The power of storytelling in systems change
“Small shifts in mindset can trigger a cascade of changes so profound that they test the limits of what seems possible.” – Dr. Carole Dweck
What power does a story hold?
Stories can introduce us to people and places we’ve never encountered, allowing us to glimpse different life experiences. Stories can also help us gain introspection, understanding ourselves a little bit better.
Narratives are formed through a series of stories told from multiple sources. They shape how we understand our world.
To borrow an analogy about the relation between stories and narratives, if stories are stars, a narrative is a constellation–a collection that connects together and forms meaning.
Can storytelling lead to systems change?
We think so, and we’ve joined 12 people from around the world to develop a systems storytelling community of practice.
This November, we spent five days with a global group of systems storytellers, up at all hours. (To join a Zoom “at the same time,” Detroit joins at 6am, Africa at noon, and Australia at 10pm.) This week-long intensive was the kick-off to a two-year fellowship to learn, test, and refine ideas with peers extending from Colombia to Canada to Benin.
We shared stories of our communities and we studied the power of narratives to unite us under a shared dream, changing the tide on narratives that have been deployed to turn us against one another and diminish the collective power that a united public holds. We learned from each other’s successes. We gave advice. We listened. We sang and we danced. (Yes, we really did.)
This Systems Storytelling Fellowship is convened by Collective Change Lab. As fellows, we will explore, create, and refine modes of storytelling with the aim of influencing a systems change. Together, we will further forge a global practice of systems storytelling.
Stories of Detroit
We two, in Detroit, alongside Detroiters, want to use the power of storytelling and narrative to influence education systems change. We’ll lift stories that speak to the right of every child and youth to receive a high-quality public education. We want to see a Detroit full of neighborhood schools that serve all students equitably and exceptionally, giving each and every child what they need to excel in and out the classroom.
Detroit has long been sold a narrative that its schools are unsalvageable. That the issues surrounding education are too much to overcome. And that the belief that a quality education is a fundamental right is not realistic. So we have to start from within, building a strong narrative by changing the stories Detroit tells itself. Instead of what’s wrong with schools, we want to tell the stories of what is working and what is possible. And the vision doesn’t stop at schools but includes out-of-school learning spaces across neighborhoods where young people explore their talents and interests.
Over the next two years, we will form a collective of people who want to use storytelling to change the education system for Detroit youth. Together, we want to dream big and make meaning around what an exceptional education looks like, feels like, sounds like, and provides for every young person. We want our stories to make the case that public education is the right of all, not just a privilege for some, and that bringing this vision to reality is possible and vital.
We can’t wait to share what we learn on this journey. If you can’t wait to hear more, we’re open and excited to talk.