Towards the end of the 2020, WEAll hosted a series of webinars through the WEAll Citizens platform in partnership with our members and fellow citizens. The 3-part series was designed to dive deep into the various aspects of narrative development, to support our ability to create narratives around a Wellbeing Economy that are feasible and desirable.

Our three brilliant hosts demonstrated just how complex narrative can get. The major takeaways for me were:

  1. Bring it back to the values. Values underpin our decision making, how we think, react, and communicate with each other. These values can underpin a society and therefore, underpin the way in which we communicate the change that we want to see in the world. 
  2. Narratives are constant. There is not A narrative. There are many narratives, which are developed and re-developed all of the time. The key is to allow for emergence of new stories that can speak to the overarching narrative you’re hoping to change.
  3. Don’t give up on people. People are hypocritical and stubborn and incredibly complex. As soon as we give up on supporting other people’s journeys to deeper understanding, we lose. We need to make sure that we are patient, kind, and understanding as perspectives transform and shift. Avoid shaming people into believing! 
  4. It’s here – we just need more of it. A Wellbeing Economy does exist. It starts with highlighting what already exists, and replicating these inittaives over and over again. This builds the powerbase that can then shift the real power at the top.  People are agile and able to create significant change swiftly and effectively, as we’ve seen with some of the response to COVID-19.  

Here’s a summary of each webinar in the Narratives series:

1. “How Narratives Facilitate Change” 

Rina Tsubaki from the European Forest Institute (EFI) hosted this launch session. The EFI are working on a digital media analysis project around the Amazon fires in 2019. Rina used this research to explore narratives, how they are spread around the world, and how they can be used to facilitate change. 

You can watch the event recap here

There were a few points that were particularly interesting about her research:

  • Hashtags. When a movement is being created, the use of hashtags is incredibly important. They shift and change and there is always an ‘end of life’ to the use and viral nature of these terms. To learn more, see (21:00).
  • Narratives evolve. This is shown when an initial issue is discussed (e.g. Amazon fires) and  connected to and used to restart the conversation on another issue that was dormant (e.g. Indegenous cultures fight for life). To learn more, see (26:00).
  • Influencers. Rina’s research showed that images that were most popular in the Amazon fires movement were popularised first by more famous accounts and influencers of the public. See her example of Emanuel Macron at (37:00). 

One of Rina’s most striking research insights was that the classic ‘Hero’s Journey’ (see image) story structure or template, no longer applies in today’s world. 

We now live in a world where there is no single structure that fits all narratives. This dramatically shifts the ways we communicate with each other. In our ever-changing society, it is no longer about sharing the ‘single most beautiful story’ but rather, focusing on the change that we want and mobilising around that vision. 

Rina asks us to imagine what our ultimate dream scenario for the future can be, then work backwards from there, rather than start with the immediate changes needed. See image below:

She also introduced the “Iceberg” model, which can also be useful to identify the change that is needed to build a Wellbeing Economy. We need to think closely about the substance underneath the surface of the story that we’re trying to share.

Lastly, Rina introduced a beautiful illustration of the ‘types’ of narratives that can exist in today’s world. There are three types of stories. 

  1. Story as a light: Which makes previous stories that were invisible, visible. 
  2. Story as glue: Which supports community building, creates movements, connects people, and introduces a shared language to create a shared understanding. 
  3. Story as a web: constructed with a diverse set of narratives based on common themes. They recognise the depths and interconnectedness of the movement as a whole. 

Rina’s presentation paved the way for  the second webinar in the Narratives series…

2. “How do We Shift Our Internal Narratives?” 

In November, Jackie Thoms from Fraendi shared research to help us better understand how we, as individuals, see the world, understand complexity, and shift our internal thinking and behaviour as a starting point to change society.

This webinar was particularly informative around human behavior, how we think, what appeals to us, and what the process is for transforming our internal thinking and perspectives (which is key to narrative formation). 

You can watch the recap here 

The main points Jackie touches on are the three dimensions of adult development that are integral to understanding how our worldviews are created.

At 15:00, Jackie dives deep into the social- emotional piece of adult development:

Social-Emotional: This aspect of human development is where we develop maturity and wisdom. It is how we take decisions and is often crisis-led. There are five stages to this.

Stage 1: Our social-emotional learning as we develop from birth.

Stage 2: A stage of cognitive development but with a low social and emotional capacity.This may be someone who is unwilling to go beyond themselves. 

Stage 3: Is the stage that most of society is at. This is mainly about belonging. Once someone sees that they may not align with a community, they shift to the next stage. This stage can feel risky as individuals are leaving the comfort of their family of origin. Or, they may be changing their relationships or community.

Stage 4: This stage is embodying the values that we hold dear and the principles that we want to lead our lives by. 

Stage 5: This final stage is where people begin to consider other people’s perspectives more critically. This is where people may begin to experience the ‘other’ and not see one perspective as particularly dominant. This is someone who can hold a very broad view of life.

Jackie then turns to discussing the cognitive part of adult development (27:30)

Cognitive: This aspect of human development supports us in moving into a wider scope of responsibility and building the capacity to hold many different perspectives and thoughts.

Jackie then ran us through an exercise to discuss these thought-forms in a real-time example. You can check that out at (45:46). 

Jackie wrote a recap blog here if you’re interested in learning more. 

3. “How to move from Understanding to Action” 

Mariana Mirabile hosted the final narratives webinar, a highly interactive session supporting the audience to understand how to move from understanding how narratives work, to developing narratives about a new economy in real life.

Watch the webinar here.

Mariana speaks to the importance of understanding the values that underpin the change that we want to see in the world from (from 2:15-15:00). She uses this graphic to explain how stories and narratives are generally created. 

In the exercise that Mariana ran, she encouraged us to each think of an initiative that we are a part of in our daily life (i.e. a coop grocery store, bike share program etc.) – to illustrate the what we do – and then relate the initiative to one of the 5 WEAll Needs: 

She was making the point that a Wellbeing Economy is happening every day. We are living certain aspects of it in our daily lives. And, to be able to change narrative, we need to understand what tangible initiatives we’re supporting that are already helping to build the world we want to create. As we continue to see and support these initiatives, it will transform our mental models and in turn, build a Wellbeing Economy. 

If you’re interested in continuing to work on narratives for a Wellbeing Economy, please reach out to Isabel

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