Storytelling & Narratives

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Storytelling and Narratives

There is an increasing realisation of the power of story telling and narrative as a way not just of information transition but as a means of negotiating meanings and developing innovation and knowledge. Such realisation is linked to an understanding of the importance of tacit knowledge, within organisations and within communities. tacit knowledge is defined by Polyani as “knowledge that we do not know we have. In a study David Orr showed how knowledge about practice was shared amongst photocopying technicians by telling ‘war stories’ in break times. The transfer of tacit knowledge was important because the formal knowledge contained in manuals was inadequate for solving many day to day problems. Nonaku and Kono have written of how tacit knowledge is transferred to shared and explicit knowledge within organisations through a knowledge development loop. Story telling and the use of metaphor is a key tool for such knowledge conversion.

Narrative & Meanings

Steve Denning explains the use of narrative in establishing meanings.

Definition of Narrative

A narrative or story in its broadest sense is anything told or recounted; more narrowly, something told or recounted in the form of a causally-linked set of events; account; tale,: the telling of a happening or connected series of happenings, whether true or fictitious.

Narrative meaning is created by establishing that something is a part of a whole and usually that something is the cause of something else. It is usually combined with human actions or events that affect human beings. The meaning of each event is produced by the part it plays in the whole episode.

To say what something means is to say how it is related or connected to something else. To ask the meaning of an event is to ask how it contributed to the story in which it occurs. It is the connections or relations between events.

Meaning is a social phenomenon. Meaning is produced not only by individuals but by groups, communities, societies and cultures which maintain - through language and agreed understandings - knowledge of the connections between signifying sounds and singifying events.

Groups, communities, societies and cultures also preserve collections of typical narrative meanings in their myths, fairy tales, legends, histories and stories. To participate in a group, community, society or culture requires a general knowledge of these accumulated narrative meanings. The cultural stock of meanings are dynamic and are added to by new contributions from members and deleted by lack of use.

Narrative meaning is about connections. It links individual human actions and events into inter-related aspects of an understandable composite. Narrative displays the significance that events have for one another. (The anti-story makes explicit that events do not have causal connections between each other.)

Functions of Storytelling

Storytelling can play different functions within a community (NHS, 2005).

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