StoryCorps, a groundbreaking oral history organization, has given over 640,000 Americans across all 50 states the chance to record conversations about their lives and preserve them for posterity in its archive at the Library of Congress—the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered. In 2021, StoryCorps officially launched One Small Step (OSS), an initiative that brings strangers with different political beliefs together for meaningful conversations—not to debate politics—but to get to know each other as people.
The OSS initiative was developed with the input of scientists, researchers, and psychologists and is based on contact theory, which states that meaningful interaction between people of opposing views can help turn “thems” into “us-es.” Richmond is one of three anchor communities—including Wichita, Kansas and Fresno/Central Valley, California—where OSS is currently focusing its efforts. In each location, OSS is working closely with community partners and civic leaders to showcase the potential of the initiative and help people get past labels like “liberal” and “conservative.” To date, over 4,000 people in 40 states have participated.
One Small Step participants Benita and John chat over coffee at a local café.
“Our research shows there is something special about Richmond and we believe Richmond residents can show the rest of America that we can once again be neighbors and communities if we have the courage to listen to one another,” said StoryCorps Founder and President Dave Isay. “One Small Step aims to remind people of the humanity in all of us, even those with whom we disagree.”
Over the past few years, research commissioned by StoryCorps in the areas of the OSS conversation experience, OSS content, and community impact shows that OSS is helping shift perceptions and seeding hope for civil communication across the political divide. For example, a Yale study shows that following the OSS interview experience, both liberals and conservatives felt more empathetic toward their interview partner, with the most recent results suggesting that participants show statistically significant levels of increased empathy for all people on “the other side” after participating in OSS. In the anchor community of Wichita, those who were aware of OSS reported less division locally and nationally compared to those who weren’t, and they are also significantly more likely to respect—and feel respected by—those with whom they disagree politically.
Community partners are critical in bringing this effort to life and StoryCorps is delighted to partner with the Library of Virginia during its bicentennial year to offer in-person OSS recordings there from October 2-6, 2023. The Library of Virginia and StoryCorps’ One Small Step share a common goal—to collect and share stories that can help us make sense of our world.