This blog post is the second of two exploring alternative models for collaborative academic research. Part One can be found here.
In my recent keynote speech for the NCACE launch event, I argued that collaborative research requires a common language to facilitate cultural exchange and understanding between all parties. In this blog post, I propose that storytelling could be that lingua franca and I consider the implications of this for the professional development of future researchers.
Stories are systems for organising information in a way that is compelling, meaningful and memorable. The myths and archetypes underlying our stories allow us to return to common human truths; they help us to ‘look again’, to reimagine and initiate transformations of our current reality. Myth can however, also, obscure truth and distort data. Knowing that data can be formed into different narrative shapes, and that stories can be told from different perspectives, enhances our understanding of complexity, social discourse and diversity.
Research is about the gathering and analysis of data; story is about organising and reviewing that data from different standpoints and cultural positions. When you are studying a cultural or social environment, the data can never be entirely separated from the story. Cultural data has by definition been filtered through human thoughts, interactions and behaviours. To get a complete view, we need to understand both the underlying data and the different perspectives that are brought onto it. We need to understand how data is organised and viewed through the lens of story.
Stories need not always be in a written form. In the current fast-evolving technological landscape storytellers can now make powerful use of new modes of delivery. Recognising this, we need to support future researchers to develop their capacity as storytellers so that they can understand and translate data across boundaries and cultures for wide and varied audiences. We also need to support future researchers to broaden their understanding of tools through which stories are told, for example new media and immersive technologies for storytellers.
As professional researchers, we need to recognise that we are not always the originators of knowledge. We are public servants and midwives of insight, supporting a wider project of cultural recovery. Unlike ‘research communication’ which assumes that there is a linear process of transmission to an audience, narrative-based approaches to research recognise that different participants bring different perspectives to the data.
If only a small sliver of our society’s stories are told or heard, many opportunities for innovation and collective re-imagining will be lost. Research that sets out to understand how different cultural groups narrate the same data will benefit not only the individuals it brings into the fold, but whole communities and society more widely.
Moving forward, TRACE at Bath Spa University is committed to supporting future researchers to excel at both data interpretation and storytelling. For further information about our narrative-driven programmes and initiatives see the TRACE Story Foundry.