Theme 5 – The organisational context

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The final area of analysis relates to how a storytelling approach would work within a wider operational context. Responses outlined here refer to issues about how storytelling would fit into an existing business culture or go some way to transform it and how techniques might enhance or detract from operational matters, now or in the future. Many of the responses under this theme referred to storytelling within Netskills or infoNet but also drew on the experience of the Jisc-funded projects that these two organisations are supporting and encouraging to use more narrative communication methods.

Questions of culture

Views on this subtheme concentrated on the two issues. The first is that storytelling is counter-cultural to some aspects of working in higher education in particular. The second issue is that storytelling has strong links with a move towards open and transparent working methods.

TG used the example of how Jisc-funded projects were expected to report on their outcomes by Jisc as a way of illustrating why more innovative methods of communication might not be more widely used.

“There’s a perception when working with [projects], they want to tell us what they think we want from them. They’re not opening up. A lot of it is cultural, they’re traditionally expected to produce reports. The language is very different from conversation; that language doesn’t always interest other people.” TG

He later added that much of the way projects report on their work “comes down to the language we use in the funding calls.” In other words there is a requirement for projects to report in a particular way as a condition of their funding.

SH also mentioned this saying:

“[Storytelling is] not what we ask them to do. It’s extra-curricular activity. The benefits are not to do with the funding.” SH

SH talking later about the broader higher education context said:

“You get practiced in this mechanistic culture. It becomes all you know. You need to break out. Storytelling is a big leap outside what I’m used to doing.” SH

KV reflected on similar themes relating to the work of Netskills. For him an issue was demonstrating the efficacy of storytelling approaches.

“[We need] ways of measuring impact, the difference it makes. I don’t know how to do it with something so subjective and emotional. It’s new and different and takes up time so there will be demand [in Netskills] to quantify it,” KV

However, KV also perceived an enthusiasm, within Jisc as a whole, to explore storytelling approaches saying “it’s been growing. I’m not seeing a resistance to it.” This is implicitly backed up by the fact that much of the exploratory work being done by Netskills and infoNet is driven by a number of Jisc funding programme managers.

The second major theme was around open working practices. Many of these responses relate back to the perception that stories are a personal, honest and revealing form of communication as mentioned in the “benefits of storytelling” section above.

CF referred to how storytelling fitted well with his personal “crusade for an ever more open team environment” which he hoped would lead to better working practices through better understanding between colleagues. He compared the use of digital storytelling with the recent development of a team blog Netskills Voices which he described as “revealing, behind the scenes, open, honest…”.

For RY, an organisation’s image could be enhanced by open working methods as mentioned above, also adding:

“Openness is beneficial to reputation.” RY

For TG, there was a risk in not being open and transparent. When asked to reflect on the disbenefits of storytelling for an organisation he said this:

“I’m a big believer in open and transparent communication…In the public sector everything is open to scrutiny anyway so I don’t understand why there should be any reason not to open up…Everybody makes mistakes…organisations are always trying to improve…so I don’t see why there is a major issue with it.” TG

He later used the example of the collapse of ENRON due to fraud, revealed in 2001, to illustrate what happens when an organisation isn’t open and transparent.

Operational issues

Most of the discussion around this theme overlaps with the discussion about possible disbenefits of storytelling activity within Netskills mentioned above relating to the demands on time and resources and balancing it with current core business activities. I won’t repeat those here.

New issues emerged regarding the presentation of digital stories, alongside the current content on the Netskills website in particular. KV raised a concern about presenting stories on the current website:

“I think it might also look out of place if we’re not careful… A lot of [the corporate website] is badly-written and neglected and if you plonk a story in the middle of it, it’s going to get lost for a start…look pretty weird.” KV

Early in his interview BD mentioned how powerful digital video was at holding people’s attention but he raised a concern about the balance of this sort of content on the website:

“There’s another risk, which is related to demanding attention, is that it’s very easy to overdo it. If [our website] was full of video you’re forcing people to give you lots of attention. There’s probably a sweet spot about how much of a message ypou try to get across through video. It might be 15%, it might be 25%, something like that. I’m confident it’s not 80%” BD

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