Boosting empathy in communities across the UK & USA

Storybox is a gamified story sharing activity designed with and for 40 community organisations to stimulate understanding and empathy amongst people who have never met.


The challenge

Historypin are a non-profit organisation dedicated to building connected, equitable communities and bridging those that are divided. We started working with Historypin in 2016 on a two year project with impact funding from Big Lottery in the UK and Knight Foundation in the USA.

The brief was to create a toolkit that could be used by community and cultural organisations to build understanding and empathy between people and communities who don’t normally talk to each other.

Our approach

Our approach for this project had three intentions. It would be community-led, impact-focussed and designed to love.

1. Community-led

We activated a team of 40 community and cultural organisations to tackle this brief with us - a mixture of libraries, community groups, housing associations and more. These were the experts, the people who knew their communities inside out. They would be using the toolkit long after the project was finished.

They partnered with us over two years to engage in ethnographic design research, identify product opportunities; co-create and prototype different designs; and pilot a standardised toolkit.

2. Impact-focussed

The primary goal of this project was to create positive impact by increasing social cohesion. To achieve this, the project required a community-led approach to ensure community ownership and ongoing use. Just as important was the requirement to define a Theory of Change - both an evidence-based route to impact and a measurement framework to demonstrate impact.

A rigorous literature review highlighted that bringing people together to share stories, has the power to boost understanding and empathy amongst strangers - once the right conditions are in place. This begins with having the permission to share your story in the first place. We tied this in with evidence of social games which, by nature, provide an open space, giving every participant permission to construct their own narrative.

Story sharing + social game spaces + community-led = impact

3. Designed to love

The activity was for everyone, so for impact to be achieved people had to want to take part, enjoy it and tell their friends to do it too. We took a human-centred design approach to make this happen.

Our network of community and cultural organisations gave us access to thousands of people. Once we had collectively defined our design principles and early-stage prototypes, we quickly hit the ground to test options with real people, see their responses and get their feedback to iterate fast. We engaged 2,000+ participants in our early prototyping phase and went through 10 different versions of our toolkit before reaching a version that people loved, community organisations found easy and accessible to run, that was built on a foundation of evidence.

We named it Storybox and went on to pilot across the UK and USA with 40 community and cultural organisations, measuring impact inline with the Theory of Change and feeding that impact back to communities through a custom-built impact dashboard.


During the pilot, we trained 45 community facilitators who ran 270 events and reached 1,240 people.

Participants who attended Storybox events rated enjoyment 5/5 and 9.7/10 said they would recommend Storybox events to a friend. 69% said they wanted to participate again themselves.

70% of community facilitators said they brought together groups who would not normally encounter each other, meaning, 870 of the 1,240 people who don’t normally talk to each other shared stories. From which we can infer an increase in understanding and empathy amongst those who don’t normally talk to each other.

We also gathered feedback about the personal impact felt by people who took part.

Working with MadeByPlay changed how we designed our two-year programme, aimed at boosting empathy and increasing community cohesion. The social games approach helped people feel a sense of ownership and place, they engaged people in a fun way we hadn’t seen before.
— Historypin CIC
Even though my partner had a different perspective of life to me, it turned out we have a lot in common. Hearing her story makes me think about what I can do differently.”
— Storybox player
I’ve never told anyone the story I shared here today. My partner was interested in hearing all the details and it made me realise that my story is important.
— Storybox player

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