Webinar Notes: Ethical Storytelling

Panelists: Amy Costello & Frederica Boswell

Hosted by: Nonprofit Quarterly

Video of the webinar can be viewed here.

  • Tiny Spark podcast
  • Sophie Otiende, Activist and Advocate, HAART Kenya:
    • non-profits “parade and exploit” the people they are claiming to help
    • e.g., asking someone who has been assisted by an NPO to share their story – the organization holds power over the victim – can that survivor give proper consent about telling their stories?
    • “survivor porn” – why do we need a person to come and tell us that these horrible things are bad?
    • people don’t talk to survivors about the risks and impacts of telling your story. People live in an ideal world where they think that if they tell their story, people will be compassionate. But that’s not true – some people will abuse those who tell their stories, or we just forget about the person and move onto to getting the next survivor’s stories
  • we are interested in the whole person -not just their trauma
  • not everyone wants to be called “survivor” or “person who formerly experienced homelessness” or “recovering addict” – how does the person whose story is being told want to be represented?
  • the person whose story it is should be a full partner in the storytelling
    • ensure they are in the loop at all developments in the storytelling and being extra sure at every step that they are comfortable with any details that are shared
    • never want to surprise someone with details about their story being made public
  • don’t want to engage in trauma porn – just sharing the trauma in isolation
    • figure out what the message is – e.g., in a story on the Me Too movement in the charitable sector, the message was that serial predators are hiding in the charitable sector and their institutions are protecting them
    • figure out what the purpose of telling the story is – things like holding organizations to account or highlighting resilience
  • when conducting interviews, establish trust and intimacy
    • be fully present in the interview
    • ask follow up questions, based on really listening to them, rather than just following the interview guide in order
    • don’t drive the interview – the interviewee should have autonomy and control. The story is hers, not the interviewer’s
    • interviewer’s job is to help the interviewee feel safe
  • we should let people know what their rights are – that they can say “no” to answering our questions
  • interviewing “experts” (e.g., professors who study a topic)
    • isn’t someone who has years of experience living with homelessness an expert on the subject?
    • “professional” “experts” are often well rehearsed when you interview them – you have to push them to be real, rather than just being on auto-pilot
  • think about the stereotypes you may be perpetuating with your storytelling

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