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What is Digital Storytelling?

This term is used to refer to many processes: for example, slide shows; instructional media; interactive computer games; and full length digital movies. The process that Community Works has adopted was developed by Story Center (formally known as Center for Digital Storytelling) We experience the process as powerful, in particular because of the following three characteristics:


Digital Storytelling as a Political Process:

Since the founders of Story Center, Dana Atchley and Joe Lambert, introduced the process 26 years ago, digital storytelling has found its way into numerous contexts in both the developed and developing world: social service agencies, community centres, health centres, libraries, schools and educational institutions, museums, development agencies and activist organizations. Consistent with the traditions of popular education, art for social engagement and oral history, broad–based interest in its applications can be linked to its capacity to bring into public conversation the voices of ordinary citizens who live the stories they tell. In so doing, digital stories lessen the influence of authorized voices (stories told by the holders of authority about those without authority) and the increasingly pervasive voices from a profit-driven celebrity culture. In other words, the facilitation of digital storytelling processes is, in its essence, a political act that challenges understandings of who has the authority to tell the stories that shape our lives and that direct the course of change.


As a first generation Canadian; as a member of a family all but annihilated by the Nazi regime; as a woman who has spent a lot of time in communities suffering from the aftermath of centuries of colonization and from a residential school system designed to “take the Indian out of the child”, I have a particular enthusiasm for any process that helps individuals, families, communities and cultures reclaim their voice and re/discover their transformative stories. I am particularly drawn to the Story Center model because of Lambert’s clear articulation of the politics of digital storytelling (Lambert, 2009).

Digital Storytelling as a Therapeutic Process:

Along with its political underpinnings, I am drawn to the Story Center digital storytelling process because of its therapeutic dimensions. While cautioning that the process should not be formally approached as therapy, Lambert acknowledges the healing power of digital storytelling when he writes, “it would be inconceivable, incomprehensible, and irresponsible if we did not recognize the emotional and spiritual consequence of this work” (2009, p.86). This understanding is reflected in Story Center's commitment to work with marginalized communities that carry histories of trauma and loss, and in its collaboration with projects such as Silence Speaks that explicitly addresses the recovery needs of victims of violence and those who advocate on their behalf (Lambert, 2009, pp. 133- 141; Reed & Hill, 2010).

The heart of therapeutic engagement in digital storytelling can be found in the story circle. Described by Lambert as a sacred space, the circle is where deep listening happens and where stories are honored. It is a space where stories bump up against each other and generate yet more stories (that reminds me of ....); and where the boundaries between the individual and the collective become fluid; (the story you just told – that’s my story).


Furthermore, the kinds of prompts and questions used by circle facilitators to help participants discover the meanings in their stories and uncover the emotional heart of their stories – this is the stuff of therapy. Through these questions and prompts storytellers are invited to engage in the radical act of both feeling and thinking their stories and in so doing, move away from ‘being the story’ to being the active constructor of the story or, on the flip side, de-constructor of an established version of the story that serves to silence unpalatable truths.


Digital Storytelling as a Creative Process:

The third characteristic that resonates for me is the attention paid to the creative act of integrating the different media streams (i.e. the voiced script, images, music and sound) into a fluid video. Digital storytelling is, after all, a compelling and empowering form of art-making.


Many, if not most, professional artists understand art as a vehicle for self-knowledge and for journeying through life’s dark passages. Writers write their way, painters paint their way, dancers dance their way, and musicians play their way through everyday challenges and through life’s crises and traumas. When people (like myself) who are convinced that they are non-artists are invited to engage in the creative process in a digital storytelling workshop, a heightened sense of curiosity about self and other can come to the fore, as can the sometimes barely acknowledged feelings of loss, anger, hurt., and love. Through the creative acts of improvising and metaphorizing, emerging digital storytellers can connect to the ‘what ifs’ of their story and in so doing, imagine larger, more complex and more possibility-filled versions.


When groups gather together – artists and ‘non-artists’ – into a collective art making/storytelling process, other opportunities enter into the mix: opportunities to build group solidarity; explore solutions to critical problems; strengthen intention for collective action; bridge the distance between individuals and groups; reduce unhelpful hierarchy; foster empathy; and join around the sheer pleasure of (re)creation. In her description of the ways in which digital storytelling contribute to the making of community,Thenmozhi Soundararajan offers a rich portrait of these kinds of opportunities. She describes riotous ‘hubs of experience’ where digital stories join chants, songs, spoken word, performance parties, tears and laughter to form an expression of collective joy and collective healing in the context of striving towards a more just world (Lambert, 2009, pp.109-124).


Frances Ravinsky, 2013


Frances is certified as a Digital Storytelling Facilitator through the Center for Digital Storytelling and the University of Colorado.



Reference: Lambert, J. (2009) Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. Berkeley, California: Digital Diner Press 

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