A story with a happy ending

Riff Fullan, 25 September 2014
A story with a happy ending


A couple of weeks ago, colleagues from various Helvetas programme countries gathered together outside Kathmandu for a training on learning through storytelling. This was the second time we’d run the week-long training course and I think I learned even more this time than in 2013 in Ethiopia. The curriculum covered 5 days, 2 of which focused on face-to-face storytelling for learning purposes. In other words, various ways you can use storytelling methods to strengthen learning for individuals, teams and beyond. The remaining 3 days covered the use of video to capture stories, especially in a project context.


Needless to say, everyone was very keen on the video element. We had strengthened this part based on experience from the Ethiopia workshop, but having gone through the experience a second time, it’s clear that we need to devote more workshop time to video storytelling and less to f2f methods. I found myself oddly disappointed when I realized this, like a child whose favourite toy is ignored by the other children in the room because it’s old and not so shiny. I think it was partly because I thought participants were being ‘fooled’ by the glitz of video into undervaluing the f2f stuff, but on further reflection I realized there’s more to it than that.


The reality is that in a group where there is a wide range of experience with video – and especially when it is a relatively large one (in this case 24 participants) – you need to spend quite a bit of time going through the various aspects of using a video camera and microphones, managing light, planning a shoot and editing the raw footage. Just as we did the first time round, we squeezed all of this, AND a field visit where participants captured/created stories about various aspects of the Helvetas Nepal Employment Fund project, into 3 days. This helped everyone realize that preparing and shooting a video takes time and effort, and they would need to push themselves to complete the shooting. The biggest challenge is editing, which takes some time to get a feel for.


I kept asking myself why I didn’t see this before, but of course I did see it, I just thought the f2f storytelling was sufficiently important to take up 40% of the workshop, knowing also that those who were determined would continue to develop their skills on the video side. I was wrong about the balance between video and f2f storytelling training.


Was the workshop a failure? Definitely not. From the feedback received, it was a real success, partly thanks to the enthusiasm and knowledge of my fellow trainer Cesar Robles. There was a lot of excitement and interest in getting back to the normal work environment to give it a try. Still, I take a couple of things away from the experience. First, that we should always question our knowledge about the best way to do things (even more so as we gain more experience and possibly become less intellectually flexible). Second, that I unintentionally lived a perfect example of the kind of thing we are trying to promote more within the organisation: learning from failure. As I say, the workshop was not a failure from the point of view of participant satisfaction, but from my personal perspective, I did not give them the best experience they could have had from the training. If that was the end of it, I’d feel bad about it, but instead I can’t wait to get another opportunity to deliver the training, this time with the right ratio of f2f and video, and to promote more learning from failure within Helvetas 🙂

Riff Fullan

Riff Fullan

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2 Comments for «A story with a happy ending»

  1. This post captures the experience very pro-actively, thank you Riff.

    I’d also like to share a link to the ‘Storytelling Workshop Handbook’ under the Knowledge and Learning resources, for those interested.

    The success of the workshop is also thanks to the engagement (and diversity!) of the participants, from Sri Lanka, Kyrgysztan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Vietnam, Switzerland and Myanmar, together with us, from Canada and Mexico 🙂

  2. Danielle Rosset

    29 September 2014 at 12:20

    Bravo for this blogpost which illustrates in a very transperent and bold way a learning experience and gives hints for future improvements. Your openness is very helpful for other IC organisations engaged in storytelling. I