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The University of Chicago’s Ci3 Receives Grant for Digital Storytelling Research in India

December 8, 2015

The Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3) at the University of Chicago will receive a $1 million, 2-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Ci3’s newly launched Transmedia Story Lab (TSL) will collaborate with leading non-governmental organizations in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India to train them in novel, youth-friendly data collection techniques. Together, with their community partners, Ci3 will conduct workshops with Lucknow youth ages 15-24 using games, storytelling, and art to learn more about the daily lives of young people in order to better understand the social determinants of adolescent reproductive health and well-being. Ci3 will also work closely with the University of Chicago Center in Delhi, whose pilot funding helped forge partnerships between Ci3 and adolescent sexual and reproductive health organizations in India.

Digital storytelling will anchor the project. Digital stories are short, first-person documentaries produced with music, images, and narratives of young people communicating their daily lives, hopes, and dreams. The storytelling methodology helps to paint a rich portrait of the lives of young people living in urban slums, enhance the field’s understanding of gender and social norms, and create new insights for improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health and reducing the unmet need for family planning. Workshops will be accompanied by interviews with policy makers, non-governmental organizations, parents, and healthcare providers. In year two, Ci3 will create a small grants program to invest in young people’s ideas on how best to advance the lives of girls in India.

This project also reflects Ci3’s commitment to developing novel partnerships. Ci3 will work with the University of Chicago alumnus Sandeep Ahuja MPP ’06, director of Operation ASHA, an international leader in tuberculosis (TB) eradication. Operation ASHA is renowned for their innovative approaches and outcomes-oriented research.

Under the direction of the project’s principal investigators, Melissa Gilliam, MD, MPH, professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology and Pediatrics, Chief of Family Planning at the University of Chicago Medical Center, and founder of Ci3 and Alicia Menendez, PhD, associate professor at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy and a Principal Research Scientist at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, this project will seek to advance learning on gender-related challenges, empower youth through storytelling, and implement innovative, youth-developed solutions to gender equity.

“If we are to make real and lasting change in the lives of young people, we must understand and address the full ecology of factors that create disparities. Digital storytelling has emerged as a powerful and innovative methodology in public health research,” said Gilliam. “Our project will use a variety of techniques such as life course interviews as well as deep listening through storytelling, allowing us to visually and creatively archive our research while providing youth with powerful, engaging ways to share their stories.”

Ci3 recently launched Transmedia Story Lab, which builds upon South Side Stories, a two-year project funded by the Ford Foundation. Culminating in the summer of 2014, South Side Stories chronicled and digitally archived stories that countered dominant narratives about African American adolescent’s sexuality.

Founded in 2012, Ci3 is a University-wide center established to empower young people and remove policy and systemic barriers to sexual and reproductive health and well being. Ci3 develops novel interventions using technology, games, and narrative in collaboration with youth, partner organizations, and University faculty. The Center houses four interdisciplinary programs: the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab; the Transmedia Story Lab; the Program in Adolescent Sexualities; and the Program in Global Health.

"We're both honored and excited to have partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in our global research on gender, family planning, and digital storytelling," said Marquez Rhyne, TSL’s director. "Storytelling and narrative are powerful instruments that uniquely convey life course data and experiences that may otherwise go left uncovered through traditional research methodology. Not to mention that the youth really enjoy participating in the process and helping to create their own stories."

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