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Ethics & narrative

October 17, 2008

One of the themes of my keynote at ActKM in Canberra this week was the issue of ethics in narrative works and some of the claims of people involved in organisational story telling. I plan to podcast on this next week once I have worked on the material a bit. I didn't record the ActKM session in part because I was badly jet-lagged, so the podcast will be to pick things up and structure them. Some highlights however below:

  • I emphasised my concern over story-telling, and the ability to create normative recipes and train executives to tell stories in a one or two day training session. This is one of the big disagreements I have with Steve Denning (and friends should be allowed to disagree). I simply don't think its possible, or for that matter desirable.
  • I think 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 its 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).
  • Recording whole workshops and extracting stories raises major ethical issues over permission and bias. Interestingly as I said this I saw someone recording my keynote without having asked permission (they stopped when this was pointing out). There are ethical issues around this and I prefer to get people to retell stories that are deemed significant during a workshop, rather than recording the whole event. Its more efficient, removes issues of facilitator bias in selecting stories post the event and means that informed consent is given to the capture and use.
  • When people give you a story, its use is a sacred duty. In the latest release of SenseMaker™ we are creating four permission levels: (i) gift for any use, (ii) ask me before you can read (and you will not know who I am, permission is anonymous), (iii) I will tell you things about my story but you can't reuse it in any way, & (iv) you can listen to my story only if you are in the same context as when I told it. I get very nervous when I see people sharing stories without permission.

More later, but that gives you a flavour. Now, after midnight here in Tasmania (my first visit) its time to recharge the camera's battery ready for tomorrow and get some sleep.

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