A colleague asked me yesterday about authenticating anecdotes–you know–those wonderful stories you gather about how what you’ve done has made a difference in someones life?
I volunteer service to a non-profit board (two, actually) and the board members are always telling stories about how “X has happened” and how “Y was wonderful” yet, my evaluator self says, “How do you know?” This becomes a concern for organizations which do not have evaluation as part of their mission statement. Evan though many boards hold accountable the Executive Director, few make evaluation explicit.
Dick Krueger , who has written about focus groups, also writes and studies the use of stories in evaluation and much of what I will share with y’all today is from his work.
First, what is a story? Creswell (2007, 2 ed.) defines story as “…aspects that surface during an interview in which the participant describes a situation, usually with a beginning, a middle, and an end, so that the researcher can capture a complete idea and integrate it, intact, into the qualitative narrative”. Krueger elaborates on that definintion by saying that a story “…deals with an experience of an event, program, etc. that has a point or a purpose.” Story differs from case study in that case study is a story that tries to understand a system, not an individual event or experience; a story deals with an experience that has a point. Stories provide examples of core philosophies, of significant events.
There are several purposes for stories that can be considered evaluative. These include depicting the culture, promoting core values, transmitting and reinforcing current culture, providing instruction (another way to transmit culture), and motivating, inspiring, and/or encouraging (people). Stories can be of the following types: hero stories, success stories, lesson-learned stories, core value stories, cultural stories, and teaching stories.
So why tell a story? Stories make information easier to remember, more believable, and tap into emotion. For stories to be credible (provide authentication), an evaluator needs to establish criteria for stories. Krueger suggests five different criteria:
- Authentic–is it truthful? Is there truth in the story? (Remember “truth” depends on how you look at something.)
- Verifiable–is there a trail of evidence back to the source? Can you find this story again?
- Confidential–is there a need to keep the story confidential?
- Original intent–what is the basis for the story? What motivated telling the story? and
- Representation–what does the story represent? other people? other locations? other programs?
Once you have established criteria for the stories collected, there will need to be some way to capture stories. So develop a plan. Stories need to be willingly shared, not coerced; documented and recorded; and collected in a positive situation. Collecting stories is an example where the protections for humans in research must be considered. Are the stories collected confidentially? Does telling the stories result in little or no risk? Are stories told voluntarily?
Once the stories have been collected, analyzing and reporting those stories is the final step. Without this, all the previous work was for naught. This final step authenticates the story. Creswell provides easily accessible guidance for analysis.