Answering the research questions

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The research questions I outlined at the start of this dissertation were:

  • What role narrative and “digital storytelling” can play in an organisational context to assist communication and reflective practice?
  • What conceptual, technical and ethical considerations are there for an organisation using digital storytelling as part of its practice?
  • Are there perceived secondary benefits for organisational effectiveness, interpersonal communication for a team that uses digital storytelling?

What the case study has revealed is that are many perceived benefits within Netskills to using digital storytelling as an organisation. The role that digital storytelling can play in an organisational setting is principally as a tool for sensemaking. For the people outside of an organisation seeing these stories can reveal a more human and accessible picture of its activities, showing life more as it is lived by an organisation’s members. It is a key defining feature of digital storytelling that an authentic human voice is central to its power to communicate. This is its advantage over other means of communication that rely on unemotional objectivity.

Moreover, storytelling can be a sensemaking tool for the people within an organisation, presenting a self-image back itself that helps to build a sense of identity but also an opportunity to consciously shape that identity. Digital storytelling could give value to an organisation even if the stories produced were not presented to an external audience. It is possible to communicate and think in stories without making them digital at all but the process of producing the digital artefacts both creates an easy way to share these stories and a focus for creating them I the first place.

This study found that introducing digital storytelling into Netskills involved careful consideration of several important issues. It wasn’t something that was seen as an activity that could be simply slotted in. There were practical concerns over the amount of time and resource available for storytelling activity and its potential impact on “business as usual” as well as how it would fit with other communication methods. Of more importance were the ethical issues around becoming a storytelling organisation. Principle among these were questions about balancing the need for digital storytelling to convey an individual’s authentic story with the need for Netskills to maintain a professional image. My feeling is that in Netskills both sides of this debate are given equal weighting and there is a desire to not emphasise one at the cost of another. Storytelling was seen as an activity that brought with it an element of risk for both individuals and organisation in terms of reputation and wellbeing. The importance of integrity, honesty and authenticity were also of importance to the participants. Stories rely on subjectivity, emotion and multiple levels of interpretation. This gives them their unique power but is extremely important to manage, especially in an environment such as the higher education sector that traditionally values what Bruner would call a paradigmatic world view.

Despite these considerations it’s important not to see these as insurmountable barriers. The case study revealed many secondary benefits to an organisation that is seeking to use more storytelling. As well as encouraging reflection on identity and purpose, attitude towards storytelling reveals a lot about an organisations culture. In Netskills case much value was placed on technological expertise, openness and transparency and perhaps one of the reasons storytelling was being embraced so warmly was because it allowed expression of those values. Much of the literature around storytelling in organisations talks about how stories help individuals to respond to changes around them and to develop a sense of agency and an element of control over events. Although there was no dire threat to Netskills at the time of this research it is experiencing a time of change with its parent organisation and the wider educational sector. Digital storytelling was seen as way of demonstrating value and purpose to stakeholders.

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