The journey of listening and learning about what people want looks different for each organization. The destination depends on what you are curious about and who you ask for feedback. Here are teasers from four very different organizations.
In 2010 Nancy Waweru wanted to start an after-school program to give adolescent girls life skills to face challenges of growing up in a Nairobi slum. She recruited volunteer teachers and created a curriculum, but it was based only on her own impression of what she thought they needed to know.
"I didn't realize what some of these girls were going through until we asked them to write stories about their lives," she said. What came back were stories involving sexual assault, rape, and narrowly escaping crime. It was bad stuff.
Nancy used stories in a simple but effect way. She asked every girl in the program for stories at the beginning and end of the ten-week course, so she could look at how they had grown. It was important to track what they had learned. She tested their knowledge with a balanced scorecard approach as advised by their partner Grassroots soccer, but it was the open-ended stories that provided her with the deepest insights on what to change.
In addition, GlobalGiving found an external project in our collection that served as a good benchmark for her own project. We had over 200 stories about Sita Kimya - a rape prevention program in a nearby slum.
"We added more about preventing rape and teen pregnancy, and role-played ways to deal with conflicts that might arise when girls were walking home from school."
The Lesson: "Running community projects calls for a lot of motivation," Nancy says. "Work can be overwhelming. But stories about the difference we're making provide inspiration." Read more
Costa Rica means "Rich Coast" in Spanish. This organization has worked to promote environmental conservation but their founder realized that any time they ignored the economic needs of villages, they failed. So they turned to our storytelling method to go deeper on which issues were easier or harder to align between these percieved competing needs (environment and prosperity). As the founder explained it:
"One day a landowner called us to say he’d brought in a 'forest engineer' to look at his property. The 'engineer' was horrified. The timber had no financial value, so they cut down the beautiful, native trees we worked so hard to find, raise, and plant in order to establish a diverse forest restoration project. Now we work hard to achieve a deeper understanding with landowners about why natural trees have value."
One of the biggest storytelling themes was about a village that was relocated ten years back to make way for construction. One storyteller wrote, "...it was very sad as we were leaving our beloved village where we had coffee trees, fruit..." Here was an issue where La Reserva could connect - as even men who wanted to earn a living with forrestry felt the loss of the village's beauty.
The Lesson: They identified specific issues that combined protecting the environment with prosperity. Read more
TYSA, a rural sports-for-social-change organization in Kenya, combined football with storytelling in 2010. The village baraza, or meeting, allowed people to talk about what had happened in the last year and pledge their support for work in the future. Of the 1000 community stories they collected, 140 dealt directly with the work of TYSA itself.
Community Mapping: The staff read through the stories and identified eight themes mentioning the kind of work they focus on (education, sports, capacity training, etc.), but the discussion was mostly about why one issue - child rights and protecting children - was not mentioned. "It is interesting because we do a lot on this issue," Francis Gichuki said "There's a gap between our service and the community’s awareness."
One seemingly unrelated story sparked the longest discussion. It began, "A friend of mine lost six of his friends in one year to crime, police gunned them down….we need to get something constructive to do [other] than getting involved in crime…" TYSA’s staff debated whether it should provide more sports opportunities to keep at-risk youth busy, or take these and related stories to local leaders, raise awareness, and ask for help.
The Lesson: This was an example of changing their understanding of what "protecting children" meant.
Gichuki also noticed that stories about HIV or early pregnancy mentioned that TYSA had shared information with them but did not mention condoms. This led to a debate about whether the community wanted TYSA to provide condoms to youth, or whether the storytellers were even aware that such devices were needed to act out the advice TYSA gave youth. Read more
The Center for Peacebuilding in Bosnia used storytelling to understand how young people and old people are rebuilding after the war.
Excerpted from their blog: "I met some volunteers from another organisation that runs a soup kitchen and a hostel for people in need of food and shelter. Once I witnessed a violent scene with a homeless person who was very drunk. I asked people what was happening and they said he was an alcoholic who lost his whole family during the war, developed an alcohol addiction and lost everything. It was a memory that really stuck with me. As a peacebuilding organisation that focuses mostly on youth, we don’t usually have access to such people. So we started listening to them."
"It was heart-breaking to hear how their houses were completely destroyed, and now, after the recent floods, they are once again left with nothing."
"Indirectly, the lack of services, the poor economy, and most problems people face are a direct result of the conflict, and poor political decision-making and cooperation at the national level."
"Globalgiving does not only provide you with the basic tools that any other fundraising website would, they also put a lot of time into training community based organisations. They developed new, easy-to-use analysis tools all the stories we collect now combine with others in a huge database."
The Lesson: Now we understand how different generations think about the past. Also - the secret ingredient to gathering these stories was building trust. If I went on a hike with an old man he would share 100 stories. Read more