Telling our story at the International Digital Storytelling Conference

Hacettepe University

Hacettepe Uni, Beytepe campus

Last week was a big week for me.

I was speaking at Create Act Change, the 5th International Digital Storytelling (DS) conference in Ankara. It was my first time speaking at an event abroad and despite it being quite a small event it was attended by quite a few “names” in the field.

Joining a new community of practice

It was properly international too. It really stood out that, although DS started life in the States, there was a great balance of representation from right across the globe and it was a community that was, from my perspective at least, very open to welcoming new members. Maybe it’s because the number of people involved in DS across the globe is small, or perhaps that it attracts a certain type of personality but it felt like a community of practice with a strong sense of its own identity.

Joe Lambert & Rob Kershaw from the Centre for Digital Storytelling, California

Joe Lambert & Rob Kershaw from the Centre for Digital Storytelling, California

I was slightly anxious that coming into a well established group I’d find my approach to DS disapproved of; that someone would tell me I “wasn’t doing it right”. That wasn’t the case at all. Although there seems to be a well-developed methodology for “doing” DS that has grown over the years there was still an openness towards different interpretations and methods.

A deeper understanding of digital storytelling

I’m beginning to understand more that “Digital Storytelling” is less of an approach to communicating and actually something that has more in common with a political movement. It was born out of political activism, the desire to subvert traditional power relationships and give a voice to the marginalised in society using technology as a vehicle. That was obvious in much of what people talked about in the presentations and panels.

One of the most affecting sessions I attended had several presentations about DS projects with immigrant communities and asylum seekers where there are massive issues to do with acceptance by the host communities. DS is being used as a tool for challenging existing narratives by telling people’s individual stories.

But the actual process of telling stories is important for people that have been through traumatic change such as becoming a refugee. Stories are the way that we form our own identities, so storytelling can be a way for people whose identities have been shattered by leaving behind so much of what made them who they were to rebuild them in a new situation.

Pip Hardy and Tony Sumner’s also talked about their work with Patient Voices which takes similar approach but for people who’s lives have been affected by mental and physical health issues.

All in all, it made for quite an emotional conference. There were points where I was on the verge of tears watching some of the stories on display.

Telling our story

Conference panel

The panel of my fellow presenters

This made me feel a bit self-conscious that I was talking about something that was a lot less emotional (You can read more of what I was presenting about in this post) more so because I was sharing a panel with people talking about storytelling projects with Native Americans, the Maori community in New Zealand and building resilience in communities affected by natural disaster.

How could my description of working with organisational change projects measure up in terms of social importance?

For me, that wider perspective on what we are doing is about communicating the value of what educational institutions give back to society. The closing point of my talk was that most of the debate around the value of higher education centres on things that are relatively easily measured but it’s only by getting better at telling stories about what actually goes on within institutions that we can make a fuller picture more meaningful for people outside academia.

Netskills’ work is looking at a small part of the picture but the more we can encourage people to think in terms of story in addition to more objective communication styles the more we’ll be equipping people to shape the overall narrative about education.