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Storytelling is an ancient practice, helping us to share our knowledge with context and emotion; we can share that tacit side of what we know. Storytelling triggers listeners to respond with other stories, building new understanding. Stories can capture and hold our attention, increasing the likelihood of hearing and learning. Storytelling is very valuable in our knowledge sharing work.
When to use:
Potential applications of storytelling and narratives:
Team or community-building exercises.
Breaking down barriers between multidisciplinary or multi-cultural teams.
Trip and project debriefs and reviews.
How to use:
Storytelling can be used in many different ways to use storytelling, as in these two examples, one from Sparknow Consulting (www.sparknow.net) and one from the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC).
The principle is that everyone can think of positive/negative changes in which they have taken part; this enables individuals, pairs and groups to learn about these changes in a structured fashion.
Story template for use in workshop process
Title of story.
Name of original teller.
Name of listener/understander.
Landscape: set the scene in time and space.
Dwelling place: describe the precise location where action occurred.
Characters: provide a cast list, descriptive attributes and roles in story
Challenge: report the problem or task that triggered the action
Action: describe the sequence of events before, during and after your turning point
Turning point: pinpoint the moment when the change happens
Resolution: relate ending, including moral, lesson learned or message
Key visual hooks: supply mnemonics to assist partner retelling the story
Introduce the workshop and theme for the storytelling. It could focus on a specific theme (e.g. change in organisational management techniques), or on a range of themes. The key is to provide a context in which participants think about and select the stories they are going to share.
Ask participants to reflect on the change process, and details before, during and after.
Ask participants to pair up and share their stories.
Ask participants to interview their partners, and write down partners' stories, using the story template as a guide. This should make it possible to capture more detail.
Ask the pairs to find another pair, and ask each participant in the new group of four to take turns telling their partners' stories to the larger group.
Ask the group to identify any common points or contradictions across the stories.
Ask each group to present back to the whole group in plenary.
Using objects and displays - SDC
- Swiss Development Corporation
Using objects to trigger memories, find hidden histories and create vehicles for difficult things to be shared.
When telling stories, you can use objects to trigger memories of specific experiences, to create the visual hooks for your audience. Objects – unlike printed words – have the power to both evoke and contain stories, conveying the symbolic essence of something. As symbols, representing the core of an idea or experience, objects are easy for the memory to recall. As tangible things, objects can be used to make collections, exhibits and displays, arousing people’s interest in the subject matter they relate to by making visible patterns and connections which might otherwise remain undetected.
Reflecting on what we (SDC) do – Understand the values gaps.
Building communities – Build chemistry, trust and identity.
Learning from others and innovating – Make room for new ideas and connections.
Large well-lit table to create a display.
Digital and Polaroid cameras.
White or vibrantly coloured table cloth.
Vertical surfaces such as pin boards, plus transparent document pockets and strong pins to hold the objects.
A washing line and pegs, with see -through plastic pockets for suspending objects.
String and scissors.
Using installation artists and the idea of classification and exhibit is one way of using storytelling. Here is one example from the Dare to Share Fair, SDC headquarters, March 2004. Sparknow ran two experimental workshops in the Bedouin tent using objects to trigger and pass on learning. The process was as follows:
An email message was sent to the whole organisation requesting interesting artifacts from around the world. The request triggered an unprecedented sharing of both objects and the stories attached to them.
Before the Bedouin tent workshop, the facilitators collected the box of objects and spread the contents out on a nearby table. The display aroused curiosity in passersby, many of whom stopped for long periods to discuss them.
On arrival, workshop participants were invited to visit the table and select an object that helped them tell a story about a moment in which they felt part of a community, team or network at work.
Participants formed into groups of four to share their personal stories. Nothing was written down at this point.
The facilitators asked each group to either: choose one story to develop into a stronger, deeper version OR create a new story, knitting those four stories into one composite or amalgamation, carrying the resonances or a combined view.
Each group was given an earlier version of the 7-Element Story Structure Template (see page149) to condense their story. Some groups used it as an interview framework, turning the questions into headings. In all cases the original teller was banned from writing. This process of group refinement helped the teller clarify the message, meaning and coherence of their narrative.
New tellers from each group told their group’s' stories to plenary, using the objects as props where appropriate.
The session concluded with a discussion of the themes that had emerged; group stories and objects were made into another display adjacent to the tent that grew over the two days of the Fair.
In an unforeseen secondary consequence, the evolving display triggered those who submitted their objects to share the real stories attached to them. Polaroid photographs taken of the owners with their stories written alongside were pasted into a scrapbook that is now held by the Knowledge and Research department of the SDC.
Tips and Lessons Learnt
Pose provocative questions that elicit honest experiences at every stage.
Elicit stories by asking questions based on the participants’ experience, such as when they felt most inspired, became part of a team or community, were proud to be part of something, or learned a valuable lesson about the subject.
Use storytelling as a team-building exercise by pairing participants with diverse backgrounds to generate interesting dynamics.
Examples & Stories
Tales from a Bedouin Tent: Experiencing the power of storytelling at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s ‘Dare to Share’ Knowledge Fair:
Peter Meier, Senior Advisor, NGO Section, SDC
(from the Dare to Share KM Toolkit):
"In 2003 we launched a story contest on the topic "Sustainability" among SDC partner organizations. 56 organisations presented a story; 15 have been pre-selected for a final ranking of the best nine stories, to which certificates and awards have been distributed. The first award handed over to a Nepali organization has been invested in a community reading room and books. The best stories have been published by SDC. One instructive element is the written stories with the views about sustainability seen by local people / organizations. The contest also induced a certain boost for story telling within SDC. The East Asian section organized a similar contest about more concrete topics with a big success."
Summary of twitter chat on Storytelling and Knowledge Management - Why (do it or not), What (is involved, definition, organizational preconditions), How (it is done and what needed), Who (does it, motivations and guidance), Where (it happens), etc.
Who can tell me more?
(add your name/contact email)
Most Significant Change
More Information/References/Related Resources:
SDC’s Guide to Using Story and Narrative Tools in Development Co-operation, Practitioner’s Version
; Thematic Service Knowledge and Research in Collaboration with Sparknow Ltd., London
Building bridges using narratives techniques
This guide, developed by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation -
, was applied like one of the tools used for capture experiences inside of a interesting initiative called
Water, Land and People: Voices and insights from three continents, A learning initiative implemented in Bolivia, Mali and India
, which is available in three languages: English, French and Spanish.
Anecdote: Putting stories together
by Olivier Serrat
Online, dynamic knowledge sharing toolkit by UN Office of Human Rights -
Photo or image credits
Draw from Building bridges using narratives techniques - Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
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