#112) Berkeley: Another Great USDA Demo Day

Despite the record heat last week, Jayde Lovell and I ran our 8th Demo Day with scientists and communications folks from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Services (USDA/ARS) in their offices in Berkeley, California. The Demo Days just keep getting better as we perfect the Story Circles model. Lots o’ great developments ahead for the fall.

WHAT’S THE STORY, MORNING GLORY? USDA/ARS scientists and communicators craft their ABTs in a late summer swelter.

WHAT’S THE STORY, MORNING GLORY? USDA/ARS scientists and communicators craft their ABTs in a late summer swelter.


Lots of skeptical expressions at 10:00 a.m. By 4:00 p.m., lots of deeply engaged minds, beginning to grasp how challenging this narrative thing is. What more could you ask for.

We ran our eighth Demo Day with the USDA/ARS folks last Thursday in Berkeley, California. It was organized by the USDA godfather of narrative studies, Mike Strauss (Director of the USDA/ARS Office of Scientific Quality of Review), along with his narrative understudy, Cathleen Hapeman. Jayde, Mike, Cathleen and I had dinner the night before where we realized how far we’ve developed the Story Circles model in less than three years.

At USDA/ARS they are launching their 12th Story Circle this month. That will make 60 graduates of the training consisting of the 10 one hour workout sessions. We’re approaching a tipping point with them where most everyone in the agency has heard about the training and seen the impact.


As Mike made clear in his morning presentation, the knowledge of narrative structure isn’t just for writing. He went through a list of the different applications of the training, from speaking to project plan development. And he presented his great use of narrative structure last year where he and a fellow administrator gave a major USDA national presentation that scored a bullseye by having a simple narrative core.

The presentation was a general talk about the importance of ARS work. They opened by saying, “All we’re here to talk to about is breakfast.” They then used breakfast as the central narrative to run through a series of ARS-funded studies on oranges, pork, wheat and other breakfast staples. Brilliant talk, brilliant use of narrative. Mike has been the heart and soul of Story Circles at USDA/ARS. And I’d almost say we’ll miss him, except that Cathleen is just as good and coming along to take his place when he retires at the end of the year. Which will make him available as a free agent for the Story Circles Traveling Road Show!