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Webinars Article December 12th, 2023

Exploring participatory storytelling in complex systems: Post-webinar reflections

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Missed @CPI_foundation's webinar 'Exploring participatory storytelling in complex systems'? Read reflections and key takeaways from @anognya94, and find out how our panellists are using storytelling in their work.

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From @StoryCycle’s advocacy for participatory city planning and @GramVaani's focus on community-driven tech, to @ceritacaravan's aim to combat polarisation - explore the transformative potential of stories to reimagine government.

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In the face of development challenges within complex systems, how can stories capture the essence of communities? Can participatory approaches amplify lived experiences? Dive into @anognya94's blog to explore the discussion.

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In the face of development challenges within complex systems, how can stories capture the essence of communities? Can participatory approaches amplify lived experiences? How can storytelling complement quantitative data to develop comprehensive insights? These guiding questions were discussed during the Centre for Public Impact (CPI) Asia’s webinar 'Exploring participatory storytelling in complex systems.’

Our webinar brought together experts, thought leaders, and practitioners from community-centric, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and civil society organisations to explore the role of storytelling and participatory approaches in complex systems in the Majority World, India, and Asia. Through a storytelling lens, panellists shared case studies and lived experiences to unpack the value of stories, narratives, and qualitative evidence in driving systems change.

Stories as connective tissue in complex systems

Empowering communities through participatory approaches aligns with the theme of storytelling as a powerful vehicle for community engagement and change. As discussed by our panellists, the transformative potential of participatory storytelling lies in recognising the agency of communities to shape narratives that define them. This reflection underscores storytelling as an approach that can enhance public participation and systemic change. Our panellists from Storycycle, Gram Vaani, 60 Decibels, and CERITA Caravan emphasised that storytelling is not merely an approach but the essence that builds empathy, understanding, and inclusivity when navigating complex systems.

Technology as an inclusive bridge for participatory approaches

Technology as an inclusive enabler resonated with our panellists. Their initiatives showcase how, when harnessed thoughtfully, technology can bridge gaps, amplify voices, and democratise information. Gram Vaani's intelligent IVR system, Storycycle's digital mapping, and 60 Decibels' tech-enabled impact measurement collectively underscored the potential of technology in making social impact more accessible. This intersection of technology and participatory approaches emerges as a powerful force for positive change, reflecting the webinar's theme of leveraging innovation for participatory approaches.

"Gram Vaani's intelligent IVR system, Storycycle's digital mapping, and 60 Decibels' tech-enabled impact measurement collectively underscored the potential of technology in making social impact more accessible."

Listening, authenticity, and transformation through stories

Authenticity and transformation through storytelling were big themes throughout the presentations. Panellists discussed the authenticity of community-driven narratives and how this aligns with the perspective that authentic stories embrace the complexity of human experience. The theme of listening to and valuing diverse perspectives underscored the mosaic of stories forming a bigger picture. We also shed light on the significance of listening infrastructures — not just the act of listening but also the systems and structures that support it. It's not merely about hearing stories but actively engaging with them and acknowledging the wealth of local knowledge they carry.

Storytelling as the common thread across diverse initiatives

Panellists spoke about the unifying role of storytelling as a universal and potent engagement, whether in sustainable city planning (StoryCycle), community empowerment (Gram Vaani),  education training for primary school teachers (CERITA Caravan), or impact measurement (60 Decibels). The diverse ways storytelling is employed — through maps, voice messages, or direct narratives — demonstrates its ability to build connections, understand diverse perspectives, and build empathy. This reinforces storytelling as a fundamental and powerful means of public participation.

Reimagining government through storytelling

Case studies illuminated the transformative potential of stories to redefine the relationship between government and people. For example, StoryCycle’s advocacy for participatory city planning, Gram Vaani’s focus on community-driven tech platforms, and CERITA Caravan's endeavours to combat polarisation. The recurring theme was that storytelling supports social impact work, offering accessible and nuanced information. Panellists also highlighted the power of vulnerability in storytelling; a catalyst for building trust, understanding, and a shared sense of connection. This illustrates the potential of storytelling in creating an inclusive narrative space for diverse voices to contribute to a shared sense of humanity.

As we continue to reflect on these insights and delve deeper into storytelling, we invite you to watch the webinar, share your thoughts, and be part of future dialogues.

Speaker highlights

Saurav Dhakal, Founder and Curator at StoryCycle

Saurav shared insights from his work with Storycycle, a platform fostering behaviour change toward sustainable lifestyles through digital mapping and storytelling. Based in Nepal, Storycycle uses map points as story beginnings, focusing on rural areas and emphasising people-centric design principles.

Saurav emphasised the importance of listening to citizens without manipulation. He discussed the practical aspects of policymaking, noting that behavioural change during COVID prompted local communities to question the implications and actions associated with their stories.

Sayonee Chatterjee, Vice President of Women and Youth Engagement, Gram Vaani Community Media

Sayonee talked about Gram Vaani, a social-tech enterprise that created bottom-up, participatory tech platforms to empower underserved communities in low-resource and remote regions, primarily in India. Their flagship initiative, Mobile Vaani, is a federated network of participatory media platforms aiming to establish a social media equivalent for rural areas.

Sayonee discussed the intersection of community, technology, and development in Gram Vaani's work. She highlighted storytelling as a crucial aspect of their approach, emphasising its role in bridging gaps and connecting voices. Gram Vaani's model involves sourcing information from the community through storytelling, closing the loop by providing information back to them and acting as a bridge to connect voices.

Tripti Singh, Head of Office in India, 60 Decibels

Tripti from 60 Decibels discussed the organisation’s work as a global, tech-enabled impact measurement company. Beyond conventional impact measurement, Tripti highlighted their commitment to authentic engagement by employing remote phone-based services to collect high-quality social impact outcomes data directly from end customers or beneficiaries. Tripti's emphasis on lived experiences demonstrated 60 Decibels' commitment to storytelling as a powerful tool for social impact. By amplifying the voices of those directly affected, they seek to measure impact and redefine how organisations perceive and act on the insights gained, fostering a paradigm shift towards more inclusive, empathetic, and effective decision-making.

Rahima (Ima) Abdulrahim and Stephen Shashoua, Co-Founders & Co-Directors, Caravanserai Collective

"The project focuses uniquely on the storyteller, shifting the narrative from stories told on behalf of individuals to stories shared by them."

Ima and Stephen portrayed CERITA Caravan not just as a project, but as a transformative force that harnesses storytelling, global collaboration, and vulnerability for social cohesion and anti-polarization. They shared insights on the nuanced approach of CERITA Caravan, positioning storytelling as the "first empathy technology." The project focuses uniquely on the storyteller, shifting the narrative from stories told on behalf of individuals to stories shared by them. They shared poignant stories from their workshops, illustrating the power of vulnerability and connection in building trust. The narratives showcased the impact of CERITA Caravan's initiatives and the truth that authentic storytelling is a catalyst for breaking down barriers, building empathy, and creating meaningful connections.

Rosie McIntosh, Global Director, Storytelling and Communications at the Centre for Public Impact

Rosie delved into the significance of participatory storytelling in complex systems. Rosie highlighted CPI's approach of embracing complexity, allowing space for experimentation, and building trusting relationships with communities in navigating intricate societal structures. Rosie emphasised the role of stories as a powerful means to encourage public participation, fostering genuine connections and understanding between citizens and governments.

Rosie stated that authentic stories feel real, showcasing the messy complexity of human experiences, and highlighted their transformative potential in creating connection and change. She stressed the importance of respecting storyholders and storytellers, acknowledging the uniqueness and value of each perspective within the mosaic of stories. Furthermore, Rosie reflected on the impact of stories in repairing broken dignity, empowering people, and reimagining the relationship between government and citizens.

Watch the webinar

The Centre for Public Impact Asia has been exploring storytelling in the region, focusing on complex systems in the Global South. Public participation is necessary when discussing impact, and storytelling emerges as a powerful tool to achieve this goal.

Watch the full webinar

Written by:

Anognya Parthasarathy Programme Manager, Asia
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