“It comes to me that all you need for a story is a series of facts that can be strung together.”
I read Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard over the Christmas holidays and when I got to that line the first thing that cropped into my head was composite case studies. Clearly I couldn’t entirely switch off the work head, even when sat by the tree with a glass of sherry and a bowl of peanuts!
Composite case studies are created when aspects of different people’s stories are taken and blended in order to create one story that illustrates a broader point or makes a case in a more compelling way. The different components of the story may all be true, but they have been strung together to create a made up case.
The issue of composite case studies has come up a couple of times in the Story Network and as a group we have generally reached the conclusion that they are best avoided. In a world where social media makes it ever easier to engage with the people you support and work with, and when charities are user increasingly more robust and qualitative impact reporting techniques it shouldn’t be hard to identify real stories.
In the past we have heard fundraising needs used as a defence for composite stories: “the stories we have don’t work for fundraising so we need to create ones that do.” We don’t buy this argument. We think you could undermine the credibility of your storytelling and the trust people have in your work if you have to blend aspects of stories to make one up. In a world when transparency and authenticity are crucial it is not good practice.
If the work you are doing is based on real and genuine need, if that work is having an impact and changing people’s lives and if as story gatherers and fundraisers you are maintaining good relations with the people closest to your beneficiaries, then you should be able to put in place systems and processes that help identify the real spine-tingling stories.
We would be interested to hear the arguments for composite case studies though. Does your charity use them and if so, why? Tell us below.