Tensions arising from the digital storytelling approach

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It was clear from the interviews that nobody saw an approach that used digital storytelling was an “easy win”. It was something that had clear benefits for all the participants but they all identified difficulties arising from the some fundamental aspects of storytelling and their use in a corporate context.

Some of the tensions arise for purely practical reasons. Digital storytelling is a time consuming activity, both in the actual production but also the development of skills. Time spent producing digital media was seen as something that diverted effort away from core activities. A note of caution was raised by KV in particular about how this time was justified when it was difficult to demonstrate return on that time investment. BD also questioned “what happens to business as usual?”; the stories had to be about something but if too much time was being spent on creating digital media then that meant less time spent on the core activities that the stories were actually supposed to be about.

BD also raised issues around where the stories themselves would appear. He questioned whether it was appropriate for large numbers of digital stories to accumulate over time on the corporate website given how attention the video format required of the audience.

Most of the other tensions concerned issues that were anticipated when using a communication method that relies on an individual’s authentic voice and the fact that the stories were being produced by people representing and organisation.

Some interviewees saw that creating digital stories about their experiences opened them up to a certain amount of emotional and professional vulnerability by “putting themselves out there.” Personal storytelling might involve being open about things that hadn’t gone exactly to plan (Aristotle’s “perpipeteia”) which might affect reputation. Also affecting the outward-facing identity is that a story told in one voice might be taken to represent the collective Netskills perspective.

KV outlined the risk of conflicting narratives arising from an organisation that is trying to demonstrate its expertise on one hand with a story from an individual which demonstrates shortcomings in the way they’ve been working, something Boje (2008)described as a dialogism.

Pulling in the other direction is the corporate interest. Boje describes how narrative is an attempt to create a controlled meaning. It appears to be the intention that Netskills’ digital stories will be part of the organisations communications rather than purely being a personal reflective tool for employees. A possible response to perceived vulnerabilities to the organisation inherent in storytelling might be to impose editorial control over the narrative and to make it less authentically personal.

Even that is not an adequate solution for some of the interviewees. It would go against any value put on openness and transparency and would ultimately lead to the impact of any stories being diminished. As RY said:

“Having a corporate shield – it appeals because you can control it more…How would you as a company rein in personalities? If you do it’s not genuine any more. You need to trust them and stand by them when they make mistakes…If you censor or ban things there’s no point doing the whole thing.” RY

It’s also considering the wider context. How would digital stories be received by the intended audiences? Is there a tension between a culture which is thought to value a “paradigmatic” way of sensemaking and an organisation that is communicating narratively, partly at least?

The picture is less clear here. SH referred to a predominantly “mechanistic culture” that storytelling would mark a break from and concern was raised over encouraging other project teams to use storytelling as it was described as “extra-curricular”, beyond what was expected of them. KV also referred to his academic science background as having knocked more creative styles of writing out of him in favour of a more technical style. However, the perception was that the culture within higher education was not completely hostile to storytelling as an approach, with Jisc itself becoming increasingly enthusiastic about it.

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