The Shortest Path….

Posted by on Sep 21st, 2009 and filed under News, Publications. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry from your site


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.

Learning from Stories about Community Assets from Chamberlain Forum on Vimeo.

If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch.

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11 Responses for “The Shortest Path….”

  1. hello,

    thanks for the great quality of your forum, each time i come here, i’m amazed.

  2. […] out more about the Storytelling Dialogue Method here or give us a call on 07795 448462 or email  or fill in the form below […]

  3. […] a blogger at Chamberlain Forum (“a group of people who have been inspired by what has been achieved in neighbourhoods like […]

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by paulgslatter: ‘Want to learn about a culture, listen to its stories’. Stories ARE the culture of a community or org

  5. […] explains some of the principles behind it.  You can find out more on the Chamberlain Forum’s website: Based on an approach developed in Canada by Ronald Labonte and Joan Feather, it uses peoples’ […]

  6. […] You can find out more on the Chamberlain Forum’s website […]

  7. […] In July 2010, Chamberlain Forum used the Structured Dialogue Method to learn about the experience of influence in the Neighbourhood of Balsall Heath in Birmingham.   A group of 10 people – including 6 residents and active citizens, local community and faith organisations, the local authority and the police – came together to gain insight into why people in Balsall Heath feel influential, through a process of listening to two main stories, reflecting upon them, and asking questions[1].  ( see here for more information about how Structured Dialogue works) […]

  8. […] on from the successful introductory workshops on the  ”structured dialogue method – learning from stories” held in July please find attached information for a Structured Dialogue Method Facilitators […]

  9. […] policy as essential to fostering co-operation. More interesting was Worth’s account of the ‘structured dialogue method’ practiced by the Chamberlain Forum, where personal experiences are shared in a story circle, and a […]

  10. Thanks this little film is really clear about what structured dialogue is how to do it and how to draw info /policy from reality !

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