Storytelling has gained momentum as an education and health promotion tool. Firsthand stories humanize public health efforts and demonstrate the impact of government programs in a way data cannot. And it also personalizes what it means to be in a “government program.”

Our California Home Visiting Program’s (CHVP) storytelling campaign began in the summer of 2016 and what we’ve learned from our launch is empowering: home visiting participants feel honored to tell their stories and our sites delivering evidence-based programs find value in sharing their successes. As for the state, we now have a home visiting story bank filled with positive outcomes to share with health leaders and partners in promoting the health and well-being of California’s women, children, and families. In this post, we share some of our decisions and lessons learned to help inform your storytelling efforts.

[Learn more about evidence-based home visiting in California.]

Nothing Fancy, Nothing Pricey

Keep it simple. That’s our strategy for producing stories. Because we are entering our participants’ homes, we don’t want to invade with an entourage of state workers and a camera bag of fancy equipment. Instead, our presence is nothing more than one or two CHVP storytellers and the participant’s home visitor. Our equipment is an iPhone and a lapel mic. Today’s smartphones allow us to produce quality photos and videos so we can forgo the high-priced equipment used by professionals.

Each story is packaged into a storytelling toolkit that sites can use to communicate their success via a variety of outreach channels. The toolkit consists of a video produced with Apple’s iMovie software, a written version of the story packaged as a handout, and social media posts for sharing the good news.

While our sites use the storytelling toolkit to share their success in the community, the state uses the same toolkit to communicate home visiting’s impact more broadly. Our stories appear on the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) website and YouTube channel. Our social media posts are used by our Office of Public Affairs and posted on the department’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Each monthly story is also sent to more than 1,000 subscribers of the CHVP HomeStory newsletter.

[Share your home visiting experience on the NHVRC website.]

Permissions, Ethics, and Government

Stories move people to action. Storytelling is used in the private sector to advertise everything from coffee to computers. Nonprofits have found stories increase donations. Yet, telling stories in the public sector is a new strategy.

CHVP wants to ensure personal stories are told in the best interest of those individuals we have been entrusted to serve. In developing our storytelling campaign, we worked with CDPH’s leadership in our Center for Family Health, Office of Legal Services, and Director’s Office for their valuable input. These conversations resulted in the implementation of the following storytelling elements:

  • Story release form for story participants to review and sign
  • Ethics checklist for storytellers to review throughout the storytelling process
  • Rigorous review of stories by leadership within CDPH for accuracy, tone, and respectful communication in words and images

We have yet to receive a negative comment about any story, and in fact, often hear praise from participants and staff alike.  A recent story participant wrote us and said, “All I can say is wow! You and your team have captured my family’s story in an amazing way. I cannot thank you enough. I love the feature.”

As CHVP’s storytelling grows, the common thread among all stories is a great story, a willingness to share, and a skilled communicator to produce an impactful narrative. Communications isn’t the first objective a health program thinks of when developing a staffing plan, but making room in the budget for a professional storyteller may pay for itself in increased awareness of and community support for your program, and ideally, additional participants and funding to grow your effort.

To sign up for our HomeStory newsletter, email To learn more about our storytelling campaign, send me a note at