from work I've been doing this year, MSF's Starved for Attention campaign and 18 Days in Egypt excite me for the reasons I stated above. Lance Weiler's "Pandemic"-- which debuted earlier this year and has inspired some interesting collaborations in social change for him--and his recently launched "Robot Stories" are really interesting. I love the work Breakthrough has been developing for their Bell Bajao campaign, which is rather less involved than Lance's work, but highly engaging and sometimes cheeky, always striking the right tone for the very serious subject of ending domestic violence.  GMD Studios' work with the Smithsonian gives me hope that there are going to be more interesting transmedia collaborations between cultural institutions and experience designers. And the launch of the Mobile Media Toolkit (from, for which which I sit on the Board of Directors) was particularly exciting in providing guidance on local, independent content creation through mobile phones. Finally, I was head over heels for PunchDrunk's "Sleep No More" -- while this is not a "social change" project by any means, it is one of the best immersive, interactive experiences I've ever had in New York City. I'm hoping someone will create a Hitchcock, Fellini or Jean Cocteau transmedia experience, or bring alive more Shakespeare plays, or other classic movie, theater or literary experiences soon.

Q: Do you see anything within the field of transmedia that you are especially looking forward to in 2012?
A: I was happy Brian Clark addressed the question of business models at Henry Jenkins' site. The founding of StoryCode from Transmedia Meetup NYC is a positive development in this direction, and I'm hoping we as a community delve more deeply into discussions and answers on the evolution of business models and systematically supporting a community of practice.

I'm interested to see how we move forward on personal storytelling as an element of social change campaigns, whose potential is expanding with platforms like Cowbird; and the potential for effective content curation, as Vadim Lavrusik describes in his piece "Curation and amplification will become much more sophisticated in 2012." In my own work in field-building, I want to continue to align concepts of transmedia to social innovation and design. I would like to continue to work with nonprofits and institutions to themselves experiment with and adopt transmedia storytelling in both communications as well as program design.  And I want to build on discussions that I started in collaboration with StoryCode this past fall on the potential of transmedia in emerging markets, for economic development and creative sector capacity, and community-centered solutions-building. We launched a series with Africa, and hopefully will also explore the Indian film industries and Latin America in 2012. 

On the content side, related to that last point, I'm looking forward to working closely with a forthcoming project called "Lakou Mizik," a transmedia platform for musicians in Haiti, and in continuing to build the platform around Who Is Dayani Cristal

Q: If you would hazard a guess, where will transmedia be in 2015, and transmedia activism?
A: I think it's the way we'll all be communicating and creating rather regularly, so will we even need the term "transmedia" anymore? At any rate, in three years, I think "narrative design" will become an essential function across a variety of sectors (for-profit and non-profit), and that transmedia storytelling will be leveraged by more of the creative arts fields, like music, dance and theater, and by more cultural institutions. There will be more global efforts and projects, and more investment in
global co-productions in terms of creative content and financial investment.

And I'm hoping we who work in the interstices between the creative and nonprofit sectors will have learned a lesson from the 2011 political revolutions and social movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, India, Mexico, the US and beyond. I hope we invest in the strong convergence between both (perhaps seemingly converse) individual storytelling and collaborative production, and look to
technologies and institutional structures globally that support free and secure expression, a vibrant civil society, and thriving cultural economies.  I hope.

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