Creativity,  Innovation,  Knowledge

Knowledge and storytelling

As illustrated by cave paintings, humans have used stories to share insights, ideas and experiences with each other for at least 27,000 years. Storytelling, the oral communication of ideas, beliefs, personal histories and life lessons including setting, plot, characters, and a sequence of events in whatever form be it written, oral, paintings, architectural or other (Groce, 2004) might be considered the original form of knowledge sharing.

As such, it is a powerful enabler for organisational knowledge management, or knowledge enablement, the term considered most apt by Nonaka (2007), concerned with innovation and sharing behaviours, managing complexity and ambiguity through knowledge networks and connections, exploring smart processes and deploying people-centric technologies” (Standards Australia (2005, definition 1.3.7) focused on the “…leveraging of existing knowledge in an organisation and creating new knowledge in the process” as described by Rajan et al. (1999, p2).

Despite the ancient origins of stories and frequent reference to storytelling in knowledge management, especially as it relates to tacit knowledge, it is interesting that a literature search reveals limited research to date on effective storytelling methodologies to support organisational knowledge sharing and innovation. Distinguishing between narration and anecdotes, the recounting of a sequence of events by an individual and what those meant to them, and a purposeful story including myths or fables, which incorporate a setting, plot, characters, and a sequence of events, further winnows the literature (Cognitive Edge, 2015).

Storytelling literature in the main is focused on use of storytelling for one-way communication by management to the public or staff to enlist support for change, investment, public relations, or other top-down endeavours. Denning (2004) observed that his research focus is on storytelling methodologies such as the springboard story, which is designed to motivate people, and so contains limited detail and is optimistic in nature. Whereas storytelling forms of interest to Nonaka et al primarily relate to innovation and the spiral of knowledge which begins with the individuals and is transformed into organizational knowledge valuable to the company as a whole, where “making personal knowledge available to others is the central activity of the knowledge-creating company” (Von Krogh, G, Ichigo, K, Nonaka, I 2000; Nonaka, 2007), and those of interest to Snowden are designed to share knowledge, including negative aspects (Denning, 2004). Other studies focus on use of storytelling in organisations without reference to knowledge management such as in the case of Boje, or in relation to anthropology of organisations, as in the case of Czarniawska.

As Reamy (2002) observed, storytelling is occurring in “every business, every department, every team… enterprise and it is being used heavily, probably more heavily than any other information or knowledge sharing channel. As such, this topic is worthy of further academic examination and empirical evaluation for knowledge-sharing and innovation, especially in light of previously disparate yet complementary cognitive science research revealing underlying cognitive mechanisms activated by storytelling, and the ongoing focus on innovation and exploitation of existing information assets in organisations for competitive advantage.

This paper sets out findings of a literature review relevant to effective storytelling methodologies supporting organisational knowledge sharing and associated innovation. It first discusses characteristics and challenges of different types of knowledge, outlining issues that have been studied and substantive research that has been undertaken in relation to knowledge enablement and organisational storytelling, it next outlines critical points of existing literature based upon the most relevant resources categorised by identified themes, specifically: organisational storytelling methodologies and forms for innovation and knowledge sharing; cognitive mechanisms engaged in exchanging knowledge and learning via stories; benefits of storytelling in knowledge enablement; challenges and limitations of storytelling in knowledge enablement; and implications of research for successful knowledge sharing and innovation. The paper concludes with a summary of theoretical findings and recommendations for future research.

Characteristics and Challenges of Different Types of Knowledge

Knowledge has been concisely termed “information that has been enriched through interpretation, analysis or context” by Duffy (2000, p11), and more comprehensively “…a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. It originates and is applied in the minds of knowers. In organisations, it often becomes embedded not only in documents or repositories but also in organisational routines, processes, practices, and norms” by Davenport & Prusak (1998, p. 5).

In their seminal work on knowledge sharing processes, Nonaka & Takeuchi differentiate between forms of knowledge (1995, p. 59) referencing tacit knowledge as that in organisational routines, processes, practices and norms which is “personal, context-specific, and therefore hard to formalise and communicate“, while considering the explicit or ‘codified’ knowledge held in such documents and repositories “knowledge that is transmittable in formal, systematic language” (for example, case studies and business process documentation). Nonaka & Takeuchi considered informal methods such as storytelling a better fit for tacit knowledge. Davenport & Prusak (1998, p. 7) observe that just as knowledge is transformed from information via data, one challenge is that it can also de-value and return to information and data through such issues as volume of knowledge or delay in its sharing, leading to an inability to make sense of it.

Rapid and constant change is a defining characteristic of modern organisations endeavouring to adapt to adjusting strategies, functions, cultures, economic considerations, priorities, technologies and competition both at operational and strategic levels (Burnes, 2004). Counteracting knowledge de-valuation in such organisations through timely capture and knowledge sharing to support innovation is a constant endeavor set against a backdrop of often limited resourcing and support. It is precisely this characteristic of modern organisations which makes practical, effective storytelling methodologies attractive for knowledge management, as stories are powerful conveyors of meaning and tacit knowledge (Swap et al, 2001, p110) with the further advantage of not necessarily requiring elaborate exchange systems, while providing context and focus and helping convey values, ethics and morals.

While knowledge management was originally defined as the process of applying a systematic approach to the capture, structuring, management, and dissemination of knowledge throughout an organization to work faster, reuse best practices, and reduce costly rework from project to project (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995; Pasternack and Viscio, 1998; Pfeffer and Sutton, 1999; Ruggles and Holtshouse, 1999), in a ‘save it, it may prove useful some time in the future’ approach, current systems involve storage of documentation, digital warehousing and running search engines with algorithms over them for retrieval, and associated solutions have proved to be most successful in capture, storage and dissemination of knowledge rendered explicit such as lessons learned and best practices.

In reviewing the multitude of definitions of knowledge management over time, Dalzir (2011) terms modern knowledge management “the deliberate and systematic coordination of an organisation’s people, technology, processes, and organizational structure in order to add value through reuse and innovation… achieved through the promotion of creating, sharing, and applying knowledge as well as through the feeding of valuable lessons learned and best practices into corporate memory in order to foster continued organizational learning.” Dalzir further elaborates to consider knowledge management a mix of multidisciplinary strategies, tools, and techniques—some of which are nothing new under the sun: storytelling, peer-to-peer mentoring, and learning from mistakes, for example, all have precedents in education, training and artificial intelligence practices.”

Sole and Wilson (2002) considered storytelling suited to: sharing knowledge; sharing values; developing trust and commitment; and generating emotional connection. Nonaka et al included storytelling as a typical means of sharing tacit knowledge among others, specifically: direct observation; storytelling; imitation; experimentation and comparison; and joint execution (von Krogh, G, Ichigo, K, Nonaka, I 2000), Storytelling is particularly of interest in catalysing knowledge sharing and innovation for associated competitive advantage, as Assudani (2005) observed “increasingly, the special capabilities of organisations for sharing, transferring and creating knowledge are being identified as central to achieving organisational advantage [.…] integral to this process (of practice, of leveraging resources and of doing) is the sharing and exchange of knowledge”.

Organisational Storytelling Forms and Methodologies for Innovation and Knowledge-Sharing

In their exemplary study on mentoring and storytelling in workplace knowledge transfer, an organisational story was defined by Swap et al (2001, p103) as ordinarily including a plot, major characters and outcome containing an implied or explicit moral, being a “detailed narrative of past management actions, employee interactions, or other intra- or extra-organizational events that are communicated informally within the organization”. Swap et al considered stories which are memorable, focused and having relevant context best suited for sharing tacit knowledge, managerial systems and values and helping people remember key aspects through elaboration and vivid images, and even potentially suited to sharing methodologies in terms of how to deal with people (such as patient handling skills), while not being suited to sharing critical skills.

While Denning’s methodologies are not in the main suited to knowledge sharing and innovation and so are excluded from this review, Denning (2004), outlined a catalogue for storytelling forms for management communication which would provide a useful model for one focused on innovation and knowledge-sharing, if elaborated upon to provide methodologies and templates such as those included in this paper’s appendices.

Figure 1: Steve Denning Storytelling Catalogue for Management Communications

Nonaka et al considered that “narratives and knowledge creation go hand-in-hand” (von Krogh, G, Ichigo, K, Nonaka, I 2000), stories about why and how people do things are a necessary component of learning, they preserve impressions and distribute them to others. While some are historical, others capture the quality of different experiences and might be thought of as a means for distilling common sense or conveying tacit emotional knowledge. Knowledge is located in a web of narratives that offer individuals moral and ethical direction. Nonaka et al proposed establishment of story-boards for dispatch with explicit knowledge to combine small pieces of data, a rhyme or proverb, pictures or statements from the original knowledge-creation participants, equipping knowledge activists with appropriate storylines; regretably, examples of story-boards and methods were not provided.

In terms of incorporating storytelling into lessons learned and after action review methodologies, which while effective to a degree are often over-looked or forgotten in fast-paced organisations, Nielsen and Madsen (2006) found that stories that resonate the most for knowledge sharing and learning from IT projects were those with context, detail, and methods for the listener to ‘feel the story’. Nielsen and Madsen’s study provides the basis for a potential methodology for project knowledge sharing in providing four steps: crafting the story weaving the project purpose, stakeholders and events into the story (converting experience into stories); telling the story (articulating experiences) including discussion with listeners; internalising the story (establishing collective understanding of stories) which might include a game component; and documenting the story (codifying explanations) with project outcomes, how to incorporate the knowledge into other projects, and best practice.

Examples of relevant knowledge-sharing and innovation storytelling methodologies uncovered in the process of this literature review to date are outlined in Appendices 1 to 3 of this paper including those from Kahan (2006), the United Nations (2015) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (2015), those from Denning (2001, 2004) are explicity excluded as being primarily focused on managerial use of storytelling for guided one-way communication. A useful inclusion from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is a storytelling troubleshooting guide to help avoid common pitfalls in using storytelling for knowledge enablement (refer to Appendix 4).

Cognitive Mechanisms Engaged in Exchanging Knowledge and Learning Via Stories

Humans may be considered to have partly evolved to effectively learn, thrive and survive through storytelling, with personal stories and gossip making up 65 percent of human conversations (Hsu, 2011). As such, for the majority of humans listening to and sharing stories engage parts of the brain which sharing of or listening to facts fails to do. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans have revealed that whereas facts simply activate the Broca and Wernicke areas for human language processing to decode words into their associated meanings, stories activate both these language processing areas, and also other areas of the brain, which would be used in experiencing actual events. For example, the sensory cortex, which coordinates the body’s response to its senses, is activated when listening to or reading about descriptions such as the taste of food, evocative sounds, and textures. Similarly, the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements, is activated when listening or reading about descriptions of movement and activity such as reaching out to hold items or playing sport. Furthermore, sharing stories can synchronise brain patterns in the storyteller and listener, with MRI scans have revealed that activity in the frontal cortex the area responsible for processing emotion, in particular the insula, can synchronise during sharing of stories essentially enabling the storyteller and listener to together experience ideas, thoughts and emotions; a story is the “only way to plant ideas into the minds of others via activation of sections of the brain to turn the story into the listener’s own idea and experience” (Hasson, 2012).

Useful insights from cognitive research which might be incorporated into knowledge enablement storytelling methodologies include details such as stories which evoke clear visual images or connect to the listener’s personal experience are more memorable and accordingly more effective carriers of knowledge than purely listed information (Swap et al, 2001, p.107). Stories can be a powerful influencer, in that if used without integrity, a narration that conflicts with factual data will by many be recalled as the accurate version. Cliched words and phrases, however, lose storytelling power due to the frontal cortex adapting to ignore over-used words and phrases. Stories incorporating simple language, fewer adjectives and complex nouns, are more memorable and also effective in activating brain processing areas for vicarious sharing than relatively complicated stories. If the narrator can make stories vivid enough to enable vicarious experience for the listener, the story is encoded into memory for retrieval (Hasson, 2012).

To date, knowledge management and storytelling literature for knowledge sharing and innovation refers to cognitive research insights in a general way, but in the main does not explicitly incorporate such research into best practice methodologies.

Benefits of Storytelling in Knowledge Management

While storytelling can be used to support both tacit and explicit knowledge sharing, Swap et al (2001, p96) consider it promotes the capture and transfer of tacit dimensions of knowledge more effectively than other mechanisms. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1998) propose that creation and transfer of tacit knowledge may be undertaken via two primarily informal processes, firstly internalisation, the “process of embodying explicit knowledge into tactic knowledge… closely related to learning by doing” (p69), and secondly socialisation which more closely aligns with storytelling, the “process of sharing experiences and thereby creating tacit knowledge such as shared mental models and technical skills” (p62). 

A firm only gains sustainable advances from what it collectively knows, how efficiently it uses what it knows, and how quickly it acquires and uses new knowledge (Davenport and Prusak, 1998), and the convenience of storytelling as a mechanism is ideally suited to information, rapid exchange of tacit knowledge (Nonaka et al, 2001). Reamy (2002) considered stories more suited to knowledge management than information management due to their characteristically conveying meaning and knowledge rather than information, as the information they contain is incorporated into the story with associated context. Referencing research findings from MRI scans, Reamy also observed that as stories create clusters or chunks of information, they are easier to pay attention to and remember; that it is easier for most humans to remember knowledge that unrelated strands of information; and that listeners react to stories differently and with more focus than to charts and logical arguments as stories “provide their own context which makes them more believable… The story becomes the means through which listeners create their own context, interpreting and filling in blanks and links of the story.” Stuhlman (2005) describes storytelling as the delivery of stories to “present anecdotal evidence, clarify a point, support a point of view and crystallize ideas. A story can present material that research data cannot [and] use verbal pictures to spark interest, add variety, and change the pace of a discussion. Stories make dull speeches sparkle. Storytelling is the connective device between data and reality… Knowledge managers use storytelling as a device and tool for sharing knowledge.”

Kahan (2006, p24) calls out the use of storytelling in supporting organisational change and collaboration in helping “members of an organization notice the diversity of their viewpoints without having to compete or disagree with each other”. Snowden’s formative exploration of storytelling in organisations determined that purposeful stories told with a deliberate objective in mind, can accelerate learning and communication amongst members of an organisation (1999). Snowden (2000), also considered storytelling “a pervasive technique that triggers the memory of knowledge and triggers a desire to acquire knowledge. Coupled with metaphor, it can convey complex ideas in simple memorable forms to culturally diverse communities far more effectively than other mediums”. Reinforcing Snowden’s views, it is interesting to find that the United Nations’ KS Toolkit incorporates storytelling in knowledge management to help overcome cross-cultural barriers and has been used to great effect.

Challenges and Limitations of Storytelling in Knowledge Management

Stories are not an effective mechanism for sharing details and low-level procedures, but once basic context is learned “stories provide guidance and lessons in the advanced or more sophisticated application of those basics” (Swap et al, 2001).

Reamy (2002), observed that one barrier to adoption of storytelling as a practical tool in organisations is that it causes “disquiet among practical businesspeople, information specialists and even many in knowledge management… the image of a group of businesspeople squatting around a campfire swapping stories is scary on a number of levels.”

The codification of stories for knowledge sharing is more challenging than that required by information, and further considered storytelling divorced from any systematic foundation that would give it both a dimension of rigor and practicality in application to knowledge management.

However, as noted by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (2006), it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it may be the process of storytelling that is more important than what is produced from it. Over-emphasising tangible ‘products’ from storytelling workshops can devalue the intangible outcomes (stronger networks, improved personal confidence and knowledge) that can have a more lasting effect on organisational or project success.

Implications of Research for Successful Knowledge Sharing and Innovation

While knowledge management literature and tools continually reference storytelling, practical methodologies for harnessing the power of storytelling are lacking. While David Snowden’s IBM Story Project through the Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity aimed to address this gap, practical step-by-step methodologies do not appear to have been an outcome of the research, with those available scattered and varying in level of detail. Examples of more useful methodologies identified in the process of this literature review and included in appendices of this paper. 

Reamy (2002) proposed addressing the lack of practical methodologies to incorporate storytelling in knowledge management through adoption of knowledge architectures founded upon information architecture (the organizing, navigating, labeling and retrieval of information) with associated intellectual, personal and social contexts to provide further meaning. It was considered this would create the intellectual infrastructure for deconstructing, capturing, indexing, organizing and retrieving stories and elements of stories in a variety of applications and in a variety of communities within the enterprise. However, such explicit codification is limited in its objective to convert into explicit forms, which would quickly date and form a library of material, which few in organisations have the interest or time to explore, effectively constraining storytelling with the same limitations as knowledge management.

Such approaches as making storytelling methodologies focus on tangible documented outcomes also suffer from what Dalzir (2011) recognised as being a limitation of knowledge management which should include not only capture and storage but valuation of intellectual assets in order to dedicate organizational resources most appropriately. The approach adopted in intellectual capital management (ICM) on business value delivered to the the organization by its intellectual capital/assets, being less about content, and more about actionable knowledge and know-how – with a focus on learning at individual, community and organizational levels rather than system building (Dalzir, 2011), should be incorporated into any storytelling methodology to focus efforts and resource expenditure on the most valuable assets. 


In the process of reviewing existing literature on effective storytelling methodologies supporting organisational knowledge sharing and innovation, it has been revealed that literature focuses less on knowledge discovery, capture and application than it does on knowledge sharing. As tacit knowledge is readily expressed through storytelling, there is much that it might contribute to knowledge management methodologies. What methodologies do exist are documented to varying degrees, and some proposed approaches suffer from common limitations of knowledge management initiatives and do not appropriately link associated effort and resource investment to the value of the intellectual capital of interest. Furthermore, empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of existing methodologies has not been undertaken and surveying of participants in associated activities would be beneficial to determine qualitative and quantitative benefits, which might be derived from incorporating storytelling for knowledge sharing and innovation.

This topic is worthy of further academic examination and empirical evaluation for knowledge sharing and innovation and development of associated methodologies. It would be beneficial to in the process address previously disparate yet complementary cognitive science research revealing underlying cognitive mechanisms activated by storytelling. Such review would certainly be of interest due to the ongoing focus on innovation and exploitation of existing information assets in organisations for competitive advantage.


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Source: Kahan, S 2006, The power of storytelling to jumpstart collaboration, Journal for Quality and Participation, Volume 29, pp23-25.
Originator: Seth Kahan
Objectives: ·      Effectively engage every participant in the business objectives

·      Accelerate collaboration without compromising diverse perspectives

·      Effectively introduce each person to 10-15 other participants

·      Improve learning through high-quality idea exchange

Organisational Context: Organisations which may be multicultural, competitive, siloed.
Useful As: Icebreaker to commence a gathering and involve all, cross-pollinating ideas, building rapport, focusing collective enthusiasm on the task to hand through personal stories of participants.
Knowledge Methodology Category: Collaboration; Problem Solving; Lessons Learnt
Why Does it Work? Simple and efficient in execution, delivers a number of benefits including acting as an icebreaker and providing immediate focus on the underlying issues.
Organisations Used In To Date: World Bank, Peace Corps, National Institute on Ageing (United States), the Fulbright Association, Center for Association Leadership, and others.
Target Audience: 8-100 people (however has also been used with as few as three and as many as 2,500)
Time to Run: 45 to 60 minutes regardless of number of participants
Tools to Run: Microphone & PA System for Facilitator for groups of >30 people, tables seating four to ten people. A bell or gong.
Methodology in Brief: 1.    Facilitator arranges attendees into groups of six to eight people

2.    Facilitator asks participants to think of a story drawn from their own experience related to the primary business objectives of the meeting (for example, for CEOs competing with China, ask them to tell a story of a time in their lives when they faced a daunting challenge that changed the way they saw the world – giving enough background to explain why the challenge was daunting, how they met it, and how their worldview changed, they are effectively sharing the arc of their personal story)

3.    Participants tell their stories to the others at their table in 90 seconds (time sufficient to relay the essence of their experience). Facilitator keeps time for the first speaker in each group using the gong to signal the end, reminding speakers when they have only 30 seconds left and calling for the next participant after 90 seconds. The facilitator at this point advises all participants “While it may be my job to get the whole room through the process in nine minutes (for tables of six), it is not your job. So if your story is a little long, go with it. If your story is over in less time, move on to the next person.” This encourages each group to self-manage their time and be in charge of their experience, an important aspect in setting stage for the ownership which is a pre-requisite of effective collaboration.

4.    After the first table of stories, ask the group to look around their table and bring to mind the story that most impacted them, and remember the teller.

5.    All participants are to then move out of their chairs and find a new table of mostly new faces for the second round. While the idea of repeating themselves may be unpalatable to participants explain with humour to participants that in other cultures people enjoy sharing their stories over and over as a way of life.

6.    Ask participants to notice what stays the same in their story the second time and what changes, and note how interesting it is that while the words may be different the story remains the same. The facilitator uses the same process as in the first round moving people through their stories in 90 second intervals (speed-dating style) and end by asking participants to again note which story most affected them and who told the story.

7.    After the second round, the facilitator is to ask all participants to recall the story which most affected them (either because it was moving or because the information it contained was so relevant to the objective of the day’s gathering), and ask participants to get out of their seats and find the person who told them that story. When they find the storyteller they are to put their hand on the person’s shoulder and keep it there.

8.    What Kahan refers to as a live social networking display of ‘clusters and chains’ forms. The room is chaotic as people search for others, and move around with trailing chains and clusters of people attached to them. Regardless of the number of participants the process resolves itself quite quickly. The storytellers who made the most impact have the most hands on their shoulders.

9.    Facilitator then asks those with the most hands on their shoulders to come to the front of the room and tell their stories to the plenary group. This is powerful as the participants, not the convenor, selected the stories so the information embedded within them was prioritised as having the most effect by the participants.

10. The group then spends time unpacking the stories and discovering why they were chosen as a ‘jumpstart’ for more detailed tacit knowledge-sharing and problem solving exploration.


Source: United Nations’ KS Toolkit – Sparknow Consulting 2015, Pairs Storytelling,
Originator: Sparknow Consulting
Objectives: ·      A process to support organisational change and related lessons learned.
Organisational Context: An organisation undergoing a process of change, for:

·       team or community-building exercises.

·       breaking down barriers between multidisciplinary or multi-cultural teams

·       workshop warm-ups

·       trip and project debriefs and reviews

·       problem solving

·       monitoring systems

Useful As: The principle is that everyone can think of positive/negative changes in which they have taken part; this enables individuals, pairs and groups to learn about these changes in a structured fashion.
Knowledge Methodology Category: Change Management; Lessons Learnt
Why Does it Work? A simple methodology for soliciting discussion between pairs and groups.
Organisations Used In To Date: Not available.
Target Audience: Small workshop groups
Time to Run: Variable according to group size.
Tools to Run: 7-Element Story Template as below:

Methodology in Brief: 1.    Facilitator introduces the workshop and theme for the storytelling. It could focus on a specific theme (e.g. change in organisational management techniques), or on a range of themes. The key is to provide a context in which participants think about and select the stories they are going to share.

2.    Facilitator next asks participants to reflect on the change process, and details before, during and after.

3.    Facilitator asks participants to pair up and share their stories.

4.    Facilitator asks participants to interview their partners, and write down partners’ stories, using the Story Template as a guide. This should make it possible to capture more detail.

5.    Facilitator asks the pairs to find another pair, and ask each participant in the new group of four to take turns telling their partners’ stories to the larger group.

6.    Facilitator asks the group to identify any common points or contradictions across the stories.

7.    Facilitator asks each group to present back to the whole group in plenary.



Source: United Nations’ KS Toolkit – Swiss Development Corporation 2015, Using Objects and Displays Storytelling
Originator: Swiss Development Corporation
Objectives: ·      A process to support collaboration and shared understanding,

·      Reflecting on what the organization does – understanding the values gaps

·      Building communities – building chemistry, trust and identity

·      Learning from others and innovating – making room for new ideas and connections

Organisational Context: Cross-cultural organisations, for:

·       team or community-building exercises.

·       breaking down barriers between multidisciplinary or multi-cultural teams

·       workshop warm-ups

·       trip and project debriefs and reviews

·       problem solving

·       monitoring systems

Useful As: The process involves using objects to trigger memories, find hidden histories and create vehicles for difficult things to be shared.
Knowledge Methodology Category: Collaboration, Lessons Learnt
Why Does it Work? When telling stories, you can use objects to trigger memories of specific experiences, to create the visual hooks for your audience. Objects – unlike printed words – have the power to both evoke and contain stories, conveying the symbolic essence of something. As symbols, representing the core of an idea or experience, objects are easy for the memory to recall. As tangible things, objects can be used to make collections, exhibits and displays, arousing people’s interest in the subject matter they relate to by making visible patterns and connections which might otherwise remain undetected.


Organisations Used In To Date: Swiss Development Corporation
Target Audience: Small workshop groups
Time to Run: Variable according to group size.
Tools to Run: ·       Microphone & PA System for Facilitator

·       Large well-lit table to create a display.

·       Digital and Polaroid cameras.

·       White or vibrantly coloured table cloth.

·       Vertical surfaces such as pin boards, plus transparent document pockets and strong pins to hold the objects.

·       A washing line and pegs, with see-through plastic pockets for suspending objects.

·       String and scissors.

·       7-Element Story Template as below:

Methodology in Brief: Using installation artists and the idea of classification and exhibit is one way of using storytelling. Here is one example from the Dare to Share Fair, SDC headquarters, March 2004, with two experimental workshops run in the Bedouin tent using objects to trigger and pass on learning. The process was as follows:

  1. An email message was sent to the whole organisation requesting interesting artefacts from around the world. The request triggered an unprecedented sharing of both objects and the stories attached to them.
  2. Before the Bedouin tent workshop, the facilitators collected the box of objects and spread the contents out on a nearby table. The display aroused curiosity in passers-by, many of whom stopped for long periods to discuss them.
  3. On arrival, workshop participants were invited to visit the table and select an object that helped them tell a story about a moment in which they felt part of a community, team or network at work.
  4. Participants formed into groups of four to share their personal stories. Nothing was written down at this point.
  5. The facilitators asked each group to either: choose one story to develop into a stronger, deeper version OR create a new story, knitting those four stories into one composite or amalgamation, carrying the resonances or a combined view.
  6. Each group was given an earlier version of the 7-Element Story Template to condense their story. Some groups used it as an interview framework, turning the questions into headings. In all cases the original teller was banned from writing. This process of group refinement helped the teller clarify the message, meaning and coherence of their narrative.
  7. New tellers from each group told their group’s’ stories to plenary, using the objects as props where appropriate.
  8. The session concluded with a discussion of the themes that had emerged; group stories and objects were made into another display adjacent to the tent that grew over the two days of the Fair.
  9. In an unforeseen secondary consequence, the evolving display triggered those who submitted their objects to share the real stories attached to them. Polaroid photographs taken of the owners with their stories written alongside were pasted into a scrapbook that is now held by the Knowledge and Research department of the SDC.


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