“If it were my story…”

This site is intended to promote and advance digital storytelling at the Ohio State University as a tool for research, teaching, and professional development. We will feature facilitators, participants, and other guest contributors who have had experience with our process. This first post comes from one of our workshop facilitators, Brian Leaf, and his thoughts on facilitation as he reports on working with STEP Ambassadors.

I’ve been struggling to figure out what would be an epic post to kick off this new but still incomplete program website. I suppose most people would just start posting the type of stuff you plan on without the pomp and circumstance.

But that’s not me.

There’s not actually going to be any real hullabaloo, but I’m the type of person who does find meaning in beginnings–and it wouldn’t really be me if I didn’t say something about it. Nor would it align with our workshops in which one of the essentials of our process is helping others use their authentic voice. And I hope those involved in our program continue this trend in future blog posts.

But I can only write for myself, and the topic I’d like to tackle today is Story Circle facilitation. The Story Circle is a structured process of sharing and offering feedback within the workshop cohort. It was developed by the CDS, and I was to fortunate to participate in a workshop facilitated by none other than its founder Joe Lambert.

He’s been doing it for two decades, and it’s clear he’s a dude that knows how to pull out stories. But as much as I try to channel him, I’m not him. And it occurs to me that I need to own the process by bringing my own understanding to it beyond quoting him with conviction. 

This weekend, we’ve been working with a group of 8 Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP) students who have volunteered their time to participate in a digital storytelling workshop. We started Friday at 5:00pm and we’ll be going straight through until Sunday at 4pm. During this time, they will script out and produce a 3-5 minute story about their STEP experience.

group(Left to right) Matt, Amanda, Brianne, Danni working finishing up their scripts before the Story Circle. 

Of course, we had two Story Circles during the process, and they both went fairly well. This amazing group of students have been engaged all along the way, and I believe you can see that in their stories (when we are ready to post). It’s great to see the support they offer each other.

I mean, I wasn’t particularly concerned that anything would go wrong, but as I think forward about how to train them to be peer facilitators, I can’t help but think of all the potential pitfalls.

Things that go wrong in Story Circles aren’t obvious–in fact, I would say they’re pretty subtle: dominant voices, quieted individuals, and going off-topic for too long. Sometimes there’s no community to speak of–no contributions minus those of the facilitator. Conversations don’t get beyond polite suggestions and light banter. These are things that might be expected in work meetings, but the problem is that the Story Circle needs to be better than that. It’s not just a meeting.

What makes a digital storytelling experience successful is the development of a community of practice. In order to do so, participants need to be able to be vulnerable and honest with their stories and feedback. When you’re dealing with potentially sensitive topics, the space also needs to be a safe one in which there is room for deeper dialogue while still maintaining appropriate boundaries.

Therefore, we have rules or guidelines for the group to follow.

For instance, “If it were my story…” is the key phrase that we ask participants to use or to sprinkle in their feedback. It may sound contrived, but it’s one thing that reminds us that the story does not belong to us. We don’t imply it or assume it. We say it as a way of self-regulating our own privilege in the group, even if we “know” for sure that what we have to say will make it a more powerful story. And then by going in order in the physical circle, we ensure that everyone shares and gives feedback. 

But memorizing this guideline and others are just one part of being a facilitator in my opinion. They provide a road map, but I believe truly managing the process consistently at a high level requires owning these rules as your own, reflecting on them frequently (as well as other story resources), and truly understand their rationale. The effort it takes to do so is minuscule compared to the heavy consequences of not.

This blog post is another personal step in that direction–with plenty more to come, I’m sure.

Anyway, thank you for getting through this inaugural musing that I probably shouldn’t have tried to write in the middle of a workshop (they’ve been script writing and only asking the occasional question). But look out for additional content as well as digital stories and contributions from our STEP Ambassadors in the future!