Below is the document that was sent to participants after the interviews were completed in order to gain feedback on the themes that had been identified in the data analysis. A fuller description of the process can be found in the Methods section of the Methodology chapter.
There’s quite a lot of common understanding in what constitutes a story. Storytelling is not a new thing, established technique. Already used by great communicators. Part of a continuum with other communication styles (reports, news stories).
The consensus is that there is a storytelling “form”. There is a structure to it, an arc, and that the underlying message is an important part – not just a random series of events.
The group sees storytelling as a very personal medium that has an emotional content. The voice is an important part of it and it has to be authentic and truthful. There are links to a willingness to be open and transparent. CV also seeing storytelling as being able to show the connections between things.
Impact on audience
Stories are attention-grabbing devices, that “hook” people in to them. Mention was made of making a connection with an audience – it’s conversational (despite being something that is “told”). An audience can identify with a story and the affective element is very important. They are memorable.
Benefits of a storytelling approach (both to organisations and individuals)
Storytelling to do existing tasks more effectively
The focus was on projecting an image of Netskills to the outside world for marketing and engagement purposes. There was also a perceived benefit in helping with the synthesis of project outputs on behalf of Jisc programmes. Some mentioned the impact it might have on internal team communications as well. One respondent talked about how it could make the project planning more effective to think along story lines.
In answer to the question, how would they be more effective some respondents talked about how stories could accommodate a richness of communication which they implied is not present in other forms; allowing multiple perspectives on a situation, opening up new audiences and allowing a greater richness in communication (how exactly?). Some felt that important information about a project’s work is not accommodated in the current outputs – stories would help to uncover that richness.
Affecting how people outside see us
There was a feeling that Netskills doesn’t do a very good job of projecting itself to its audience, a problem when its strength comes as much from the personalities of the people that work there as the things they do. Stories would help articulate this both outwardly but also inwardly.
Affecting how we see ourselves
A benefit hinted at is that a storytelling approach internally might highlight team members’ value and so help the organisation to work more effectively. Themes that came up frequently were collaboration, creativity, openness.
Disbenefits and risks of using storytelling
Time was the common theme for practical difficulties. The technologies are mostly in place or easily accessible so the costs come from people having to devote time to creating digital stories, maybe at the expense of core activity. If it’s difficult to measure the benefit as HM said then what happens when time and other resources get tight? Observation: to the outside if Netskills is seen to be doing a lot of storytelling work does this imply a surplus of time and resources? Does this make NS more vulnerable to criticism and cuts?
Reputation and vulnerability
Vulnerability is seen as key issue. Storytelling is about consciously making things public and that creates a sense of vulnerability for the organisation and the individual. The organisation’s reputation may be harmed if activity is not managed well. An individual may feel more emotionally vulnerable and perhaps reluctant to take part. Also, if the culturally preferred methods of communication are about being scientific, objective, dispassionate etc. is there a danger that being seen to be telling stories is frivolous, undermining our reputation with stakeholders?
Quality and Integrity
Most anxiety centred on the need to be seen to be doing storytelling well and professionally. A few mention that communicating in a personal way in a professional context is a difficult thing to manage. There is a need for quality control given the public nature of storytelling and a guard against overuse, fatiguing the audience, the implication being that it robs the stories of impact.
There is a question about balance as well. Some highlighted the risk of over-representing a few voices at the expense of others who felt unwilling or unable to take part. What might be the impact on the organisation if that happens? Also, the emotional nature of storytelling might be seen as manipulative by some audiences.
Development and change
Current skills and abilities
People who showed an interest in getting involved in digital storytelling seemed to have less anxiety over the technical skills involved even if they didn’t already perceive that they had them than the actual ability to tell a story.
Some respondents talked about how their backgrounds might help them produce stories while others felt that the way they had been trained as professionals might be more of a hindrance (e.g. scientific or academic writing skills).
Feelings of vulnerability mentioned before seem to be the reason why the emphasis appears to be on having a supportive environment to work in.
Although there are mentions of training there seems to be more interest in working with colleagues and sharing practice; having mutual support.
Respondents are mostly keen to “just get on with it” although this may be selection bias. Opportunities for practice, even non-work related storytelling, are valued. Some mention the need to see other people doing it, the chance to critique work and get feedback.
There has been some training intervention from the outside (Arto’s film workshop) but that was only for 2 of the respondents and overall there was not much of a desire to address training through a training course approach.
The organisational setting was an important point for many respondents – storytelling work doesn’t happen in isolation for them. The environment has to be accepting of storytelling as a methodology and to be seen to be encouraging creative approaches. For some issues around storytelling are closely linked to a corporate ethos of openness and transparency. The feeling is that both Netskills’ and Jisc’s cultures are broadly welcoming of storytelling – although there is a contradiction that some Jisc programme managers are keen for their projects to do this but the funding calls are produced by the Jisc policy group who seem to have a separate set of expectations.
In line with concerns about time and resources in the disbenefits section, there are concerns about how work on storytelling fits into current activity. The feeling is that it needs to be complementary to current work rather than distracting from it. There were questions about quality control and how and digital stories produced would appear next to current communication methods such as the website and news stories. There also seems to be a balance to be negotiated between a view that not everyone should be obliged to take part in story production and a concern that certain voices in an organisation may not be heard.
There is a wider issue with changes to the education sector and their impact on Jisc. Several respondents alluded to showing stakeholders the value of the Netskills organisation as a way of protecting funding in the longer term. Where this is a motivation for using storytelling techniques I foresee that it will encourage more emphasis on a corporate-style of storytelling that reduces vulnerability to reputation as opposed to a more personalised approach.