Storytelling to understand change for older people from ethnic minority groups engaging in cultural activities
5 January 2024
In this blog, Debra Westlake reflects on training in Storytelling as an approach that will be used in a realist evaluation seeking to explore and explain how cultural activities can support the well-being of older people from ethnic minority groups.
The TOUS study (Tailoring cultural offers with and for diverse older users of social prescribing) is being led by Stephanie Tierney and Kamal Mahtani from the University of Oxford. This study will include the use of an approach called Storytelling. Staff from the Old Fire Station in Oxford provide training in this approach, which is based on the Most Significant Change methodology. Further details about Storytelling can be found at this website. It includes the following key stages:
- Collecting stories – study participants meet with a trained story collector (researcher). They talk about their experience guided by four key questions: What has been your involvement? What has changed for you? Why is this change important? What enabled it to happen?
- Editing stories – conversations are recorded, transcribed, and edited into two-pages that reflect the storyteller’s insights while preserving their ‘voice’. Summarised stories are based on study participants own words. The stories are sent to the storytellers for their approval before being shared.
- Discussion session – brings together people with different experiences of the work in question to discuss the stories and what can be learnt from them.
Training in Storytelling
Researchers working on the TOUS study have embarked on training in this approach, which has been provided by Will Long and Sarah Cassidy from the Old Fire Station. During November 2023, we had two face-to-face training sessions; they covered an introduction to Storytelling and how to collect people’s stories. A third online meeting in December 2023 focused on summarising stories collected to share with key stakeholders. In January, we will try out what we have learnt with two members of the TOUS study Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) group who have volunteered to help us learn how to collect stories.
Using Storytelling in the TOUS study
This is a novel approach for our team that looks at data collection and analysis in a different way. Instead of researchers conducting interviews with participants, in this method story collectors (researchers) record and transcribe guided conversations with story tellers (study participants). The aim is to show what is most meaningful for story tellers about the activity they have taken part in, rather than looking at any predetermined outcomes set in advance. In our case, we will collect stories from older people (aged 60+) from ethnic minority groups who have engaged in cultural activities to find out about their experience of them.
Another new component of Storytelling is that instead of researchers analysing the data they have collected, the stories are read and discussed by a variety of stakeholders; they might be people with lived experience, those providing activities and services or individuals funding or commissioning them. During these discussion sessions, key ideas emerging from the stories are explored and learnings about the impact of the activity are defined.
I am really looking forward to trying out the new method in the study during the new year. We will be reflecting on our use of it in this study and on the benefits and challenges of adopting this approach for our realist evaluation.
The study mentioned in this blog is funded by a grant from UK Research and Innovation (MR/Y010000/1). The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the funder or the author’s host institution.
What to read next
24 November 2023
In this blog, we reflect on the discussion we had at our first public involvement meeting for the TOUS study - Tailoring cultural Offers with and for diverse older Users of Social prescribing.
29 June 2023
Stephanie Tierney from the University of Oxford and Will Long from the Old Fire Station in Oxford reflect on the use of Storytelling as a potential method for evaluating social prescribing.