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Story usage

PICTO STORY_defNarrative Assessment builds collections of stories for a purpose. The purpose defines the focus of the stories, but also the usage. A set of stories can be brought in for enriching periodic reflection, learning, and planning, for reporting, and for communication with diverse stakeholders


Enriching collective reflection, learning, and planning

Narrative Assessment stories can be used to support collective reflection, sense-making, and learning. Through these activities, Narrative Assessment can also support decision-making.

Stories can be shared and discussed during workshops to support:

  • Reflection regarding interventions, the handling of challenges, and acting on windows of opportunity;

  • Reflection on evidence of successes or failures and their implications;

  • Dialogue on the way forward, e.g., by refining a Theory of Change based on the assessment of the effectiveness of strategies.

Mid-term and final evaluation

Authors and readers of reports about programs often have related complaints. Reporting can be a time-consuming chore. Reading and processing reports can be unrewarding as the commonly found tables and narrations are hard to make sense of and poorly convey the meaning of what has been done, achieved, or not achieved. Narrative Assessment offers a way to make reporting and evaluation broader, more meaningful. Stories and insights from across stories can be integrated into reports to convey the nature of the work being done, as well as the nature and significance of successes and challenges.

Narrative Assessment offers a way to make reporting more meaningful. Stories and insights emerging from collective reflection on stories can be integrated into reports to convey the nature of the work being done, as well as the significance of achievements and programs. They can, for example:

  1. Provide a robust, plausible explanation of how outcomes have been achieved.

  2. Situate outcomes in challenging contexts, facilitating the proper interpretation of programs and their achievements.

  3. Do justice to contextually relevant knowledge and capacities.

  4. Situate the work in a longer-term process, offering rationales for supporting future action.

Mid-term reports can also include a section exploring ways forward for staff, program partners, and donors, who would read it with the insight in the capacities, challenges and opportunities of the program gained from the earlier report sections.

For end-of-project reporting, this applies as well. In addition, the stories and insights can offer a sense of advocacy as a (challenging) journey. Advocacy achievements are often small intermediate steps that get their real meaning only in the light of a larger future picture that can be sketched through the stories, providing a sense of the significance of future support depending on the plausibility of stories and the insights drawn from them.


The stories developed and assessed through Narrative Assessment can form a firm and appealing basis for communication to diverse internal and external audiences.
The stories developed and assessed through Narrative Assessment can form an appealing basis for communication to diverse audiences. They can, for example:

  1. Show ways of working that are representative for a program
  2. Highlight key achievements
  3. Recognize diverse organizations' capacities
  4. Amplify different voices
  5. Facilitate connection with and between advocates
  6. Offer insight into advocacy as a challenging journey
  7. In the light of a larger future picture, provide a sense of the significance of ongoing and future support
  8. Recognize the capacities of individuals and organizations

By communication, an organization accounts for past actions, while also appealing to support further actions. Story-based communication is highly suitable for relating to the future as much as to the past. Moving over time, a story is a proposition of the meaning of past actions, that also shapes how things are seen and what is done in the future. It can also be a proposition to come along on a next stage of a journey. To offer such a proposition, stories need to present an engaging view of a plausibly successful way forward.

By revealing the advocacy dynamics and relating them to outcomes achieved, Narrative Assessment stories can offer credible interpretation of how a change is a step in the right direction, and how that may help set the stage for further desired change. That credibility and the plausibility of the stories and derived public documents are robust as the advocates’ knowledge, ability and insights are embedded in stories co-created through critical inquiry and rigorous analysis.

Where Narrative Assessment stories do not report actual or expected future success, they can show how ineffectiveness or failure came about and could be overcome. The stories can make understandable how an unwelcome and unexpected turn of events, struggles among the advocates themselves to get a hold on complex issues, or other factors have influenced the advocacy work and results. The insights from such stories help advocates to explain their case internally.

The journey that organizations and programs are undertaking with their advocacy is shared with partners, communities, donors and the wider public using Narrative Assessment stories. These stories can also offer legitimation and justification for continued support and further investment. This is important given the public and political debate regarding the effectiveness of development interventions. The Narrative assessment stories not only satisfy the need of media and supporters for narratives and case studies to give context to the numbers and statistics. Crucially, communication based on Narrative Assessment stories can strengthen arguments for continued investment while at the same time contributing to a realistic understanding and acceptance of advocacy outcomes for what they are: steps on an often long and windy journey.

Stories can be presented in diverse ways, for example, in written form on programs’ or organizations’ websites, as videos, as blogs shared through social media, or in the form of (online) collections, such as the one here, developed with Cordaid, also available in French.

Stories for different audiences

Stories for different audiences are to be written differently, although they may originate from the same interview. Below are some main considerations that can inform the adaptation of stories to different audiences:

Stories for in-team learning do not have to hold much contextual knowledge, regarding, for example, the country or issue. Stories that are to convince a donor or are used for peer-to-peer learning across countries or regions might be strengthened with that same knowledge.

Stories that convey sensitive information are best kept internal or adapted for external usage.

Stories that convey knowledge about important contacts or strategic knowledge are best kept internal.

The context where something has happened and the context where that story will be read will differ. To translate between contexts, the story must contain information that permits the audience to understand how things function. For example, an interviewee may state that they went to their cousin who works in the ministry. This familial relationship may not be relevant in the same way in the context of the reader. To improve quality, then, the story needs to show how the familial relation matters. To insert this knowledge into the story, the facilitator ideally has the contextual knowledge while also being aware it is in fact contextual knowledge. To help identify key elements of context for outside audiences in case of doubt, the facilitator can review draft stories with a member of the intended outside audiences to see what needs to be clarified. In case the facilitator is from outside of the context, they need to ask the interviewee during the interviews any time that a turn of events or strategizing or role of context is unclear to them. Aware of the content that needs to be added, the facilitator can finalize the story in a way that makes sense to readers who are in different contexts.


A story is supposed to be an account of things that matter to the storyteller. Part of the way people experience things is shaped by language. Language is not neutral. Different languages influence what we see, all translations are partial (they are incomplete and they shift meaning) and nobody is perfectly multilingual. We're all better in some languages than we are in others. This means that if we want to tell a story as we experienced it, we best tell the story in the language in which we experienced it. If that is not possible, the story should at least be told in a language the interviewee is comfortable with. This implies that the facilitator should also be comfortable with that language. In addition, stories drafted from interviews should be in that language, so that the interviewee can check whether the rendering matches their perspective and telling. After such checking, stories can be translated into other languages for usage.