We’re thrilled to award Cuyler Bryant’s “No Shell Blues” with first place in our pilot video contest.
To understand why a cartoon snail singing the blues about ocean acidification won our contest, let me first provide some background.
A Test of Science Storytelling
Our team at Dialogue Earth believes that, to succeed at increasing public understanding on key issues related to the environment, it’s critical that we provide content that’s relevant, trustworthy, and engaging. Our experience tells us that you need all three elements to garner effective distribution.
Our strategy for engaging a broad spectrum of viewers is to work with expert storytellers to bring key science points to life.
We tested this approach for the first time this past November. Impressed with the creativity we saw coming out of “the crowd,” we got connected with Tongal, a California-based online community of hundreds of freelance multimedia creators, who compete in contests to produce everything from story concepts to fully produced video pieces. Our goal was determine if their crowd-sourced content creators could make engaging, scientifically sound, non-advocacy science videos, relatively quickly and with minimal oversight.
To focus our pilot on testing the crowd’s ability to turn science points into stories, we chose the topic ocean acidification—an issue which has concerned oceanographers for a number of years, but one about which most content creators would have limited prior knowledge.
To garner solid participation, we committed $10,000 in prize money. To ensure videos were scientifically sound, contestants were provided 12 facts about ocean acidification by my colleague Kent Cavender-Bares, whose doctoral research was in oceanography. And, to make sure videos were non-advocacy, participants were instructed in the contest overview that an entry would be judged on how likely it would appeal to various audiences, “including conservatives and liberals, those who support environmental advocacy, and those who do not.”
The contest consisted of two rounds. In the first round, contestants were required to create a story concept, in 500 characters or less, for a video about ocean acidification. The second round required contestants to create a 90-second video based on one of the seven winning stories from the first round.
Going the into contest, we had only a vague idea of what to expect. Our concern wasn’t whether or not the crowd could be creative but, rather, whether they could effectively convey the science while, at the same time, avoid advocating for a particular action or policy.
We were encouraged after the story phase, where nearly 50 contestants generated dozens of unique ideas.
The video phase produced fewer submissions than is typical for a Tongal contest, which we attributed to a tighter than normal turnaround time, and that this was first challenge to tell a science story put to the Tongal community.
But, perhaps those conditions filtered out the less committed entrants, because the majority of submissions were quality videos.
Humor was a common thread that ran through winning videos—including a jam session from a reggae band named “Snaily Puffin and the Coral Briefers,” a spoof of the classic black-and-white public service announcement, and a scene with a male mermaid as an unwanted neighbor. (You can view all the videos and our comments on our YouTube page.)
We were pleased to see diverse approaches involving animation, live action, clever music and well-timed comedy. More importantly, the winners were able to accurately present the key science points, and avoid advocacy. Our test was a success!
Projects on Tap
We’re looking to build off our pilot test’s success by launching two new video projects. We recently kicked off a competition to produce a one-minute video explaining our mission and approach. We’re counting on the crowd to help us engage and inspire potential supporters, by answering the question, “Why Dialogue Earth?”
Also on tap is a project focused on the topic of energy. Among the elements we’ll be testing is whether a storyboard phase can help us better collaborate with crowd-sourced creators.
Our pilot test convinced us that there’s tremendous potential for working with the crowd. Without a doubt, these next two projects are going to teach us a ton about creating incentives, developing instructions, setting turnaround times and providing feedback—and, they’re going to be a whole lot of fun.