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Social challenges are complex. Intertwined root causes affect infant mortality, unemployment, malnutrition, etc. How can organizations pinpoint and provide solutions to communities' most pressing needs?


Community members' stories provide snapshots about communities' realities. Our system maps stories' similarities and differences to tease out trends, which make sense of complex social challenges.

Organizations are better able to hear communities, and better understand how to make their projects align with community needs - improving quality of life.


Five GG partner organizations recruited and trained 120 scribes who collected 2,637 usable stories about 242 different organizations over two months in Kenya. Since 2010, we have collected tens of thousands more.



This is a brief overview of the storytelling montoring & evaluation method GlobalGiving piloted in Kenya in 2010. A more recent description is at

If you would like to adopt this method to your local context, our tools and training are available online for free. Visit to get started. A fuller field guide (called the Storytelling RealBook) describing this method is also available.

  1. We gathered a large body of community stories that revealed what people in various communities believed they needed, what services they were getting, and what they would like to see happen in the future.
  2. We analyzed these narratives for patterns using SenseMaker®. Later, we built our own tools. The contextual questions associated with each story provide a perspective with both depth and breadth:
    • Broad enough to inform a local organization’s strategic thinking about the root causes of complex problems
    • Detailed enough to trigger specific action by local organizations
  3. We shared stories back with local organizations, thanked scribes and storytellers via SMS, and worked 1-on-1 with partner organizations to support learning from feedback. We have free tools available that enable real-time SMS conversations anywhere in the world. Contact us!
  4. We are sharing what we've learned. We are enthusiastic about the potential of this method to inform learning and decision-making among implementing organizations, funding organizations, and communities. Here is an overview of the presentation we made at the American Evaluation Association conference in 2010 and over 50 blog posts on developing the tools and methods.



Using SenseMaker® Analytics

In 2010 we used Cognitive Edge's SenseMaker® software to look for patterns in hundreds of stories. Two examples are shown below. In both cases, blue dots represent stories about more recent events and red dots, older events from 2007. Each storyteller was presented with a blank triangle and asked to place one dot in the space to represent how much of each element was in the story they told (social relations, physical well-being, or economic opportunity).

Stories about efforts tied to an organization

Stories not tied to any organization

Using story clusters to tell a story

When story "triads" are filtered using different variables, a common thread among stories can emerge. In the next example: Men (green dots) and women (red dots) talk about education differently

Girls talk about education at an earlier age, and they couch it in terms of (S)ocial challenges and aspirations, not future (E)conomic opportunities or (P)hysical well-being. By age 16-20, girls and boys talk about education in terms of social empowerment and economic opportunity, respectively. By adulthood, women have stopped talking about education. Note that this is only starting hypothesis, and that a decision maker would then read the stories in each interesting cluster to see whether they jibe with his impression.



Story themes differ from project themes.

GlobalGiving requires organizations to update each of their projects quarterly.  We asked a panel of experts to "signify" self-reports in Kenya according to the SeneMaker® framework.  Experts viewed the reports as having to do with education and self-esteem. Storytellers, in contrast, emphasized social relations and safety as recurring concerns. Blue lines show the relative story count tied to each category.

"Social Relations" is the central thread among stories

Numbers in the overlapping regions represent the percent of stories that are about both categories.



Visualizing the stories

We are still exploring ways to provide everyone - especially the people in the community where these stories were collected - with access to the stories. The Ushahidi platform provides a map, and our project walls turn these stories into the beginning of a conversation. In the future, other people will be able to receive some of this information by phone text messages.

We tried Ushahidi and Mapbox to map Stories

The Project Story Wall


More Detailed Information

The "Real Book" for Story Evaluation Methods - a 45 page manual explaining how GlobalGiving managed this project. It also includes details on how to detect and correct misinformation by storytellers, as well as suggestions for others who wish to adapt this approach. It is called a "Real Book" because we want it to be expanded and refined by everyone, like the musicians' Real Book.

Triad maps of all stories' elements - images extracted from SenseMaker®


Map of the story collection and feedback process


Sample data

One handwritten story and completed questionnaire from Eldoret, Kenya - This story was later typed and entered into the complete story data set.

The story prompt and questionnaire that story scribes used during story collection

Actual stories (in a long list alphabetized by organization named in Kenya) part 1, part 2, part 3

Projects with a lot of stories you can read, if you scroll down to June of 2010:


Some other mentions of this project from 2010-2011:

Stanford Social Innovation Review: Amplifying Local Voices Crowdsourcing Aid Information

Huffington Post: Comparing the insider and community perspectives on aid Crowdsourcing and the future of aid

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