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Capitalising Public Narratives in the organising of Grassroots Roma Women

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Narratives4Change (Capitalising Public Narratives in the organising of Grassroots Roma Women)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2021-05-31

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.”

Prof. Marshall Ganz and his collaborators began developing a pedagogy of this practice in 2006 and adapted it over the last 15 years 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.

Although organizers, practitioners and leaders operating across the globe acknowledge the usefulness of public narrative in their practice of public leadership, scant research has been conducted aimed at understanding why this is the way it is, and more broadly, what are the underlying mechanisms that make this possible. Framed in this context, the Narratives4Change project in its outgoing phase at the HKS aimed at studying 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.

The project seeks also 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.
Two interlinked studies were carried out. First, an online survey aimed at mapping and capturing how the public narrative was being used, and evidence of its impacts. Second, three case studies of campaigns organized or supported either by civic organizations or public institutions that have used public narrative in their implementation.

As the first study of its kind, the 2020 Public Narrative Impact Survey situates individual responses to survey items across domains of usage within learning context (class or workshop), domain of practice, and geographical setting. 1111 individuals responded our survey.

Extensive data gathered in the online questionnaire was complimented with three case studies. The three cases selected to be studied were: First, the case of the “Stand Up with the Teachers” campaign (QMM) in Jordan, led by female teachers employed in private schools, and supported by the Ahel organization. Second, the case of the “Drive Michigan Forward” campaign, led by a coalition of organizations in Michigan, in which the grassroots-based organization “We The People Michigan” is playing a central role for articulating it And third. the use of public narrative in the “Maternity Voices Partnership” program supported and facilitated by the organization Horizons-NHS in England.
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.

The Narratives4Change project and the qualitative work done in its outgoing phase sheds light on three relevant aspects of how public narrative facilitates leadership development. First, public narrative can contribute to the development of individual and collective agentic capacities even under constrained conditions. Public narrative moves individuals and the group to take the lead together. It uses stories with intentionality, through a pedagogy that is itself relational, experiential, and reflexive. This way, public narrative underscores the relevance of inter-relationality in pursuing shared goals, shaping the Self in dialogue with the Us, and vice versa, in the temporal framework of the Now. In forging such interrelationality, the modeling and practice of public narrative enhances the creation of a sense of “USness”. Narratives make it possible to identify and articulate sources of common care, thus distancing itself from an understanding of the “Us” identity based on essentialist singular categories. It shapes the boundaries of the group based on shared experiences, unveiling shared values. By means of telling a story of what that other alternative scenario can be if we act together today, and as a narrative process in which individuals engage with internal and external emotional resources, public narrative links the story of self, story of us, and story of now.

Second, when using the public narrative framework leadership and social relationships are moved away from transactional relationships, to opportunities for potential social transformation. This shifts attention from the goal of accomplishing a specific outcome, to locating an outcome in a much broader set of interpersonal relations, which can be cultivated and grown out of each leadership initiative. This finds its basis in the relational component of public narrative, and its conception of individuals as moral animals rather than as materialistic entities. Through narratives and shared sources of care, public narrative acknowledges the relevance of culture for properly comprehending and crafting leadership processes. This way, public narrative brings culture back, recognizing the morally constituted and permeated world in which all of us are embedded.

Finally, the third aspect that is worthy of consideration for other campaigns is the potential scalability of public narrative as a leadership practice not solely in places where funding, infrastructure, human capital are easily available, but also in those sites where conditions are more challenging. Analyzing where public narrative is being used and extracting lessons on the universal aspects of this leadership practice, namely, the use of narratives grounded on a pedagogy that is relational, experiential, and reflexive, could illuminate how it can be adapted in other contexts.

In all, all of these diverse settings using public narrative offer a rich landscape for future scientific analysis that can investigate how the mentioned universal elements of its pedagogy play out, as well as on contextual specificities and barriers faced when it is implemented.
Public Narrative Word Cloud
Public Narrative and Its use In the QQM Campaign - cover
Public Narrative Representation
2020 Public Narrative Impact Survey Cover