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Capitalising Public Narratives in the organising of Grassroots Roma Women

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Narratives4Change (Capitalising Public Narratives in the organising of Grassroots Roma Women)

Reporting period: 2021-06-01 to 2022-05-31

The Narratives4Change project is a 36-month research investigation consisting in two main phases: data collection and analysis in an outgoing phase (outside of Europe), and implementation of results in a return phase (in Europe). The first 24 months of the project (outgoing phase) were carried out at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and the last 12 months (return phase) took place in Europe, at Department of Sociology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB, Barcelona, Spain). The main goal of the Narratives4Change project is to study how the public narrative framework is being used for the development of individual and collective leadership in different areas of action (e.g.: advocacy/organizing in education, health, politics, etc.) and cultural and geographical contexts, to better understand how it enables individuals’ agentic action and their capacity to develop agency in others, enhancing organizational capacity. Doing this could in turn inform a twofold objective. First, to better understand how the use of public narrative impacts on individuals’ interpersonal relationships by means of enabling agency. And second, to explore how it impacts on creating new social realities. Drawing on the results obtained in the research phase at the HKS, the project seeks to contribute with novel knowledge on how public narrative can be adapted to the European context. More specifically, Narratives4Change aims at findings ways to inform how to advance in better organizing the Roma women movement in Europe, and in Spain.
What is Public Narrative?

Public narrative is a way of linking the power of narrative to the work of leadership by learning to tell a story of self, story of us, and story of now. Leadership is defined as “accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty.” Narrative is a way we can access the emotional resources embedded in our values to transform threats to which we react fearfully into challenges to which we can respond hopefully and engage. Narrative is grounded in specific story moments in which a protagonist is confronted with a disruption for which s/he is not prepared, the choice s/he makes in response, and the resulting outcome. Because we can identify empathetically with the protagonist, we experience the emotional content of the moment, the values on which the protagonist draws to respond. The “moral” of the story we learn, then, is in this emotional experience, a “lesson of the heart” rather than only a cognitive “lesson of the head.” We can thus call on this experience as a “moral resource” when we must face disruptions endemic to the human experience.

Marshall Ganz (Rita T. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University) and his collaborators began developing a pedagogy of this practice in 2006 and since then they have adapted it in online and offline courses at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and in workshops, projects, and campaigns such as the 2008 Obama for President campaign.

About Narratives4Change: some insights into its methodology

In its outgoing phase at the Harvard Kennedy School, Narratives4Change developed two interlinked studies. First, an online questionnaire aimed at mapping and capturing how the public narrative was being used, and evidence of its impacts. Second, and three case studies of campaigns organized or supported either by civic organizations or public institutions that have used public narrative in their implementation. Three were the main criteria for the selection of the case studies. First, having some previous evidence of their impact when using public narrative. Second, cases that make it possible to be studied in light of the field of gender, education, or health. And third, geographical and cultural diversity.

In its return phase at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Narratives4Change conducted research with Roma women member of Roma organizations, and focused on researching on Roma women leadership, and to what extent there were elements of the public narrative framework that could be adapted and capitalized in the leadership development promoted by specific grassroot Roma women civic association in Spain.

This way, in its return phase, Narratives4Change worked with hundreds of grassroots Roma women in Spain, explaining what Public Narrative is, in some cases coaching about it, and also inquiring on what are the specific traits of Roma women leadership.
Note that key aspects of the methodological cuisine of the Narratives4Change project have been explained in detail in the following publication: Aiello, E. & Sordé, T. (2021) Capturing the Impact of Public Narrative: Methodological Challenges Encountered and Opportunities Opened, International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/16094069211050160

See more about this in "Narratives4Change Research Brief 1": https://gedime.uab.cat/narratives4chance/

In the return phase, the work conducted with grassroots Roma women in Spain, most of them organized in civic organizations, enabled to better understand how Roma women leadership work. The type of leadership exercised and promoted by grassroots Roma women organised in civic organizations has “dialogic” traits, as it is constructed and emerged based on egalitarian and intersubjective dialogue among Roma women themselves, and their communities.
These traits are, leadership assumed in a relational way, as a collective responsibility and developed with others; putting the Roma values and shared identity at the core; and with a strong understanding of the need of intergenerational solidarity among themselves as a motor of organized action.

See more about “Roma women leadership”, in the following publication: Aiello, E., Sordé, T., Khalfaoui, A. & Redondo-Sama, G. (2022). Dialogic traits of Roma women leadership. Multidisciplinary Journal of Gender Studies,11(3), 200-232.doi: 10.17583/generos.10784
Evidence collected in this research suggests that developing a leadership grounded on interpersonal relationships where there are bonds of trust and solidarity, and in which there is a clear ‘shared purpose’ (the Us dimension) does matter for effective change to happen. As illustrated in the three case studies analysed, using storytelling in the framework of public narrative is an effective organizing method.

Besides this, the Narratives4Change project also reveals that for the case of Spanish Roma women organized in civic organization, the type of leadership they perform and develop presents at least three traits which, being dialogue an underlying aspect to them, are unique to how Roma women embrace leadership projects, understand their mission as leaders, and engage other women in their endeavors. These traits are, leadership assumed in a relational way, as a collective responsibility and developed with others; putting the Roma values and shared identity at the core; and with a strong understanding of the need of intergenerational solidarity among themselves as a motor of organized action.