• katrice horsley

The Story Backwards and A Residential Weekend for You!


I was recently working on a project in Indonesia for the British Council, South Sulawesi to be precise. My role involved delivering training on narrative and storytelling and assessing the needs of the project in order to look at possible future developments and their viability.

The report I created was a Theory of Change. It is a well known and recognised framework that many organisations use. I like it because essentially it is a quest story backwards.

Let me explain.

The narrative processes I have developed often start with an imagined vision (The Quest.) I then ask participants to look at what the present situation is, identifying areas of non-function etc. (The Start.) I then lead them in a process whereby we create the journey that needs to be made between these two places. This includes identifying threats, helpers and tasks that need to be undertaken. We use metaphors and images to help us dig deep into behaviour, systems and judgements that we may not initially be conscious of.

A TOC (Theory of Change) framework starts off with the Vision - what it is that you want to achieve. (In Narrative4Change (N4C) this is the Quest)

It then focuses on the outcomes that would enable this. So, for example if you wanted to achieve stronger learning identities with your staff teams, some of the outcomes might be that they need to feel safe enough to fail, need to feel supported, curious, confident etc. (In the N4C process this would be identifying the gifts that you need from your Helpers.)

The next step in the TOC process is to look at activities that promote the outcomes, such as group activities for shared learning, leadership styles that support failure in order to achieve. (With N4C these would be the tasks that the characters are given that enable them to get the gifts.)

TOC then explores opportunities and assumptions, requiring us to look at what already exists that can help and what assumptions we are making about certain aspects of the process. (With N4C this would take the form of Helpers and Threats.)

The last step of the TOC process is really the first step, the start of it. It is the rationale. This tells us why we need to go on the journey, undertake the process. Of course with N4C this is the start of the story.

The reason I now use TOC as an additional tool is because many people whom I have trained and facilitated, state that they feel inspired, enabled and emboldened but cannot identify the process of what actually really happened to make them feel this way. The N4C process is essentially TOC on steroids. It is stronger and goes deeper because of the use of personal metaphors and also the distance created by the use of the third person element. Rather than, 'this is a team where people bitch about each other behind their backs,' it is, 'there was once a group of people who had forked tongues and they could not help but gossip with venom.' When you start to look at the behaviour in this way, it gives you distance enough to get closer to the root cause of the problem.

The use of personal metaphor as a tool in behaviour change has been known for decades and I am now also incorporating some of David Gove's work on Clean Language to help support and strengthen the N4C process. This work is very much about personal metaphor in order to better understand one's own behaviour as well as the behaviour of others.

So I hope this enables those of you who still have questions to understand more about the processes that are used in N4C. I am also very excited to announce that I will be running the first Residential Training Weekend on this whole process for anybody who works with groups of people or children and is interested in effecting positive change in a deep and meaningful way. The course will take place from April 3rd - 6th 2020 in Birmingham UK. If you are interested please click here and email me for further details! I look forward to meeting you there.


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