Welcome to the guidelines for the Picture your Story (PicS) Toolkit!
These guidelines accompany the picture talk and storytelling exercises in the PicS Toolkit. Here you can learn how to use these exercises, along with some tips & tricks that will help you deliver a great and effective workshop.
These guidelines consist of the following to PicS:
If you want to learn more about the theories behind this Toolkit – in the fields of picture talk, storytelling, identity work, setting up a workshop and/or youth work in different European national context – you can download our Foundation Bricks publication on this website.
Tips & Tricks
Tips & Tricks
We would like to share some insights we got from previous workshops and other facilitating experiences. To some of you this might be common knowledge, but for others it might be useful to read this through before starting a workshop.
Get out of your comfort zone
You will quickly notice that telling a personal story and sharing it with peers is somewhat out of the comfort zone of many participants. Don’t be afraid of that, getting out of your comfort zone (or if you want: stretching your comfort zone) has many beneficial effects. People that dare to leave their comfort zone are able to meet new people, try new things and go beyond. Their resilience is significantly higher, and that might be one of the effects, you want to cause with the workshop.
You must, however, be prepared to come out of your comfort zone yourself. If you ask participants to show vulnerability, you must be willing and able to be vulnerable yourself. If you do not open up yourself, you may expect that your participants don’t open up either. The same counts for dealing with the exercises. If you require participants to act silly – like in team building exercises – don’t hesitate to join and act silly yourself as well. It will contribute to the group spirit and to the equality within the group.
Silliness is a great tool to use, particularly in the first phases of a workshop. Acting silly together breaks down boundaries between the participants. If you saw others acting silly, it makes it easier to share stories in a subsequent stage of the workshop, because you laughed together, and transcended your comfort zones collectively.
Sometimes you might feel awkward asking your participants to act silly, particularly when you work with more mature groups. Make sure you remember that everyone carries a child within – a child that wants to play. So, we highly advise you to leave your comfort zone and engage in playful exercises. You’ll be surprised to see how everybody, regardless of his or her age, loves acting silly once in a while.
Storytelling projects can evoke strong emotions. Everybody who has ever worked with storytelling has experienced this. Sometimes you are confronted with deep and delicate problems of participants. It can even happen that they’re even telling their story for the first time. The safe environment you have created can sometimes allow participants to share things that they wouldn’t have shared in other circumstances. This can happen directly or hidden within a story. However, you should always be aware of the fact that you are (most of the time) not a therapist and in some cases should advise the participant to refer to an expert. It happens (too often) that storytellers, storytelling facilitators and theatre trainers try to solve heavy problems themselves, which is not beneficial for them or the person needing help.
As stated previously, equality is a very important issue when delivering a workshop that seeks to bridge the gap between two groups from different – and sometimes conflicting – backgrounds. In every aspect of the workshop you have to be careful not to bias too much to one side and to always keep the common ground and interest in mind.
When you work with two groups that do not speak the same native language, for example, consider using a third common language instead of choosing one of the two main languages. This avoids favouring one group over the other one (namely working in the own, native language). Your background can also play a key role. If you have the same background as one of the groups, this might lead to the feeling of inequality. Even if you treat all participants equally, the feeling might be that you favour the ones with whom you share a background. Avoid this by, for example, working with two facilitators, representing both backgrounds or inviting a ‘neutral’ facilitator.
Working with different cultures
Processes in which each person can feel valued in the context of their own culture, reaffirms and strengthens their sense of identity. Participants can then move at ease within their new cultural surrounding feeling less identity threats.
The PicS project focuses on creating empathy and by that mutual understanding amongst youth with different backgrounds in (potential) conflict areas. In many cases you will deal with youth from different cultural backgrounds. In that case it’s good to be aware of some basic notions of intercultural interaction, also applicable to the previous tips & tricks on equality.
Therefore, workshops organized in the framework of PicS should always intend promoting cohesion, but you should consider the individual and collective diversity dynamics without causing marginalization or social outcast. The respect for individuality and diversity represents a main principle that intercultural learning bears within itself. Intercultural education involves interpersonal interaction between members from different cultures.
Intercultural work doesn’t simply mean learning about cultural differences. Rather, it means engaging with them so as to create new narratives. For that, a workshop needs to value not only each culture, but truly and fully embrace diversity in itself as an overarching concept. Valuing diversity means understanding the complexity of cultural groups and power relations within, using this knowledge in the set-up of a workshop dealing with groups from different cultural backgrounds. For example, this means that you should also be aware of your own set of cultural characteristics, avoiding them to interfere in the facilitator-group dynamics. However, you cannot erase these characteristics from yourself. It is often best to simply be transparent about it and simply fully embrace other cultures, opinions and traditions with respect and enthusiasm.
Working with groups
The advantage of working with groups is that you already have the appreciative and critical listeners in the same space (peer to peer learning). A good way to use the potential of this fact is to ask the participants to work together in smaller groups in order to support each other in working on assignments. This influences the dynamics of a project in a positive way as participants can check immediately if ideas work, discuss issues and test ways of putting things forward. Besides, showing your insecurities is far easier in a small group than in front of larger audiences, helping people work on their self-confidence.
Though different facilitators will think differently about the ideal size of a group, the general consensus is that the true power of using storytelling to get people together benefits from small work groups. The attention required from participants and the concentration required from facilitators means that a group of six to twelve people is ideal. With less participants it is difficult to have the optimal group dynamic and interaction, while larger groups tend to mean you lose the ability to pay enough attention to all participants.
Dealing with disabilities
It might happen that you will have disabled participants in your group, either physically or mentally. As we stated before, it’s very important to guarantee full equality in the group, which of course extends to disabled participants.
Dealing with physical disabilities: when you decide on the exercises you’d like to use, take into account that some of your participants will not be able to join overly physical exercises. In such a case, pick exercises with less movement or adjust exercises slightly to grant everybody equal access to the workshop. Most of the exercises in the Toolkit can be done by participants with a disability without a problem.
Dealing with mentally disabled: this will be a greater challenge, particularly if the level of the participants in the group varies significantly. In that case, we advise you to pick exercises that can be scaled to suit different levels. Most of the picture talk in the Toolkit is multi-layered and the exercises requesting participants to make a story themselves, are the best fit.
Always bear in mind: never allow a situation to unravel in which a disabled participant cannot join and has to sit aside. This project is about inclusion for all!
When you are not working with an established group of youth, recruitment might be a challenge. First of all, youth is not always immediately enthusiastic to share stories. Storytelling might be considered as old-fashioned or boring at first. However, our experience tells us that most youth really enjoy such a workshop a lot in the end. They only need some support to cross the threshold.
A trick to convince participants to join, is to stress the benefits they can have when being able to express themselves in a strong way and to be able to tell their story properly. This contributes in a positive way to job search activities or in building a social network. And be aware that this is not even a lie: we noticed that youth really benefitted from storytelling workshops in presenting themselves.
Another challenge might be the reluctance to join a workshop with youth from ‘the other side’. Why would someone invest in meeting others that don’t belong to their own group?
See in depth description about the dynamics of in-groups and out-groups in society in the Foundation Bricks.
In order to encourage youth to participate anyway, you might consider working in separate groups in the first session. This contributes to the sense of security of the groups and will make them ‘comfortable’ enough to meet the other group in the second session.