Demonstrating Change through Storytelling

Eye-catching logo for the Our Stories conference

Our Stories conference logo

Without a doubt, the best organizational storytelling conference I’ve ever participated in was the Our Stories conference in 2007. Sponsored by Vancouver (Canada) Coastal Health, it drew an enthusiastic audience of 230 health professionals.

The conference co-sponsors were AHIP, the Aboriginal Health Initiative Program, and the Sharon Martin Community Health Fund. AHIP’s co-sponsorship and the focus on storytelling were what attracted a large contingent of First Nations and Métis participants.

That added richness and depth. Roughly half the participants came from cultural traditions that honor stories and storytelling. Their presence gave non-indigenous attendees the freedom to set aside, at least for two days, some of their (and their bosses’) worries about whether or not a storytelling conference could be justified in fiscal and temporal terms.

Graphic notes

Session notes were recorded graphically

The intent of Our Stories was “to build community capacity by supporting all stakeholders to:

  • Explore how stories can be used in reporting, funding applications, and communications with others.
  • Brainstorm cost effective ways to integrate storytelling into current or planned projects and programs.
  • Explore the use of spoken word, art, photography, videography, popular theatre and more to capture stories of change.”

It isn’t possible to capture ambience. Nor can a Web site show the joy of sharing discoveries and enthusiasm with other conference participants. But the Our Stories Web site has plenty of discoveries, food for thought, and even delight. On it you’ll find videos of the plenary sessions, PDFs of the presentations (including brief notes for my own, in the Foundations section), exercises, and graphic-recording images.

Story graphic

This graphic wove through the conference

Aline LaFlamme, a Métis woman who emceed the conference, beautifully summarized why the conference had a profound impact on all of us who came. Scroll down this page of the Our Stories site to see the video of her closing remarks. [There’s a photograph of this beautiful and accomplished woman here.]

I transcribed the excerpt below, but do watch the video, which is powerfully moving. [Scroll down to near the bottom of the page and click on the video link below “Closing Remarks by Aline LaFlamme, Conference MC.]

I can’t really say enough about the importance of what has happened here.
Since contact between the people of this land and European people,
people of this land have always, always, always tried to speak
about the importance of storytelling.

It’s the way people were taught
from generation to generation to generation.
It was an inherent part of community. …

And we know that rich way of being in the world
and of sharing and building relationship
and of building a sense of self
was often ignored and invalidated and trampled.

So our voices and our ways of using our voices
that include spirit and heart were largely cast aside.…

It’s very significant to me that a large funder
and many, many, many other funders
and many people from all four directions
have come together
because all of us come from rich storytelling traditions.
If we go back to when we were more connected
to the land of our ancestors,
all of us come from rich storytelling communities and nations.
All of us do.…

And so, we’ve lived in this industrial world for a long time,
and in this industrial world we’ve largely cast off
many of those aspects of ourselves,
and we’ve come to kind of worship the intellectual ability,
the ability to quantify everything,
and we lost so much in doing that.

And so to me there’s huge significance
and huge healing between us as people,
for the people of this land and all the people that have come,
to say storytelling has great importance,
storytelling is valid,
and we’re going to promote it,
and we’re going to include it.

It’s a huge healing.

When our dear one spoke about residential school earlier,
and I know how many of our relatives
had blocks of wood put in their mouths and tied there
so they could not have a voice,
when I come to a conference that’s about telling stories,
it’s really casting off those blocks of wood
and those rags that held the wood in place.…

And if we can connect back to those good traditions,
it means we can go forward,
and we can bring this forward
to our children and our grandchildren.…

~Aline LaFlamme

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storyroute admin - March 19, 2010

Writing about this conference put me back in touch with two bright lights who made it happen.

One is Kate Sutherland. Her work is transformation. Individuals and groups hire her to shepherd them through change. Lezlie made the best possible choice, asking Kate to organize the Our Stories conference.

The other is Lezlie Wagman, whose vision led to the conference. She’s the guiding force behind the Smart Fund in Vancouver Coastal Health. I came to know and admire her when I was working for Interior Health. I asked Lezlie if I could share this excerpt from the e-mail she sent yesterday:

“Kate did an amazing job of bringing many wonderful people together, both those who offered their storytelling knowledge and skills and those on the receiving end, to make the conference a very meaningful event. It’s wonderful to see that you are keeping it alive.”

These two women lit a spark in me. And I think they’ll light a spark in you as you surf around on the Our Stories site.

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