How I/D.W Crossed America’s Political Divide with One Small Step


America, said the Pew Research Centre in the wake of the most recent Presidential election, “is exceptional in the nature of its political divide”

In other words, the country is grappling with an unprecedented level of disconnection between political and cultural tribes. In April of this year, the pollster YouGov found that “two-thirds of Americans think the country is more divided than usual”. So, if you’re feeling that the United States is drifting further away from unified values and civil, respectful disagreements; you’re far from alone. 

But is this trend permanent? Has the short-tempered tone of social media and partisan cable news networks done irreparable harm to the country’s political fabric? Or is there hope that the damage can be mended? 

One Small Step, an initiative from the non-profit StoryCorps, pairs people of different affiliations to have guided conversations. By connecting about life, not politics, participants realise they have much more in common than they might assume. And through scaling these conversations across cities, these small moves can contribute towards a national reconciliation. 

Above: Video postcards were crafted for three American cities to capture the humanity of people on different sides of the political spectrum.

Over the course of two years, I/D.W, the independent brand and creative studio, has partnered closely with StoryCorps to raise awareness and participation in One Small Step. Cumulatively, the I/D.W team was responsible for the campaign concept and strategy, creative and art direction, design and copy, and photo, video, and post production. 

To find out more about the campaign and how these human-to-human conversations can help set a better tone for the country’s political life, LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to I/D.W’s creative director and principal Leigh Okies, account & production lead Yesenia Lara Velazquez, and creative strategist Sarah Thorpe. 

Above: A digital and print campaign for StoryCorps’ One Small Step drove participation in facilitated conversations about life, not politics.

“Let’s Not Talk Politics” 

“The conversations are very powerful but in a soft, often funny, humanistic way. And that power stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric we hear in the news and from politicians”, says Leigh as she reflects on the exchanges conducted in Richmond, Virginia, Wichita, Kansas, and Fresno, California. “You can feel the authenticity of the connections made through these conversations and it registers on a very human level for the listener, as well as the participants. I think we all feel profoundly moved to witness when people are being honest, vulnerable and open to one another. It helps us believe in the possibility for more connection”. 

That, ultimately, is the secret sauce at the heart of One Small Step’s mission. Cutting through misunderstanding, even anger, to facilitate an ability to actively listen is no small feat. But enabling vulnerability is what unlocks this door. 

Above: The IDW team was moved by the open-heartedness participants showed for one another, as well as the love & hope they held for their cities.

Creating an environment in which  interviewees would feel comfortable with one another was carefully considered. In order to appeal to as many people as possible – both liberal and conservative – I/D.W identified three themes which spoke to something powerful in many Americans. The Individual, The Community, and The Nation. 

More In Common, the nonpartisan research & civic organisation that published the original Hidden Tribes report, tested how well our messaging was resonating”, recalls Sarah. “With their results and these themes, we were able to adjust the second round of creative to ensure we would reach conservatives and liberals”.

As Yesenia explains, the team was careful to ask questions that invited participants to focus on the positives. “In interviewing and recording participants, we were sure to ask about their biggest motivations (“Why do you think One Small Step is important for the country?”) as well as more personal experiences (“Where did you find common ground with your interview partner?”)”, she says. 

Above: The campaign brought the team to Washington DC to show the U.S. Capitol “we are not as divided as we might think” (photo credit: Civic Entertainment Group).

In order to bring the voices of Americans to Congress, the One Small Step team planned to bring the campaign to Washington DC. IDW worked alongside two other agencies, Civic Entertainment Group and Hamburger Group Creative, to identify which event would be best to target. The team settled on the Congressional Baseball Game earlier this summer, and IDW worked to craft a video that would air on game day. 

“The Congressional Baseball Game is one of the last remaining bi-partisan events on Capitol Hill. It’s an event rooted in goodwill”, notes Leigh. “In 2017, a shooting targeting Republicans occurred during a practice session and six people were shot, including then-US house majority whip and now US house majority leader Steve Scalise. I think that recent history reminds us of the very real danger that accompanies toxic polarisation”. 

But, as Leigh goes on to explain, the screening at the Congressional Baseball Game wasn’t just about getting the campaign in front of politicians. At the same time, there was a deeper symbolism at work. “As a concept, baseball reinforced many of the core ideas of the campaign”, she says. “We loved the fact that, at the end of the day, it is a competition: one team versus another. One Small Step is all about finding the human connection alongside political differences in that way that celebrates the choice to be on Team Red or on Team Blue. After all, this is not about creating a Team Purple”. 

Above: A key inspiration were the participants across America, who had the courage to listen and model how a nation might move forward together.

Conscious Bias 

That point, about celebrating the virtues of different political perspectives, is at the heart of One Small Step. Reflecting on what they took from their personal experience of working on the campaign, both Leigh and Sarah touch on the positives of diverse political opinions, rather than the divides between them. 

“This work has been such a reminder how our differences can become a source of collective strength, to be valued and respectfully explored, not pushed away”, says Sarah. “At our core, we likely have much more in common than we might conclude from the oversimplification that rises to the top of the news”. 

Meanwhile, Leigh echoes the new perspectives that were gained through work on the campaign. “I can’t speak for the rest of the team but I am the first to say that I learned a lot about my own bias when it comes to how I see folks that lean in different political directions as myself”, she says. 

The problem with huge political divides is precisely that – their vastness. When division feels so entrenched and so all-consuming, it’s easy to imagine that such an enormous problem requires an equally large solution. But the beauty of One Small Step is how it shows that isn’t necessarily true. 

It’s conversations – grassroots, human conversations with our neighbours and even our friends – which can have the power to bridge the divides. It won’t be easy, but I/D.W and One Small Step’s collaboration offers a model for turning the tide against division. 

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