Story sharing is an important collaborative, relational and appreciative action research practice. There is growing understanding of the value of stories to help transform relationships. They are a helpful resource to help us surprise or challenge ourselves in our perceptions and assumptions – about ourselves and other people.
“Stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals or nations live by and tell themselves and you change the individuals and nations.” (Ben Okri)
When people share stories about high points or challenges, they naturally build empathy, mutuality, respect, trust and genuineness – in short, they build high quality relationships. Sharing stories can change the way that people think – how they think about themselves, their own agency and potential contributions and about others. They inspire and encourage action by creating the conditions for positive risk-taking, showing what is possible and building momentum.
Stories are a source of fuel for action inquiry. When we are seeking to understand the dynamics of change, it is necessary to look for small-scale signs of change beginning to emerge. Stories help us to detect these changes and talk about what’s emerging, how we understand it and how we might act in the light of it.
We can’t know what people will make of the stories we share, but we do know they are a rich source of connection and learning. Once a story is shared, the right of interpretation belongs to the reader or listener, and that’s very often where the value lies, going beyond publicising success or promoting a service.
The question – What can we do with our stories? – is a compelling one for any individual, team, organisation or community seeking to navigate their way through the ever-changing environment in which they are working.
These two guest blogs may be of interest:
- Guest blog for the Alliance for Useful Evidence 2014 Calling time on anecdotal evidence
- Guest blog for IRISS 2013 Research as if people were human
Ways to work with stories
Changing Schools Together: the Stories. This is a great resource from Space Unlimited about using stories to measure change in schools and embed story sharing and sense making into evaluation.
The Cedar Stories of Change are also a powerful testament to the strengths of the Cedar programme and illustrate a way to create safety and fuller participation in story telling and analysis.
Here’s an example of using appreciative story gathering in a community setting from 2010 Modest and mighty: stories of health and well being from Langside and Linn
Using film or audio files is often a compelling way for people to tell their own stories in their words and voices in a manner which can be genuinely heard. We’ve worked with others to produce digital stories as Learning on the Run productions.
These two digital stories accompany the Animating Assets report Positive Conversations, Meaningful Change and capture the participants’ experiences of working in an asset-based way and how this developed in two different localities in north Glasgow:
And if you want further inspiration and practical advice, we highly recommend this Transformative Story website.