Having worked for the United Nations for over ten years, I’m still surprised that we’re consulting a chief storyteller to probe the ground in human rights situation in Georgia.
And yet, we hosted Tony Quinlan, Chief Storyteller of Narrate, who comes with the wealth of experience in using an unconventional method of collecting narratives and analyzing them with the help of Cognitive Edge’s SenseMaker. The methodology is used to explore underlying causes of persistent problems and help come up with unexpected solutions to them.
With the help of NGOs, youth and academia, we reached over 3,000 people by October, 2013 who stated that along with education, health and employment, their priority was security (understood broadly) and protection from violence and discrimination (See the results from My World Georgia or get regular updates on Facebook).
This is where we thought that micronarratives could help us to dig deeper into these issues and improve communication between the public and decision-makers.
I think it’s the right time too, as there is a general readiness on the part of the Government, academia and NGOs to adopt new ways of collecting and analyzing data.
We are all familiar with traditional data collection methods, like quantitative or qualitative surveys using opinion polls, and focus group discussions (Disruption incoming: storytelling vs. polls?). As valuable as they are, they still give the picture of what people think at a given period of time, rather than developments over time. With micronarratives, you can see how behaviour or perceptions evolve over time, which allows us to track the effectiveness of measures designed to improve a particular situation.
Besides, traditional surveys still give room for interpretation – the opinion expressed by respondents can be looked at from various angles by researchers. They can be costly and time consuming.
When collecting and analyzing micronarratives, the respondent (or narrator) defines his or her own standing towards the issue – leaving no room for a different interpretation.
What has been accomplished so far?
With support from our innovation colleagues, we approached our partners to see if they were interested, and planned follow up meetings with Tony, which then resulted into working group sessions with the representatives of the same parties – government, academia, and NGOs who also represent end recipients, including minorities.
We brainstormed over the issues that were of primary importance and tried to group them according to concepts and parameters we were interested to explore – depending on the acuteness of the problem identified by the participants. We were able to come up with the layout of the framework within two days.
At the end of last year, we shared the framework with the partners and are in the process of agreeing on how we will collect the data and coordinate the pilot project.
The way forward
Although we are viewing it as a one-time pilot exercise (of about three to five months) to reveal the situation at a given period of time, we also want to expand the scope of the exercise. Depending on what findings we come up with, we want to collect stories on a regular basis, which will allow us to monitor specific human rights issues over time.
Now the work still lies ahead. We need to produce the initial data set and share the findings with relevant counterparts to see how it has improved their work or understanding of the situation.
What we learned so far
- We are new both to the concept and the tool but active consultations and brainstorming made it much clearer now how the process works (what happens after the stories are collected, what kind of questions to ask, what are tryads, what are the parameters to be included). In retrospect, we would have liked more hands on experience with using Sense-Maker as a tool for analysis.
- It is important to have preliminary work done well to have all the right people on board – not only decision makers, but those who will actually follow up (which luckily we managed).
- It won’t work without keeping the conversation going. It’s important to share what micronarratives are all about – it’s a little complicated but we want to get as many people on board as possible, and see how we can tap into citizen experts!
Have you heard about micronarratives before? If yes, what was your experience?
What are your impressions of adopting new data gathering tools like micronarratives to complement traditional surveys?