How storytelling captures hearts and changes behaviour

What stories should we be telling each other about the NHS and our own health? How do we create a narrative that puts healthcare in a positive light for millions of people and opens our eyes to solutions and not just problems?

Twelve years ago, Aardman took the idea of a bachelor and his dog and turned it into Wallace & Gromit – a story centring on the escapades of a cheese-loving inventor, and his canine companion. The story captured the nation’s imagination.

As an animation producer at Aardman, I thought about Wallace & Gromit and the power of storytelling again when I was asked to prepare a talk for a recent King’s Fund event, Ideas that Change Health.

We are all aware that some of the biggest challenges facing the NHS are a result of illnesses caused by people’s behaviour – behaviour that happens when people are at home, at work, at play – anywhere except in the doctor’s surgery. So if we are going to make a positive impact on people’s health, and help alleviate the huge strain on the NHS through chronic disease, we need to get to the root of the problem and change the lifestyle choices that people make.

The most effective way of doing this is by capturing people’s hearts – by telling stories that are easily relatable and memorable because of the way they are told. Audiences engage with stories through characters and the most powerful connections happen when they interact on an emotional level.

And this sits at the centre of what Live:Lab is trying to achieve. Live:Lab is an ambitious project aiming to help change behaviour and empower people to overcome the ‘Fear of Finding Out’ – a significant barrier preventing many from seeking medical advice when they have worrying health symptoms.

Through Live:Lab, AbbVie is aspiring to break down barriers and form progressive partnerships with the aim of supporting the NHS – something I am proud to be a part of. Under the chairmanship of Alan Milburn, the Former Secretary of State for Health, I have become one of the creative Live:Lab collaborators.

The other collaborators are doctors, scientists, academics, behaviour change experts, and people who make virtual reality products and games, not forgetting the people who understand data. A range of disciplines you wouldn’t ordinarily find around the same table, but which are coming together to try and tackle the same problem.

When it comes to discussions in the collaboration, I champion the power of storytelling, but it is when this is combined with the expertise of the other industries represented by the Live:Lab collaborators – from open-data solutions, to GP insights and more – that the true power of the collaboration is felt.

We are coming together to find a solution which will help us better understand the ‘Fear of Finding Out’ and in doing so, we hope we will touch the hearts of the nation and empower them think twice about their behaviour.

Written by Heather Wright, Live:Lab collaborator and executive producer at Aardman Studios


‘The Fear of Finding Out’: report

‘The Fear of Finding Out: Identifying psychological barriers to symptom presentation and diagnosis in the UK’ report was published by 2020health in partnership with AbbVie. It highlights the psychological reasons which are causing British adults to delay or avoid seeking medical attention.

Episode One: A Human First approach to tackling healthcare issues

Watch Alan Milburn, former Secretary of State for Health, in this short film as he embarks on the Live:Lab journey.