The identity forming role of digital storytelling

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Bruner says that “In the end, we become the autobiographical narratives by which we “tell about” our lives.” (2004:694). They are identity forming as well as identity representing. What I found from the interviews was that the activity of creating digital stories, even at its intentional stage, was intimately connected to questions of identity, both personal and corporate. These questions of identity emerged in participants’ thoughts about how Netskills is perceived by people from outside the organisation but also from individuals within. This was expressed in terms of values and behaviours.

There is a desire for the breadth of expertise within Netskills to be recognised by focussing on the individuals that work there but in a richer and more personal way than has been available in more traditional forms of corporate communication such as news stories on the website. This was something that EP in particular saw as an area where Netskills had undersold itself in the past and although digital storytelling wasn’t a “magic bullet” it was something he saw as addressing this problem. EP also talked about how Netskills needed to demonstrate its relevancy to stakeholders, aligning its purposes with the organisations that it provided services to.

As well as there being a feeling that they had not established their identity strongly enough outside, some interviewees described how there were shortcomings in how well the team understood itself, particularly the interests and activity of other team members. As KV said, “there’s powerful stuff that could be linking us together.” For him there was lots of disparate activity within Netskills and having an opportunity to hear about it CF saw storytelling as way of developing shared understandings and finding ways of working together more effectively.

When asked about learning to become digital storytellers another aspect of this desire for a collaborative approach became apparent. It was recognised that training was required to help people develop their skills. Formal training had taken place for some interviewees, in particular from an external consultant on digital storytelling and an independent film maker. However there was also a preference expressed for learning from each other.

Certain values were held up as being important by individuals and storytelling was seen as way enacting them. Openness and transparency were seen as key aspects of storytelling, it being difficult to tell a story without revealing something of oneself, as picked out by CF. TG reflected that through this process of revealing it was possible to learn much about yourself through telling stories and find out things about your colleagues that had previously not been obvious.

Values of openness were connected to a need to appear as honest and trustworthy. SH talked about how he wanted to develop his skills in an environment that was “safe”, reducing feelings of personal vulnerability during learning. But there was also an emphasis on showing trustworthiness to people outside the organisation.

TG, by referring to the example of ENRON was saying that there were clear ethical reasons for being an organisation that valued and demonstrated transparency, especially given the publicly funded nature of the education sector. RY focussed on how an organisation that is honest about itself creates a “hugely positive image.”

Next page – Tensions arising from the digital storytelling approach