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A narrative and story approach to empower cooperation, cohesion and change in communities through non-formal education.

Raising Strong and Resilient Communities

Raising Strong and Resilient Communities

September 2016


2nd National Seminar







Project Summary



Economic and social times are changing, globally and in Europe. Communities are in transition, and not only through migration. Citizens are obliged to become more self-sufficient. People are asked to ‘participate’ and take responsibilities for themselves.


In economically and socially unstable times, these are changes and challenges not easily accepted and dealt with. In general, citizens in welfare states are not used to that anymore, they have become passive or are opting out.

Social cohesion is challenged, affecting a sense of belonging, cooperation and communication; communities can become tangled up in negative (social) discourses, which make them vulnerable.

People want ‘it’ to change, and although they do they tend to resist change.



We might look at a community as it is right now, we might have an opinion about that, we think that we see certain problems and we want or have to provide a solution. There are reasons for that: because we ‘just’ care, because someone asked us to advise, guide or support, because we are involved in one way or the other with that community. We want ‘it’ to change for the better.

Change is rarely sudden, but a gradual process of decisions and actions. Real and lasting change happens when people’s hearts and minds become engaged enough to let them re-imagine possibilities, change their behaviour and act accordingly.


Working with stories

How can communities be educated to become resilient and sustainable? There is an effective and inspiring communication tool to bridge the gap between generations and cultures, between agony and action, between self-interest and collaboration, between accusation and dialogue: it is storytelling and working with and on stories. Narrative approaches and methods should be recruited as tools for non-formal adult education to help to make change happen.

Successful initiatives depend on factors such as trust, sharing emotions, recognising and accepting differences and stressing similarities. If cohesion and progress are the objectives, then storytelling and narrative approaches deliver the tools and also create engagement and compassion. Good stories - stories of shared values, shared plans and more equality - provide the best examples for all that. The most successful story expressing this is democracy.


Aims and Objectives of the RSRC project

The innovative aspect of this project is that it aims at training and facilitating community educators to work with concrete narrative approaches and methods, guidelines and courses to help communities coping with present AND perceived FUTURE situations. On an individual basis that means changing the attitude, the negative discourse of the individual and the lingering in (dominating) stories of the past ("It was better then, I am who I am, I can't do that...") or being paralyzed by the present ("If I do something, nothing will change...") to stories that inspire and invite to action ("I could do that, I will do that, it will work"). It is easier to reproduce and tell stories of the past than to imagine a future.



What do we mean by ‘strong and resilient communities’?



By ‘community’ we think of community in the broadest sense: cities, boroughs, villages, rural areas, educational institutes, health care institutions, organizations (either businesses or NGOs), volunteer organizations that care for immigrants or the elderly. We also think of groups who share common perspectives like LGBT, cohorts like unemployed 50+ and so on. You might easily be able to add more.



When we attribute ‘strong’ and ‘resilient’ to communities, what do we mean by ‘strong’? In our vision a community is strong when its members are able to cooperate and collaborate, when they are able to develop a vision and mission together, to plan a strategy for the way ahead and to act accordingly and committed. Strong also means to be open for learning (from past and present) and reflecting on that for future steps.



‘Resilient’ means to be able to respond effectively influences like disruptive discourses,

polarization and/or negative behavioural patterns, either from within the community or from outside the community. Resilient also means that the community is able to adapt to new situations, and that the community members can handle and solve experienced threats (e.g. poverty, unemployment, immigration) in constructive dialogue with each other. They are also aware of and feel responsible for the (core) tasks assigned to them, and execute them for the good of the community.


Diversity is paramount and revealing

Maybe the most interesting aspect of this project is that during the project the partners have worked on concrete cases with national, selected community workers / educators and/or (their) communities and community members. Given the diversity of partner countries and applied approaches, we hope that we can show that there is not only diversity in cultures but also a diversity of possible applications and results of these approaches. What works in one community and/or culture, might work differently or not at all in another. This project and its results will give future story workers an indication of what can be tried out or worked on in the future.


The project handbook and manual

Most of us are no experts in interviewing or facilitating storytelling. Not all of our partners had an extensive experience or training in that. The aim of the handbook and manual is to present different possibilities that can help you in planning, designing and starting a project before collecting stories from community members and going to work with them.

This is why we had offered a theoretical background and narrative approaches and methods to our partners at the start of the project and have added more information and knowledge in the progress of the project. The book wrote itself while the partners were moving on with their work in their communities. In the end we were able to add all partner experiences and suggestions in the book as well.


Manual download: A downloadable pdf of the whole book will be available on the project website by the end of October 2016.


The Handbook: the Theory in Part C

We have divided the book in two main parts. As a number of you will have little or no experience or knowledge of what ‘stories’ and ‘narrative approaches’ are, you will be introduced to those in Part C of the book. This is the theoretical part to give you the necessary ‘nutrition’ and self-assurance, plus supporting literature suggestions for more in-depth knowledge.

We advise you to take part C serious and also as a guide at moments when you are in doubt.

If you are experienced in all we present there, you will probably have enough through reading the summaries and move directly to part D.


The Handbook: the Manual in Part D

Part D is the practical part where we (and you) put the narrative approaches, their methods, exercises and activities to work, following a step-by-step process, inspired by the approaches we have introduced in part C. They are for an important part based on Cynthia Kurtz’s Participatory Narrative Inquiry approach, Barbara Ganley's approach in urban communities, and other important authors in the field of narrative therapy, narrative coaching, and in the field of story work in communities and organizations. It will lead you from defining needs and opportunities, assessment and planning, mapping and story collecting to meaning-making and crafting new stories, strategies and plans and actions to communicate and execute in the future.


The Activities Matrix

The matrix is included in the handbook as a quick guide to finding the right activities during the phases of a project. The activities we collected from different literature and sources are those we thought best fit for the purpose of this project. There are of course much more methods / activities out there and in the (literature) references you find in this manual. Most of the collected activities have been applied during the project, in different (cultural) settings and (social) contexts. The experiences of the partners and their results are also included in this manual.


The Courses

In the course of the project two intensive practice-oriented 5-day training courses have been developed for future community workers. Both are based on the handbook approaches and methodologies and the partners’ experiences and good practices during the project.

Storybag and InDialogue have tested the content of the courses during international training days in June 2016 and have received an enthusiastic feedback of the pilots from the participants.

The courses will be available for registration from January 2017. They will be offered (also via KA1 mobilities) on our project website and by the individual partners.


The Project Videos

You can find explanatory videos (all phase are explained in animations) and videos of the partners’ activities on our YouTube channel.





11-17 May 2015


1 x multiplier event - Danny Boy Festival


A ballad called The Londonderry Air was written by a local “gentlewoman” called Miss Jane Ross in Limavady, Northern Ireland around 1855.  The words to the ballad were later written by an Englishman and the song called “Danny Boy” became well loved (and sung) by all Irish people over the World, especially during WW1 when Irish soldiers were very far from “home”.


Sadly, the Danny Boy Festival has become less popular in the last decade and it was discovered by Ceres that in the Roe Valley area where Limavady & Ballykelly are situated, none of the children aged 12 and below had any knowledge of the music or the words of the ballad.  Ceres decided to engage the children of 6 x local Primary School children (ages 5-11) in a mini festival to ask children to write a letter to Danny telling him about all the good things in the Roe Valley and inviting him to come back (in the words of the song “Oh come ye back ….”) and visit Limavady again.


A workshop was also completed on Saturday 16th May to engage teachers, trainers, storytellers etc with the different methods of telling & delivering a story to an audience.

Event published online as an Event at


12 Gb of videos, photos, recordings of songs, music & stories – all using a wide variety of recording media including iPads, iPhones, cameras (small & professional, hand-held & static), recording devices, Powerpoint, recorded film and paper exercises.  This was an opportunity to gather as much material as possible to allow many examples to be used as reference material in the final DVD for the project and to aid in the completion of the Recording & Storytelling Guidelines manual.


Intellectual Output:  RSRC Storytelling and Recording Guidelines Manual


Participants so far: 2 x professional storytellers from Scotland; 241 local Primary School children, teachers, school assistants; 146 x "mature cosmopolitans" from the Borough with carers and volunteers; 11 x workshop participants (inc 2 x local undergraduates) - that makes 400 x people all asked to sing, dance, write a story to "Danny Boy" or evaluate the song of Danny Boy and its relevance to Limavady, along with other local legends & myths.


The story has great relevance to the town of Limavady and the local Chamber of Trade & Commerce wishes to promote the Danny Boy theme much more to tourists and use this storytelling methodology to engage more interaction with the townland and its wonderful setting along the famous North Coast area of Northern Ireland just beside the Giant’s Causeway.  As the President of the Chamber (on opening the conference) said, “We want to bring Danny Boy back to his own home here in Limavady and I welcome storytelling as a means to achieve that”.