Creating Aftershock: Part 1

A couple of months ago, our contact at the DEC was looking for a way to mark a year since the Nepal earthquake. We’d talked a few times before about creating a Snowfall- or Firestorm-style piece of long form content to help tell the DEC’s story. We had even gone so far as to develop a prototype, so when this new project arrived we were excited to take it up. Our objective was to give supporters of the DEC deeper insight into the workings of an emergency aid mission. We wanted to recount the tragic story of the disaster and its aftermath, while providing a candid account of the successes of the relief effort and the challenges it faced.

Where to begin? We’d been involved in the Nepal appeal in 2015, supplying branded imagery and infographics for social media along with the DEC’s PayPal payments engine, as we had on earlier campaigns. So we already had a clear picture of the way the disaster unfolded – but we would need a lot more information to produce a compelling story for public consumption.

The first job was to gather as much content as we could. We scoured reports written by the DEC and independent researchers, caught up on member agencies’ work in Nepal, interviewed emergency aid workers who had met the crisis head on and those who were leading reconstruction projects, and trawled government and news sources for further insight into the recovery over the last 12 months. During frequent trips to Nepal, the DEC staff had collected a handful local people’s stories, and these proved invaluable when we began to shape the narrative.

Our story needed to bring to life the often challenging reality of disaster recovery. We had a wealth of technical information, but not many of us have the patience or inclination to read through several pages of dense statistics. Reports can be helpful for trustees or useful to researchers, but donors yearn for something more obviously human. These kinds of turgid documents abound in the charity sector: well intentioned tomes that aim to show accountability for donors’ money, but which fail completely to tell the human stories behind the pie charts and numbers.

We knew this was a story about people. In an ideal world, we would gather testimonials from the very start of an emergency response and follow them up at regular intervals afterwards. On this occasion, we didn’t have the advantage of a long run-up into the project, so we had to work with what was available. But the broader the range of stories we can gather, the less constrained becomes the writing. We’re subjected to a lot of bland, formulaic charity-speak when NGOs attempt to show the difference their donors help to make. With a long form piece of content like Aftershock, we hoped to speak to donors like adults. This meant baring all in a fashion untypical for a charity organisation, but which the DEC understood to be a valuable way to strengthen the relationship with their supporters.

Next week: design and development.