Before the story circle

One of the most important elements of digital storytelling workshops is creating a safe space, in which there are mutual levels of trust between facilitators and participants, and participants themselves. This helps participants share their stories, which will often be very personal. Once they have decided on a particular story focus, participants are encouraged to identify a specific pivotal moment or event through which they can share this personal ‘truth’ with viewers.

  • Ethical practice

In the process of building trust, encouraging creativity and risk-taking within the workshop it is important to think about your ethical practice, in particular in relation to consent. Participants should consider their consent from the beginning of the workshop, and then this should be agreed on the last day. Storytellers might want to consider the levels of consent, for instance using a pseudonym, or whether or not they give consent for the stories to be put online.

Download DST release form: Example consent form for sharing digital stories

See the ‘ethical practice’ section of this handbook

  • Building trust

Building trust within the group process is critical for how participants are empowered to share their life experiences in the workshop. A horizontal and participatory approach enables modes of collaboration that are inclusive and enabling for all participants. This involves group relationships that are based on mutual understanding, and recognition of the value that different experiences and knowledge bring to the storytelling process.

Storytellers can collectively agree to be mutually supportive, interact respectfully, and not take ownership or remove the autonomy of the storytellers’ own voice when working collaboratively on story development. Exercises such as ‘Rivers of life’ that acknowledge personal and institutional histories within the group space, can also help provide an insight into the diverse drivers and motivations for social change present, and build relationships between participants, and facilitators on a personal level.

Trust between the storytellers and facilitators can be supported by sharing the facilitators own transformative story. As Gill Black a South African DST facilitator explains: “I learned that sharing my own digital story with the people I asked to tell theirs contributes to bridging the trust gap in a DST workshop context; showing the participants that the facilitators are human and vulnerable people too.”

  • Sparking creativity

Sparking creativity involves getting people out of their normal pattern of engaging with the world.  Introductory exercises are used to get the group to know one another through story, image and metaphor, as well as to understand some of the concepts about stories, and storytelling that will be covered during the workshop. One useful exercise is an improvised storytelling technique called freewriting. Participants are given a short amount of time to freely put words on paper, without paying attention to grammar, or giving cohesion to thoughts. The act of writing in an open and uninhibited way can generate ideas, emotions, thoughts, feelings and images. Free writing connects to the subconscious and helps people see the possibilities of their mental pictures. Specific workshop exercises may include a sequence of free-writing with prompts such as: I remember: how she looked when, what she did when, how she felt when…

Download ‘sparking creativity’ handout: This document provides guidance on tools and exercises that help spark creativity.

  • Encouraging risk-taking

Telling a personal story with honest and open expression involves a certain level of risk for participants. Storytellers are asked to step outside of the constructs, roles and identities that are established in their lives, and explore parts of who they are in new ways, and in ways that they may not previously have expressed freely. This means both having the willingness to take risks and actual risk taking. This process holds the potential for personal transformation for those involved, as story sharing not only validates their personal experience, but also gives them authority over that experience. However, recognising the nature of risk is important throughout the workshop process and facilitators can work with participants to understand this risk (the reality of risk both within and outside of the workshop), as well as mitigate possible risk in the way the workshop is designed, the participants involved and the context in which it takes place.

The group bond and trust established within the workshop space (outlined above) is important to help build a safe and enabling environment for risk-taking. Interactive and play-based exercises can also support participants to work together to take risks in self-expression, often through the process of play we discover new things about ourselves and our environment.

>> See next section: Finding/telling the story