Sunday, March 04, 2007

Pipi Langkous and story-telling

Some time ago, my daughter had to dress like Pipi Langkous for her teacher's birthday. Since she didn't like it (she has red hair and is sometimes already called Pipi) she refused to do so. She was the only child not dressed like Pipi but didn't care at all.

On Friday, I was flabbergasted when there was a discussion at the schoolforum about the information sheets that my daughter's school sends home to the parents. One person illustrated his argument against the sheet saying that one girl was not dressed like Pipi because her parents had lost the information sheet.

Though I'm not 100% sure, I think he was talking about my daughter. I'm always surprised how easily information gets twisted or used for somebody's own benefit and purpose. Another story: I had a problem with my foot in Kenya in 1989, I left Gem Rae for the Netherlands with the problem on my foot persisting. When I came back in 1990, the farmers were surprised to see me walking. The story had gone round that I lost my foot!

This brings me to my surprise about the strong advocates of story-telling. Stories are promoted as a way of capturing tacit knowledge. I agree with the fact that stories are powerful ways to convey ideas. On the other hand, stories in themselves are not good, holy or what ever. They can work to replicate or consolidate certain power relations. The content of the stories matters a lot.

So when can you use stories as an advisor for communities of practice? I get the impression people think that you are a good trainer or advisor when you use storytelling, its sounds cool and participatory. I think it is not as easy as that. It may be useful to be able to detect when stories get distorted and misused by the core group of a community of practice for instance. And you have to know when storytelling is not the right intervention. Who (mis-)uses stories and why is a good question though!

If you still want to use storytelling, here's a good storytelling guide developed by SDC.


hoong said...

Hello Joitske,

I always have problem to understand what 'story telling' is, and why there are so much attention on this method of communications. But that is me.

But your other point is important: contents of the story have to be true and can be verified. Quite a few times I received emails from friends forwarding url or 'attachements' that they themselves received from others. It's so happened I knew the stories/backgroun info of the emails, and could advised them that they might want to verified the content ...

As we are overloaded with information that are SO easily accessible online, we are mentally stressed, become sloppy and no longer take the time to read and understand what the 'content' is all about. We are being pushed to keep-up with the Jonesses. Very often I received emails, or read articles that contain so many URLs, (and then if you click on those URLs you are given even more URLs to read!!) that I am beginning to wonder how reliable those information are? And I question if everyone follow through and read ALL the URLs? I think is impossible.

So, then how valid are the informations we crammed into our head these days?

Joitske said...

Hi Cindy, I like your point about the information overload, it does speed us up, and I noticed that personally it makes me more sloppy. That's why I like blogging and don't blog something I haven't really read. (like Maaike's paper, I didn't blog it till I had read it). That prevents me from passing on links without knowing the content.

John David Smith said...

Hi, Joitske,

I agree with you that stories are regarded as cool (because they do help knowledge circulate) but they are a bit too easy to regard as "facts" or "proof." One thing that's interesting is that when communities get to work examining the truth or falsehood of a story, it may emerge that communities are quite sophisticated at decoding them.