This blog was originally published on James Harvey’s personal blog ‘Impact Futures: pathways to influence’. James is CommsConsult’s Project Manager and has developed our in-house expertise in research impact, public engagement and professional development training for researchers.
People love telling stories of their exploits. The telling of these oral accounts serves a number of functions that can potentially enhance the flow of knowledge to the point of need, ultimately increasing the likelihood of a project having impact.
This basic knowledge transfer function is particularly important in the context of project and programme delivery. Scratch the surface of any project, programme or intervention and one is likely to encounter issues with knowledge management (KM), especially the flow of knowledge around an organisation and across its teams.
In the multi-contextual landscapes (local-district-policy-project-donor-corporate-NGO, etc) familiar to most ‘knowledge brokers’, deploying storytelling as a tool for knowledge management can greatly enhance teamwork and the creation of a ‘community of purpose’.
In a KM context, storytelling helps communicate complicated ideas, situations, and experiences. It helps project teams, and the stakeholders with whom they interact, understand and co-create a mental framework for learning.
Storytelling helps teams and organizations view themselves differently, make decisions, and change behaviors in accordance with these new perceptions, insights and identities.
Storytelling is, therefore, a remarkably effective way to acquire insight through sharing experiences, turning tacit (in your head) knowledge into explicit (documented, captured and shared) knowledge. KM literature suggests many processes into which storytelling can be embedded. Through before/after action learning, to specific lessons learned events, the stories that surface at these gatherings will regularly contain thoughts and innovations that may have otherwise been lost. This is why it is important to champion a culture of storytelling within your organization.
Technology is your friend here. Infographics, videos and common conferencing tools can help transform meetings into learning opportunities and platforms for team members to share stories. The experience enhanced through visual thinking techniques, digital presentations and scenario gaming (to name a few).
In this way, storytelling places the audience in a setting and forces them to confront situations, concepts and questions that they may otherwise have never encountered. This is the ideal setting for the transfer of knowledge to occur. It is also the ideal setting to communicate success stories.
In this way stories can be used as tools for organisational learning, collaboration, and improving frontline project performance through better knowledge management. Embedding a culture of storytelling into meetings and other face-to-face interactions can be transformative. What was once routine can now become a powerful platform for activating shared understanding and learning.
The knowledge of others is an essential precondition to transfer, but too often the way we facilitate this transfer just results in “talking heads” and rapidly diminishing attention spans. The alternative is to bring as many channels of experience into meetings and points of decision making as possible. Storytelling is the perfect way to build energy in teams as it can activate dormant channels of communication ideal for sharing tacit knowledge.
Sharing and openess is key. This is why hoarding knowledge to make oneself indispensable benefits no one. Knowledge is of value only when it is available to use to improve organizational effectiveness, operational processes, and decisionmaking.
A culture of storytelling is like having an open access policy towards inspiration. Openness, trust and an ethos of shared ownership are key. Inspire participation and you’ll enjoy a shared adventure!