Forward Through Ferguson
Powerful storytelling as a means of innovative community outcomes
The Ferguson Commission was created at the behest of the Governor of Missouri following the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in August of 2014.
As would be expected, there were various and competing goals and concerns. The work of the commission would culminate in a report that needed to communicate the commission’s recommendations as well as cultivate the inspiration to act on those recommendations.
- Through the application of our design futures tools, Bigwidesky helped the commission articulate the competing stakeholder visions for the report.
- We helped the commission craft a strategic concept that turned an otherwise didactic piece into a breathing, human communications platform.
- The site received 15,000 unique visitors from 77 countries in the first 10 days. In the first 24 hours, the site was visited by users from major media outlets including The New York Times, CNN, The Atlantic, Newsweek, NPR, The Hill, PBS, NBC, Huffington Post, Business Insider, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and others.
What we do
Ferguson is a racially mixed and relatively low- income suburban municipality in the northern part of St. Louis County, Missouri. As almost everyone now knows, in August of 2014, an 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed during an interaction with an officer of the Ferguson Police Department. His death spawned impassioned activism and became the catalyst for profound media focus on race relations in St. Louis and other urban communities throughout the country.
“The report, “Forward Through Ferguson,” is a sprawling project, laid out in a slickly designed website…”
— David A. Graham; Sept. 14, 2015; The Atlantic article
Not only was St. Louis challenged to deal with its part in the difficulties surrounding race in the United States, but it was now becoming the national symbol of just how painful and violent that conflict can be. To address these challenges, the Missouri governor convened a commission to explore recommendations as to how the region can constructively address these issues and inspire action. Bigwidesky was asked to help address the vision for how to accomplish the later part of that mission.
We began by bringing the entire commission and some of its external stakeholders together for a day-long design futures workshop. Through this workshop and the subsequent analysis, we were able to provide insights into the complexity of the various and competing visions for the project. We were also able to use that visibility to aid in the creation of a set of design principles that integrated the components of the overwhelming majority of those visions. In this way, we were able to help nurture an alignment that could be used to construct a compelling strategy.
“It sets itself apart from these past works by not just investigating the region’s unrest and listing recommendations but by also studying underlying issues and sharing a narrative about the area.”
— Mariah Stewart; Sept. 14, 2015; Huffington Post article
Bigwidesky worked with the commission to craft a strategic concept that would unearth deep and authentic human stories from the community to elucidate the points in the report. Through the narratives, the commission believed we could create an experience with the report that would meet people not only intellectually, but viscerally. We also realized that a “digital only” release would address another common challenge with commission reports — they get shelved.
To support this strategy, we worked with the commission to build a brand for the report.
Thus, “Forward Through Ferguson” was born and supported through a powerful set of simple core messages. We crafted a visual identity for the brand that would inform a web experience beautiful enough to convey the beauty of the narratives it exposed. Rather than read the didactic report straight through, users were invited to create their own unique experience reading whatever narrative or insight caught their interest and move fluidly from there through the content.
“I can’t believe that this is a government report. It’s so readable and clear.”
— Pierce McBride @McBrideMusings; Sept. 14, 2015; tweet
In their article on the commission’s report, The Atlantic referred to the site as, “slickly designed.” In fact, the report’s novel strategy and experience was noted by national media like The New York Times, NBC, and CNN in their reporting on the completion of the commission’s work.
While the commission is now dissolved, we continue to seek opportunities to help encourage civic unity and economic vitality in St. Louis through our work with the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and others.
The popular non-profit site continues to draw attention through ongoing published stories about our region. Please see it for yourself at forwardthroughferguson.org.
Photography Credits: Lindy Drew Photography, Forward Through Ferguson