Frequently Asked Questions for the Storytelling Project

Q1: What does it cost?

Nothing! It is free! All of our online web-based story collection and analysis tools are free. We believe that monitoring and evaluation systems work best when we pool our resources and share tools freely. So we've built and supported a system for monitoring that only costs you staff time.

Q2: Who collects all the stories, and how?

Organizations recruit scribes (typically youth that live in the communities served), who go out and inviewer friends and neighbors using paper, web-form, or a smart phone (for audio-recordings) each month, and deliver the papers/data/audio-files to GlobalGiving for free text-transcription and web-archiving. Scribes collection over 57,000 stories in East Africa this way.

Q3: How do you analyse stories?

The text of hundreds of stories that mention the same words (topics) will also have patterns that reveal similarities in the lived experiences of people who need support. A mix of human and algorithm filters can quickly identify what is working or not. We also include questions to map story elements on the paper/web surveys, and provide benchmarking during the analysis step.

Q4: What do you mean by benchmarking?

The combined story collection is a longitudinal baseline data set on the root causes and possible solutions to complex social problems, much like the Framingham Heart Study, which was able to identify risk factors for heart disease without any hythesis-testing. Each new analysis uses old stories as the baseline, benchmark, or reference frame for looking at patterns.

Q5: What if I want to change the storytelling question to anything?

You can modify the question. Note that the less relevant your questionnaire is to the work of other organizations and the work they do, the less you will be able to learn as a group. But you have the technology and we want to you learn by doing. So visit our form customizing page and try it.

Q6: How do we export / reuse the stories that we help collect?

All stories are online, and you can export data yourself in CSV (excel) format. For other formats and ideas for a storytelling API, contact mmaxson@globalgiving.org and we will work with you.

Q7: How do you handle negative stories? Don't you have an obligation to only publish true stories?

For years we've run the storytelling project with a mindset of doing our best to make people happy, but never backing down from the truth. We operate an internet service and abide by peoples' expectations of internet privacy. If the author wants his story removed, and requests it himself, we will remove it. But requests from third parties who seek to clean up the knowledge because they are looking out for others' best interests will rarely be given much merit. We are always open to dialogue and extremely accessible. And after years of running this project, we've found this to be one of the first and most common objections, but has never been found to have merit. Certain people are used to having the anonymity that controlling information provides them, and we are comfortable making those people uncomfortable, and are legally not in any real danger. The authors have the right to remove their own story, and that is sufficient for uncensored information to flow freely. See http://chewychunks.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/storyteller-liar-rebel-rouser-voice/

Q8: What if someone reports a crime?

A story is a 'telling,' not a reporting. The audiences are organizations and the public. While we will respond in whatever way makes sense, we are not going to report crimes mentioned to the police, nor does the author expect us to play that role and more than they would expect Facebook posts to be reported to the police.

Q9: What if an organization wants to challenge the accuracy of a story?

Don't complain to us – instead, inform the community affected by your work yourselves. If you are an effective communicator, fewer 'misleading' stories about your work will appear in the future, and hopefully more people will have something to say about your organization.

Q10: But don't you worry that your stories will mislead others?

First – these are not 'our' stories.  Neither are they 'your' stories. They belong to the authors. We are stewards of the collection and guides in the process of understanding.

Q11: Should stories just 'stick to the facts'?

Though most storytellers will strive to describe what happened using 'hard facts,' this is the weakest application of the storytelling method. Encourage storytellers to write emotionally, because feelings are the 'amplitude' that modulates the frequencies of 'meaning' about any social problem. Unfortunately, intimacy in story is a rare thing regardless of where we collect them. 

Q12: Who is legally liable for the content?

Every story's author is responsible. We do not release the names of these people, because we do not know them, through in most cases we have a phone number or email that can be used to contact his or her later.

Q13: Where do we report bugs or suggest new features?

We have a public trello board where you can submit requests and follow them through the improvement pipeline, in a transparent, agile way. Trello boards are free and make great project management tools for NGOs.

Q14: Who are these "scribes"? What do they say about the storytelling project?

We asked them for feedback in 2013, and 64% answered. Read their unfiltered responses and decide for yourself. Visually, they use these words:

Q15: I haven't heard of this Storytelling Method before. How do we convince our board and funders that your approach is better?

We believe it is better because we have worked to improve it for several years. However, we too are learning iteratively. We failed in several ways, then modified and refined the process so you can learn from our mistakes. We've described our four-year process of improving the tools and method here. Moreover, you will be part of a network of innovators, and you will learn faster by working together.

Q16: Where can I learn about your East African pilot project?

See globalgiving.org/story-tools/ and download the RealBook - a longer guide to the process from 2010-2012.

Q17: What's a good example of another organization using this?

See the work of Vijana Amani Pamoja here.

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Getting Started

Case Studies

In the past we curated a collection of over 57,000 stories from Kenya and Uganda (2010-2013). Read about how organizations have usedstorytelling to be more effective organizations:

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