The story behind an innovative project documenting youth alcohol culture change
by Julia McCusker, City of Port Phillip Health Equity and Social Justice Project Officer
We know young people are drinking far less than previous generations, but how do we capture this culture change? This was one of our challenges for the What’s Your Story? project.
I’m Julia McCusker, the Project Officer for the What’s Your Story? project.
I’ve been in this role for over a year after Port Phillip Council received support from VicHealth through the Alcohol Culture Change Initiative. I’m 24 and try to provide an authentic voice to the project. My background’s in public health and health promotion so it’s a good mix for me combining this public health program with my passion for changing ‘alcohol culture’ -- the way people drink, including the formal rules, social norms, attitudes and beliefs around what is, and what isn’t, socially acceptable for a group of people when drinking alcohol.
What’s Your Story? is a partnership between the Cities of Melbourne, Stonnington and Port Phillip along with our research partner Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre. We’re aiming to reveal, and change, the culture of drinking in our late-night entertainment precincts among young people aged 18-24.
An innovation project across three local governments is ambitious and required a lot of thought and planning. We wanted to use stories to bring about culture change, and needed to establish the best way of achieving this! We knew this required an authentic process which didn’t simply push health promotion messages at our target group as we know that doesn’t work.
We engaged the innovative team from Humankind Enterprises to lead our story-collection. They took their StoryPod, an inflatable, portable pop-up video booth into Chapel Street (Prahran) to a pathway or plaza where people are likely to be. Story curators outside the StoryPod then engaged with passers-by, asking them if they’d like to tell their story.
Participants walked into the StoryPod and picked which question they wanted to respond to: “tell us the story about one of your most memorable nights out and why it stands out to you” or “tell us the story about how nights in Melbourne have changed for you”.
By drawing on this safe, interesting and engaging way of collecting information, we were able to successfully collect young peoples’ stories about late night culture.
A common thread we discovered is that the focus for young adults has shifted away from alcohol and more importance is being placed on connecting with others and meeting new people while enjoying a night out in Melbourne.
As What’s Your Story? is not a traditional health promotion project, we had to first determine an evaluation process.
Our research partner, Turning Point’s Dr Michael Savic, created specific indicators around the story-telling and how the process of telling a story fosters culture change.
The main evaluation tool is a survey completed after a story is shared in the StoryPod. People can also complete the survey through our online platform.
Our first story-collection was in Chapel Street in December 2017. Initially, we wondered whether people would want to stop and tell their story. But we soon realised they really did! A lot of people walked past initially but then came back. There were times when people were even waiting while someone else was finishing in the pod!
John from Humankind Enterprises is great at communicating with people. He’d open with “we’re not trying to sell you anything – we just want to have a chat!” I related to many of the stories about late night culture, especially with one person who said: “I do think what makes the night memorable for me now would be basically really good company”.
Over the past few months, the StoryPod has travelled to the St Kilda Festival, Federation Square, Acland Street as well as returning to Chapel Street, Prahran. So far, we’ve collected 150 stories and 75 surveys.
The StoryPod has been an incredibly successful way of capturing how alcohol culture IS changing among young people in late night entertainment precincts. People do have stories about going out and they’re not all focused on alcohol. Some are health-conscious and don’t want to abuse their bodies, others just want to have a good night out and remember it!
After recording their stories, people come out and hi-five the story-curators! They have a feeling of accomplishment and that they are really contributing. I think stopping someone in the street and asking “what’s your story?” is a powerful motivator for people just to have a chat.
People’s stories are conversational starters. When someone tells you their story, they not only reflect on what they’ve said but go back to their friends and discuss it. It has a ripple effect and this is how we are hoping to bring about culture change.
What’s Your Story? wraps up in April 2019 after we have completed several other components. There is a social entrepreneurship component, where we are asking people to think about new ways to change late night culture, which is being led by Swinburne University Business School. We are also focusing on sharing all of the stories we have collected. In early 2019, we will be back out in our late-night entertainment precincts sharing stories through public art, so watch this space!
I think my biggest takeaway is that while stories are one of the oldest culture change methods there is, using authentic stories in a project like this is extremely powerful.