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Nested Narratives

What it is?
It’s a tool, first and foremost for participants, to research and reflect on their own experience, and what matters to them, in depth, (and to share this if they choose).

With the explicit permission of the narrator, the nested narrative may also become a resource for research, design, policy, and management for peers, colleagues, and a range of others.

Two parts
This is created in two parts:

1. Conversation
This is a prompted, open, but confidential conversation between the narrator and the facilitator, inviting the participant to explore events that are important to them in what they do. It is recorded in an initial audio story, and several prompted sub-stories.

2. Interactive resource
The audio narratives can be put into an interactive interface for the participant to add graphics, photos, labels, further audio commentary, etc., to further explore and reflect on their own experience.

Participants can work individually or with others, at any stage of the process.

Who is it for?
1. Participants
It’s firstly a tool for people to engage with their own experience, in depth, via a facilitator-prompted conversation. No preparation is required for the participant, and in fact should not be encouraged. The facilitator needs minimal training (15-30 minutes initial training, plus some practice and support).

2. Their Peers
Participants are asked whether they would like to share their narratives with others. This can be immediate, or it can take some weeks or even months – for them to work through and reflect on what they have explored, first, and then decide whether - and when to share their narratives.

Participants choose who they want to share their narratives. This ensures in-depth, extensive reflection on their own concerns, which are quite different from reflective ‘journals’, and digital storytelling, which are inevitably constrained and framed by the researcher’s expectations or agendas. The nested narratives are for the participants own reflection, sense making, and personal development, and tend to be very honest as a result.

3. Researchers
Researchers act, in the first instance, as facilitators. They can invite the participants to engage in further reflections and explorations of their recorded nested narratives – on their own, with their peers, or with researchers, designers, evaluators, managers, funders, etc., but only with the permission of the participant.

Participants are generally happy to give researchers permission to use their narratives – anonymously – for research and evaluation. Further sharing must be sensitively negotiated.

Researchers, in effect, research the experience and reflections that the participants have already started to explore in their prompted conversations.

What is it for?
Nested Narratives can be used by a wide range of people, in a wide range of personal and professional contexts, individually or collaboratively.

It provides unique, in-depth, multilayered stories, sense-making and reflection on experiences that matters to the participant. It can be used in learning (formal and informal), in organizational induction, in succession planning, in oral history, in documentaries (traditional documentaries and collaborative documentaries), in counseling and support, and in the creative arts.

It provides unique, in-depth engagement with people’s experience, which can serve as a unique resource for impact studies and for programme design.

Current status
1. Data capture
The methodology for facilitating and for the audio recording of narratives and sub-narratives has been tried and tested in several research projects, in various formats. Training of facilitators for the prompted conversations takes an initial 15-30 minutes, plus practice.

2. Interaction
The basic version of the software for the interactive platform has been developed and tried and tested, but needs some additional development work.

1. Data Capture
The initial, practical introduction to the method can be done in a two to three hour session, preferably with at least 12 people, who can practice in 6 pairs. Tape recorders are useful, but not essential for the training stage.

2. Interaction
The requirements for automating the interactive platform and inputting the audio recordings requires a bit of development work, but this can be based on existing app. commands, and existing filing and mapping tools. Examples are available.

Three members of the initial research and development team can make themselves available, with reasonable notice, for training.

1. Description of the methodology
See here …

2. Example of a transcribed ‘prompted conversation’.
Confidential, available on request: roy.w.w@btconnect.com

3. Example of the interactive interface.
See here …

4. Final report of the original project.
See here …

Small data
Nested Narratives provide an antidote, and an alternative to Big Data.

  • Big Data tends to be reductionist, extractive, monetised, predictive, controlling, objective, undemocratic, secretive surveillance.
  • Small data is fiercely analogue, fuzzy, unpredictable-and-proud-of-it, confidential, reflective, collaborative, and remains, in the first instance, a resource for the narrator - the subject of the data.