NARRATIVE | Making meaning

Posted on 01/12/2012


I always enjoy serendipity. Yesterday, during a presentation by a consultant with expertise in knowledge management, we were talking about some survey findings. He used the term ‘narrative capture’, a term I had never heard before that has a particular application in the KM field. I am aware of some knowledge management methods e.g. sensemaking but couldn’t claim any expertise in this field even though my communications, planning, qualitative research and stakeholder engagement work overlaps with it.

I am enmeshed in ideas of fieldwork of late – this both relates to the Long Time, No See? project and the Fieldworking project – particularly in relation to complexity and relational dynamics. Knowledge management is equipped to address complexity in ways that normative planning and stakeholder engagement are not due to the foundation in rationality of both of those practices. Knowledge management does something else. Hence there is a need to draw this – or elements of it – into the work I do in and about the field. Small steps. For example, Dave Snowden writes: “there is far more value in listening to stories, and gathering fragmented anecdotes than in telling stories. Meaning comes from fine granularity information objects (OK it’s jargon but it makes a point) and their interaction with my current reality. Not from some leader telling me a story (the other name for that is propaganda). Narrative work is a about meaning making, not about story-telling (which has a double meaning in English).”

I’ve also noted that the field is where we make meaning rather than collect data. So clearly there is a strong relationship between ‘narrative capture’ and fieldwork in the making of meaning rather than just the collection of data and the telling of stories. It’s a nuanced but significant way of getting to and sharing meaning, sometimes drawing out anecdote rather than purposeful storytelling or speculative storytelling like design fiction. This reveals rather than persuades. It’s an important distinction in, say, stakeholder engagement when participants are so heavily vested in their stake and take a position. Narrative is particularly useful for understanding complexity and ideas about the intersubjective. I am presently reading Story and Sustainability, which explores the value of story in planning for sustainability, and links to this exploration of the relationship of narrative and story with placiality and territoriality.

Posted in: community, narrative