I wanted to share my story with you so you understand why I am so passionate about the power of story and why I created Narrative4Change.
I was born into a family who were rich in the mouth though poor in the pocket. They were great storytellers and my childhood was stuffed full of stories. However there were other stories that I heard, stories about being from a ‘bad’ area of high social deprivation, of coming from a ‘problem family’ and of having no confidence, of being a selective mute.
Yet from this background I went on to become an international narrative strategist, a storyteller and the National Storytelling Laureate for the UK. What changed and what happened to make that possible? I believe it was ‘Story’ and having access to an `imagined future´ as a result of those stories that filled my childhood.
My career started in Playwork and developed to encompass Youth and Community Work. I was passionate about connecting with people and trying to help them improve their lives. However it was only when I moved to Ghana, where I lived for six years, that I witnessed how storytelling could be used to do this in an incredibly powerful yet non-threatening way. I had the ‘hallelujah’ moment and decided that I would take my passion for working with people and children and combine that with my passion for words and for stories and so the seed of N4C was planted.
In the 35 years since that moment I have researched, investigated, tried out, failed, and succeeded in developing an incredibly powerful, meaningful and sustainable way to work with stories to create positive change. With the N4C system, people and organisations are able to map out visions and aspirations, sense how they will feel when they accomplish them and then design and develop the journey they need to take in order to achieve them. I hope you will become part of the journey with me as we begin to create the stories we want to live and the future we want to inhabit.
“The hardest thing for us to do as humans is to understand the complexity of our own story, yet is only by doing so, that we begin to fully understand the complexity of another’s.”
What is narrative4change?
Narrative change work refers to deliberate efforts to shift or reshape the prevailing stories, beliefs, and cultural narratives within a society or community. It often involves strategic communication, storytelling, and advocacy to promote new perspectives, values, or understandings that align with specific goals, such as social or political change. The aim is to influence public opinion and policy by altering the dominant narratives that shape collective thinking and behaviour.
Most people who have been involved with stories and storytelling have always known that stories can have a powerful and transformative effect on individuals and groups. They assist in effecting change and in helping people understand each other as well as understanding themselves better too. However we never knew why or how this happened. That has all changed.
Recent research reveals that we make sense of our lives through stories and the architecture of our brain supports this. Research also shows that certain chemicals are released when we listen to stories, including; dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and cortisol. These chemicals enable people to become more empathic, trusting, alert and focused. Finally we are becoming aware of not just why stories work but also how they work. This understanding has led to many positive developments in the fields of therapy, peace and reconciliation work as well as restorative justice. However it is also being used in the areas of advertising, marketing and politics, sometimes for purposes that are ethically questionable.
In becoming aware of the stories we inhabit and which inhabit us; we can start to choose and identify those that we wish to keep and those which no longer serve us. We can begin to challenge false and negative narratives and create positive and empowering ones in their wake. The language we use to describe ourselves, our peers, our employees, our patients, our children, all create a narrative that shapes responses and beliefs.
Stories provide us with a sense of place within our communities, organisations and our lives. If we view our experiences as the forces that create an internal landscape within our minds, then stories provide us with pathways to orientate and make sense of that landscape. In using them consciously we are better positioned to create the paths that are most beneficial to us.
The writer Joan Aitken said, “trees are shaped by the wind but people are shaped by words.” In the work of Narrative4Change we start to recognise, explore and work with the stories that shape our organisations, our communities and ultimately ourselves.