ReLAC (Latin American Evaluation Network)
Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village.
Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her, she
was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable
gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in Story,
warmed her, and sent her out again. Clothed in Story, Truth knocked again
at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the people’s houses.
They invited her to eat at their table and to warm herself by the fire.
Jewish Teaching Story (Annette Simmons)
Stories are authentic human expressions that transport us to the core of the experience. Why are stories so powerful? There are several psychological reasons.
Stories are a primal form of communication. For centuries, sharing experiences through story has been a primary method of human communication. Folk stories and fairy tales are passed down from generation to generation to share morals and ideas.
Stories are about connection. When we listen to stories, our imagination adds images and details that connect us to the story. We empathi
ze with the story’s characters and situations because we understand the details of their lives.
Stories are how we think. Stories are our medium to explain how things work. They help us to understand our place in the world, to create our identities, and to define and teach social values.
Stories provide order. Arguably, every time we describe an experience (e.g. a project or a program), we are telling a story.Therefore, it’s logical to use storytelling to convey how an evaluation has ‘made a difference’. Through skillful storytelling, we can learn from and apply the lessons of effective evaluators.
We are wired for stories. Stories are one of the best ways to engage an audience. Seemingly without effort, information is conveyed; understanding and learning is reinforced. We human beings are really good at both telling stories and learning from them.
Stories engage our right brain and trigger our imagination. Just like reading a great book or watching a touching movie, stories leave a mark on us that lasts far longer than any spreadsheet or asset allocation report.
In our project Evaluations that Make a Difference we will explore how narratives and storytelling can facilitate knowledge transfer and learning. We believe that storytelling can have a profound impact on evaluation stakeholders. Storytelling, in its full glory, allows analytics to come alive in an emotional context that matters to decision makers.
Sometimes, I feel that the field of evaluation has underestimated the power of a great story. We tend to talk about strategies, numbers and benchmarks, rather than human interactions, experiences and the lives of key stakeholders. The Evaluation Stories project aims to wake-up the evaluation world to the power of stories.
In a previous post in this Blog, Ramón Crespo asked What if evaluations that make a difference are those that create conditions for change? This is an important question, indeed. Interestingly, when Ramón elaborates, he makes reference to central elements of storytelling. He wrote:
By giving a voice to those who don’t usually get a chance to express their views;
By challenging program owners with uncomfortable questions; driving them towards the next stage in their organizational development;
By encouraging discussion of findings among stakeholders, using an open format (e.g. workshop) geared towards promoting change rather than presenting a closed report based on the interpretations of a single ‘expert’