Recent discussions with our community watershed groups have highlighted the importance of outreach and education initiatives in reaching local residents and visitors and keeping the various social and ecological issues on the public (and provincial) radar. In the coming months, I will be engaged in developing educational materials and approaches that select community members may use to increase awareness of these issues and, ultimately, foster stewardship. In considering what approaches to include, it is vital that as many individuals as possible can identify with the issues of concern. This is where storytelling comes in.
What is a "story" and why can they be so powerful? In his CBC Massey Lecture in 1999, The Triumph of Narrative, Robert Fulford made the following observations:
A story is a linear account of real or fictitious events to explain, teach, or entertain. It usually has these attributes:
• meaning and value to the listener/reader;
• an organised explanation and resolution, often with a lesson, a reversal or turn of fortune, and suspense;
• evokes recognition in the listener/reader;
• its own voice, mood and point of view.
We have a basic human need to tell our story to negotiate our sense of self with others, and make enduring order, sense, and heightened value to our lives.Stories and narratives mimic reality, unlike analytical or critical prose.
This article on storytelling by Robert Dickman in Reflections, a journal of the Society for Organisational Learning, explores these ideas further. In it, Dickman outlines and explains his criteria for an entertaining and effective story, recognising four components: passion, hero, antagonist, and transformation. A favourite quote:
[...] a story is a fact wrapped in an emotion that can compel us to take action and so transform the world around us.
—just what any community group needs to bridge the gap between facts and action.
A useful precursor to the above is the storytelling approach to asset mapping developed by the Canadian Rural Partnership and which I employed during my time with The St. John River Society. Having identified what places, people, tangibles and intangibles a community identifies with as being of value, these elements can then inform and be incorporated into Dickman's approach to education on particular issues through stories.
Take the Canaan-Washademoak region as an example; communities on both the Canaan and the Washademoak may identify their waterways as valuable natural assets. However, Canaan communities may rate the river as valuable for salmon habitat (and are thus more likely to respond to stories where protection of the riparian zone is vital) whereas Washademoak communities may rate the lake as valuable aesthetically (and thus be less responsive to the same story, if clearing trees for a better view is their primary focus). This is a gross overgeneralization, of course, but I trust you get the idea.
Finally, a recent post by Will Richardson where he writes on Henry Jenkins from the point of view of connections to curricula, but with some interesting points that inform the storytelling approach, particularly in terms of community responsibility for learning:
In the classroom, scaffolding is provided by the teacher. in a participatory culture, the entire community takes on some responsibility for helping newbies find their way.
Agreed. Now let's see if we can make it work...
Incidentally, for more information on "scaffolding" (as quoted in Jenkins, above), search the web for references to Vygotsky's educational theories (in particular, Zone of Proximal Development).