The narrative of social change

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be asked to deliver a narrative based workshop for the Charity Envision who “engage young people in social action through which they can develop themselves whilst benefiting others”.

This gave me the first opportunity to invite along my fellow “tales to sustain” friend Chris Holland.

We have long hoped for an opportunity to work together and this was as close as we got, but after his amazing sesion we sat outside in the cold frosty air and dreamed that one day we might deliver a combined workshop and if you forgive me the self indulgence of mashing up my report of the event, this is what we dreamed it would be like:


With everyone comfortable on cushions strewn across the floor, Chris offered the storybag to the young lady with the birthday and we were off into the story of where rainbows come from. Soon everyone became the rain as all the animals brought together their combined knowledge and ideas on how to stop the rain. I wont spoil the story by telling you which of natures superheroes saved the day. At a young age Chris went to live in Australia which gives his aboriginal tales an additional authenticity. Story after story followed told in simple language but with the deepest of messages.


My first session took everyone through an examination of their own rootedness with a Cognitive Edge favourite of mine, Future Backwards. I have added the storytelling, conversioning, part since I first met Chris and this allows for individual spins on group stories, shares the different perspectives and shows how quickly an emergent narrative can become an easy to tell story. Aside from the now regular appearance of ‘zombies’ in the “If everything that could go wrong, did go wrong – Hell” there was some really insightful worries and concerns expressed, I particularly like the one below that says “had to wear a ugly uniform / start at 9am”.


Chris gave a small amount of instruction in how to use our personal didgeridoo and the chance to practice as we all made the noises of the frogs and other animals in the swamp. Then in groups of six everyone was sent to create their own story punctuated or accompanied by the didgeridoo on their return. This was a huge success especially with some of the ruder sounds a novice didgeridooster can make. I wished I had the didgeridoos to accompany the Future backwards stories.


At this point in our dream we would be walking the land adjoining the Magdalen Project where we were based, Chris would explain which plants could be safely eaten while I would tell cautionary tales about eating roadkill. We would examine closely the small but perfectly formed local examples of Mother Nature to look at how we might mimic the patterns and concepts we find and turn these into innovative ideas.

My final session involved five groups of 8 sharing anecdotes of their experiences of social change then once the hexagons ran out looking for emergent patterns and giving these ‘themes’ a name.


Chris ended with a demonstration of what the didgeridoo can do and we all just wanted him to go on and on, there was something deep and tribal and connecting in the drones and rhythms that stirred something much much deeper in us all.

The energy and enthusiasm of all 40 of these young people was inspiring and hugely encouraging, the feedback was hugely appreciative and they were keen to use these methods in there own adventures and experiments into social change.

In reality Chris and I did our sessions separated by a night of sleep but we plan to converge if there is enough demand so if you want to have a workshop/event with a difference that can make a big difference, and get photos of all your colleagues with their didgeridoos out, then just let Chris or me know. I leave you with Chris’s new video of how he hopes he can engage with businesses in the future.



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