Webby for Good is a collaborative program formed by The Webby Awards and WP Engine to showcase Webby-recognized projects built to change the world.

Describe your Webby-nominated project. What’s the elevator pitch?

#ImagineaSchool is an interactive documentary about the obstacles Syrian refugee children face when trying to access education. In their own words, they describe how child marriages, child labour, violence, and poverty are preventing them from going to school. The photos of the 19 children or storytellers, were shot by World Press Photo winner Alessio Romenzi, while the site is the brainchild of UNICEF Lebanon and Vignette Interactive.

Why this particular cause as the subject of your project/campaign? Was there a moment that inspired it?

The simple fact that only half of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon have access to education is what inspired the project. For UNICEF, education is key because classrooms provide protection to children, hope for the future, and knowledge on issues such as early marriage and child labour that often deprive children of the childhood to which they are entitled.

What concerns were there about pursuing this idea? How did you get past them?

When a conflict has lasted as long as the one in Syria and a certain fatigue has set in, our main concern was that we wouldn't be able to reach our audience. We knew we had to overcome that fatigue and think out of the box when conveying the simple message that every child should have access to school. We like to think that some of the reasons why #ImagineaSchool works, went viral, and reached millions of people around the world are: a) The stories are genuine, universal and incredibly strong; b) The "hook" is something everyone relates to, namely challenges users faced in school; and, c) The clean interface and the concept are thought through and lend themselves perfectly to the platforms.

What was the most rewarding aspect of working on your project? What did you learn in the process that you didn't know/expect going into it?

Considering that the conflict in Syria started in 2011, we knew that it would be challenging to engage people with stories of refugees. Overcoming that fatigue, that challenge, and finding unique ways to connect people with the stories of refugee children was incredibly rewarding. From a technical standpoint, we learned that the realm of interactive documentary is still quite the wild west in the terms of user experience. This gave us a lot of freedom in terms of developing a concept, but it also led to additional scrutiny in the development process as we had less of a history of best practices to lean on.

What real-world impact were you hoping to make with this project? Did the real-world impact meet your expectations?

We hoped for the project to go viral and create awareness. The pick-up to begin with was slow but then kicked off as different media picked it up and started reporting on the issue. The project did help bring in much-needed funds, and it certainly raised awareness. Today, more than 12 months from the launch, #ImagineaSchool can be found online in up to 10 language versions, produced by UNICEF in different corners of the world. The project was also covered extensively by international media or triggered coverage by The BBC, Al Jazeera, Buzzfeed, Reuters, etc. I’d guess that a single video, with Fares, the one that has been viewed the most, has around 70 million views on YouTube.

Did your team have a specific “breakthrough” or “a-ha” moment while formulating or executing this project?

The structure of the site and how we’d present the children’s accounts and photos was not clear to begin with. The idea of the “hook” to captures users came from the storytellers at Vignette Interactive. That was a breakthrough, ensuring that users would stay and see themselves in the stories. We always knew we had outstanding footage, photos, and stories in our hands, but eventually it was Vignette Interactive who wrapped it all in. Another “a-ha” moment was when we mixed the before and after “class photos” of the children for the first time. That’s when we realized the idea worked on screen and was even more powerful than we’d expected; to see the children in school and out of school.

Was the tech/medium you chose crucial to conveying your message? If so, why?

It was always the intention to produce something interactive in order to pull users in and engage them. We can also see that we succeeded; average time spent on site and the engagement is still high, initially 15 minutes per user, but is now somewhere between 2-5 minutes. When shaping the site, we opted for calling #ImagineaSchool an interactive documentary since the project contains a wealth of material - hundreds of photos, statistics and up to 30 minutes of video - but is still easy to navigate. The documentary had to work both on static computer screens and on mobile phones, and if anything, in my view it works best on a phone where the clean design and interface comes best across.

What was the most significant challenge that arose during your work on this?

Shooting class photos with more than 20 children aged 5-18, in a setting that looks everything but a classroom, where it’s crucial that everyone stands still, was a challenge! The heat was stifling and many of the children had never been in a class photo before. It probably took us and our photographer, Alessio Romenzi, up to two hours capturing the two shots we needed of each “class” to fade or mix between, in order to visualize how many of the children in the photos actually weren’t getting any schooling. The collaboration between UNICEF and Vignette Interactive was smooth, and that definitely helped, considering how extensive the content gathering and the site structure was.

How will you use technology in future work to create inspiring, cutting-edge projects that also make a difference in people’s lives?

UNICEF is always on the lookout for creative new ways of telling stories. Our global follower base on social media has grown rapidly in past few years - by the end of 2017, UNICEF had 48 million followers on social media, all over the world - so we are heavily focused on catering to that audience. This time, we've created something that really works. The average bounce rate of the site in the past year is still lower than 13% which is excellent. Cutting-edge storytelling, delivered via the newest technology platforms, will continue to be our goal when echoing children's voices and speaking out on children's rights and wellbeing.

Credits

  • Communication Specialist Hedinn Halldorsson UNICEF
  • CEO Matt Ford Vignette Interactive

About the Best User Experience category

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