It has been said that the shortest path between a human being and the truth…Is a story. Why is it that with all the money spent on collecting and displaying data relating to the success of public services, the everyday stories people tell of how public services work receive relatively little attention? If the people responsible for planning and evaluating public services were able to listen more carefully to the stories people tell about them and the places they live, then maybe they’d be able to learn valuable lessons that they can’t pick up just from looking at the available statistics about a place.
Sometimes it’s said that we need cultural change in organisations or even communities. Stories don’t just reflect the culture: they ARE the culture. If you want to change culture, you need to change the stories and the way people tell them.
Chamberlain Forum has developed a technique for listening critically to stories; using storytelling in policy evaluation and development. It is called the ‘Structured Dialogue Method’ (SDM). Based on an approach developed in Canada by Ronald Labonte and Joan Feather, it uses peoples’ stories and a structured dialogue around them to evaluate and understand the experience of policies in practice.
Key elements of the approach involve:
- A provocative theme – something to generate animated discussion
- A diverse storytelling circle of around 10-15 people
- Two storytellers willing to share their experience
- Active reflection of all participants – not just the storytellers
- Structured questioning – not general discussion
- A skilled facilitator to manage the process
Putting the Method into Practice
Chamberlain Forum has tested SDM with community groups as part of the Resident UniversityProgramme in 2007/8, developed a regional pilot project in 2008/09, and is currently delivering SDM in four priority neighbourhoods in Birmingham.
You can find out more about the first neighbourhood SDM about influence in Balsall Heath
Download the user manual for the method
Or watch a film made about the method as part of a story circle learning from the experience of asset transfer in Birmingham.
If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch.