A news story about GCV sharing the impact of AOC’s Instagram post
In 2018, I collaborated on a card conversation project with Green Card Voices (GCV) a Minneapolis-based mixed-media nonprofit organization that builds bridges among immigrants and their communities through the art of storytelling.
GCV has a strong history of sharing first-hand immigrant stories through book publishing and events. They also create innovative experiences to build empathy across cultures and were interested in designing a card game that would allow diverse groups to share stories in-person.
Our collaboration began by establishing a goal for the card project: To deepen the storytelling process with an exchange of stories between immigrants and their new neighbors. We also knew we would use an inclusive, co-creation approach to design with community.
We collected inspiration from existing card games to think about different possible structures for the activity. We tested out several of these games and from that developed an initial prototype to share with the community.
The first community session was held at a local Minneapolis restaurant, Gandhi Mahal, with 50 people people in attendance from a range of communities and age groups. We played the first prototyped game followed by a rich feedback and conversation session to understand what was working and what needed to evolve. These conversations continued for several days in the form of emails and studio visits.
The most important insights that emerged from the conversation were:
1. The balance between talking and listening – The first prototype had a rule that you only answer the question you’ve selected because we wanted to be sure people were listening and not thinking about how they would answer the question. However many people identified that they also wanted to have the opportunity to answer other questions. We wondered if there would be a way to allow people to ask questions that would also encourage listening.
2. The value of follow up questions – The early prototype had an extreme rule that you were to hold follow-up questions until the end of the game. This was an intentional decision to test the boundaries of how people wanted to communicate. We also wondered if there would be power dynamics that needed to be addressed through the rules (e.g. not letting strong personalities dominate the conversation). During the feedback session, community members shared that they really wanted the opportunity to have discussions after each question and to follow up or share something that connected their story to another. We began exploring a way to allow follow up questions that could also balance out any power dynamics in a group.
3. A sense of control – In the first prototype people were allowed to skip questions they didn’t feel comfortable answering. The group identified this as critical part of the game because it gave them control over what they wanted to share.
4. Question depth – Our early questions were a little more superficial. They leaned toward subjects like your favorite foods or what kinds of sports you play. While we hypothesized this would help us to understand cultural values, we found they didn’t elicit stories and did not necessarily allow for empathy building and a deeper emotional connection. We realized the best questions were at the intersection of what is personal and cultural, and allowed people to tap into something deeper. We also wanted to balance the questions so they explored life’s joys and struggles.
After this session, we created two new iterations of the card game, and tested them out with a second, smaller community group. We played both games together to explore the nature of the questions and the underlying structure. We received feedback that helped us to make a decision about direction and to refine the game. It was also a great way to test out the deeper and more complex questions that emerged after the first event. We wondered: What feels off limits? What creates connection and what fractures it?
With the community perspective we were able to create the final version of the game as a collaborative effort with the GCV team and graphic designer David Ungs (who created the visuals and look and feel of the game). The game was released in October of 2018.
The game was named Story Stitch and this is how it works: There are Story Cards that are questions meant to elicit stories, and Stitch Cards which you play if you want to engage in conversation after a question is answered (to build on a story, ask a follow up question or to answer the question yourself). The Story Cards sit in the middle of the table, and each player picks one and answers the questions when it’s their turn. Each player has an equal number of Stitch Cards (which vary depending on the number of players) that can be laid down on the table when they want to contribute to the conversation and create a fabric of stories. The questions elicit powerful life experiences, and allow groups to very quickly engage in deep and meaningful conversation. You can read the full instructions here.
The game works well for: Diversity Training Workshops, Workplaces, Leadership/Fellow Retreats, Training Workshops, Conferences, and Elderly homes (between staff and residents), and even dinner parties.
In May, 2019 congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted Story Stitch on her Instagram Stories (she has 3.9 million followers at the time o writing this). Her team uses it to connect in their weekly meetings. After this post GCV sold out of cards in 24 hours! It was an extraordinary acknowledgement of GCV and all of their hard work to build empathy between people of different cultural backgrounds.
They are now restocked and you can buy a copy of Story Stitch (and support the amazing work of GCV) here
You can also read about an experience of using Story Stitch here.