Manual

The Cross-Talks is an innovative methodology that provides the framework for public cross-cultural encounters between migrants, citizens, and stakeholders. It introduces a set of rules and procedures that seeks to ensure a fair dialogue between all conversation partners, thus establishing a level telling field on a local level. A level telling field is the start of a dialogue, a conversation about building together a community. The level telling field guarantees that everyone is heard, that everyone can speak. It is based on principles such as multi-perspectivity, polyphony, perspective taking, and an ethics of listening.

The Cross-Talks methodology is a risky methodology: it demands a willingness to listen, a willingness to change perspective, a willingness to change.

The methodology of Cross-Talks is highly indebted to previous experiences gained in other projects: the project RE-InVEST where a broad and useful critical methodology is designed; the REGAL project where the successful use of narratives is demonstrated; and especially the inspiring work of Fiona Whelan in Dublin, where she developed a socially engaged and public participatory art-project.

 

The online manual helps you to understand the Cross-Talks-methodology and how to implement this methodology.

The online manual consists of three levels:

  • A first level is a description of the method, the steps to follow. This manual starts immediately with the key moment: the Cross-Talks. Then it explains how to prepare the Cross-Talks. The preparation is fundamental to realise a genuine Cross-Talks. This first level ends with the translation phase: the Opportunities project invests in a cultural translation and dissemination of the results of the Cross-Talks;
  • A second level is a set of boxes with an explanation of some of the key words used to describe the method. This explanation guides you through the background of the methodology.
  • A third level is a set of examples. The partners of Opportunities have a lot experiences in working with dialogical methods. The examples translate the abstract and theoretical description into a living experience.

The online manual is a work in progress, building on the experiences of all partners. It is the result of working together in an experimental community of NGOs, universities and, in the different countries, the migrants and the stakeholders.

Stepping into the CrossTalks methodology

The Cross-Talks is a key moment in the process.

During the Cross-Talks different people come together with the aim to build a bridge between them. The Cross-Talks is based on representative storytelling: re-enacting these stories created by others, and listening to one another.

The representative storytelling is a kind of “stepping into someone’s shoes” and asks from the storyteller to behave like the other. This “stepping in someone’s shoes” can create a sense of commonality. This commonality is the foundation for a common ground between the participants. Common ground is needed to create inter-subjectivity. The other is a person like me. A common ground is necessary to reach a better understanding of the other.

The objective of the Cross-Talks is to create a common ground between vulnerable people and others. Others who are not in the same situation as the participants. These persons could be neighbours, workers, officials, etc.

Once we’ve reached a common ground, we finally can start a dialogue. In this dialogue all participants are politically equal, equally attending this public realm; in this dialogue we are “equalising the unequals”, giving equal standing to those being otherwise unequal; we are thus creating a realm of “peers” engaging with one another in joint speech and action, a fair dialogue starts. Political equality creates a space where we are listening and can be listened to.

The Cross-Talks starts with the staging of the re-enactment and ends in the dialogue sessions.

Staging the re-enactment

In a cosy but neutral space we place three groups of chairs in a triangle: one side of the triangle is reserved for the migrants, a second for the “stakeholders”, and the third side is for a selected public.

The public is vital during the re-enactment and the dialogue. The public “plays” the “chorus” like in ancient Greek theatre. Because of the public the main actors become accountable to the public. Their performance becomes real, becomes a political moment for them.

A facilitator introduces the participants, the goal and the process. They give an overview of the rules of the re-enactment phase and the dialogue sessions.

The migrants and stakeholders, one after another, take a story from two piles at random, a pile with stories written by the migrants, another pile with stories from the stakeholders. Then they act the story out loud.

 

This first phase ends with (a round of) applause for the performers.

Then starts the second round, the dialogue sessions.

The dialogue: overcoming the distance

After the re-enactment the stakeholders and the migrants are asked by the facilitator what they were thinking while re-encting the story. This invitation to share their thoughts forms the start of a conversation about what they have in common.

The common ground forms the fundament to search for a common life that everyone desires and have reasons to desire.

 

This phase can last for several moments.

You need a white board (or similar), writing paper and pens.

 

It starts with creating a common ground.

The facilitator lists the reactions of the participants. The participants are invited to write their reactions and to share these. The facilitator collects the reactions and write these on the white board. (or participants are invited to write on the white board)

Together we search for the common words, sentences, ideas, etc.  

The public is only active after the collection of the common words. The public is then invited to reflect on the process and on the chosen words. This reflection can reopen partly the search for a common ground.

This first phase ends with a consensus about the common words.

This phase ends with applause for the audience.

 

The discussion round

The facilitator now asks the audience to take a step further. The common ground gives us an idea of a life that everyone wants to live.

From the common ground we can now search for “solutions”, for strategies to overcome some difficulties, some hindrances. Several topics are possible.

The discussion takes place between the participants. The public is asked to reflect on the discussions after the closing of an almost finished round.

This second phase ends with applause for the audience.

The solution round

The dialogue sessions must come to a fruitful end: we hope we can come to some propositions how we can build together a life everyone aspires and have reasons to aspire.

The facilitator lists the results of the previous phases. It should be a list of propositions. The audience is now asked to reflect on these propositions and to rank the propositions and explain why.

A joint list of propositions is the start of a dialogue about how to implement these propositions.

Preparing the Crosstalks

Building trust with the NGO

OPPORTUNITIES sees the NGO as an active holder of knowledge with great capacity to use research for transformative ends. Our approach treats the intermediary as a key participant themselves - as an   active holder of knowledge with the capacity to use action research for transformative ends. The NGO should have the opportunity to use the method afterwards locally.

This means that the NGO/intermediary should have an active role in the earliest possible stage of the   research and before the common ground are fully developed (the participants should also be enabled to give input at this stage). It means that the (academic) researchers should scope out with the NGO the full range of possible input they can make. You need honest discussions about research ethics, resources, culture and capacity. This will take time, this will require a process of trust building and is necessary to ensure a full understanding of the project, the scale of ambition and respective roles. It is useful at this stage to develop a ‘partnership agreement’ which can be used at various stages of the project including evaluation.

Partnership in practice could include explicit agreements on the data collection, analysis, drafting and action dissemination where the academics, the NGO and the participants have clear roles. The NGO could be an active partner in the dissemination and communication of the project.

You find here the Welcome Manual Portugal REAPN as an example of a 'partnership agreement'.

Building trust with the participants

An important step in the process is to build trust with the participants. The participants are the “doers”, and the “resources” or even the “capital” of the project. The project stands or falls with them.

The participants are invited to work in this project for several months, minimum 2 years, with others they do not know beforehand. They are asked to tell about their aspirations, their “broken” journeys in the new country. They are asked to join a dialogue with stakeholders, mostly officials, social workers and others.

We invite them into a strange adventure without any immediate gain.

Building trust with the participants is thus a crucial first step. We create a safe place for all participants, a feeling of welcome and mutual understanding, and mutual respect.

This step includes clear communication about the project, creation of a group feeling, creation of trust, and creation of a common ground:

  • The context of the project must be clearly communicated: the audio recording and subsequent transcribing process; once the recording is transcribed, there can be multiple edits until they are content with their typed accounts; the outcome of the project, the Cross-Talks and the translating phase must be overtly discussed.
  • The focus should be on ‘trust-building’ and creating the group. Here we suggest using visual group work methods that put the focus on building mutual trust (be aware also of overcoming language/culture barriers) – ensure a very open meeting – people need to enjoy it, feel safe, feel listened to and part of the research process.
  • Together we create a rules of conduct about confidentiality, respect and recognition of limits, no discouraging storytelling, punctuality, reliability, and honesty, etc.
  • We start with building a common ground for the project.

Creating a common ground

This project needs a common line that unites all the stories that will be used in the Cross-Talks. A common line accentuates what is important for the participants.

Opportunities focus on the reasoned kind of life people choose. What kind of life do migrants have reasons for choosing? How do they see their well-being in their new country? How do they see the living together, and building together a common kind of life? These are the aspirations we want to hear, to bring in the Cross-Talks.

The common line is thus predefined, but it leaves a lot of space to detail this common line. The ‘details’ could be about the hindrances, the power relations, the work, the neighbourhood, the food, the family, etc. These ‘details’ give flesh to the common line, make the common line more concrete, and help the participants to create stories.

 

The common line and its details need to be discussed with the participants.

This discussion is a next step in the phase of building trust. As a result of this phase, the participants become owners of the project.

This discussion starts when talking about the creation of stories and the interviews. The facilitator introduces again the goal of the project and emphases the place of the stories. By asking how the participants see their story, the facilitator brings in the need of a common ground.

The facilitator can use visual and other methods to create this common line.

The participants must come to a consensus about the common ground: what do they all want to tell? The stories will show the diversity and at the same time the search for a community.

This common ground shows that the participants are no longer alone.

Creating stories: the interviews

This phase is where we create the necessary conditions for the Cross-Talks. Here we create the stories, stories about how participants see their life in this town, this country. From these stories we want to build together with the stakeholders a common project.

The participants own their story. This ownership must be respected. Listening to these stories is also a form of recognition of the participant

Creating these stories is a work together: the participant is the storyteller and the editor of the story, the interviewer is the listener to the storyteller and the transcriber of the story. The interviewer is the witness of the storyteller.

The interviewer must: “practise presence, to place your fullest attention on someone. It means slowing down and taking the time to pay attention. When we witness another, we are building a safe and trustworthy space in which whatever needs to be spoken can be reviewed without judgement. When you bear witness you become part of a field of listening and sometimes this creates an environment where a locked door can open. Bearing witness means being vulnerable. Bearing witness means opening to the world with full sensitivity.” (Based on Malcolm Stern, Slay your Dragons with Compassion, 2020, Watkins Publishers)

To be a witness is to become a political listener.

The stories are created from transcribed interviews. The method of interviewing is used only to help create a story, level the ground for easy sharing. The interviewer has to be silent, only intervening when the story hasn’t reached all the possibilities. ‘Silence’ is an interesting tool, it is also a way of respecting the storyteller.

'Silence' also is necessary to create a just story: just because the story must be their story. Therefore the 'silence' of the interviewer is needed. You find here more about creating a just interview : GERM_-_Presentation_Meeting_14-15_Sept_2021.pdf 

The interviews are taken in a safe place, a comfortable place, a place where there are some drinks and food.

The interviewer starts with some words about the course of the interview: the  audio  recording  and subsequent  transcribing  process,  the privacy rules, the multiple edits until they  are  content  with  their  typed  accounts.

The interviewer opens with sharing the food: asking the participant about their memories about food. From these first small talk the interviewer takes the participant to tell about their aspirations.

Why food? Talking about food is thinking about home. What was home there, what does home mean here? What do you need to feel at home? What hinders this feeling at home? What aspirations about feeling at home do they have?

Other entrances for opening the conversation are possible.

 

An interview, telling about home and the journey and the troubles to be at home here, can be a difficult moment for the storyteller and for the listener. Stories from migrants are mostly stories about traumatic choices, traumatic journeys, traumatic encounters, etc. The NGO can help the storyteller and you in coping with these moments.

 

Creating stories: the transcribing process

The interviews form the base of the stories. They are rough, unfinished, but important material.

The interviewer transcribes the interviews. It is a literary transcription​: you omit all unnecessary elements (hesitations, repetitions, your questions, …). The result of the transcription process must resemble a story.

With this draft story you return to the interviewee. They must give their approval, their consent is necessary. They must give their consent to use (some parts of) the story.

Multiple edits​ of the story could be necessary to reach a common contentment.

Creating stories: anonymising the stories

TThe last step in this phase is anomising the stories.

To protect the storytellers’ identity we need to omit all parts, small elements (places, names, dates, “colour locale”-elements, etc.) that could lead to identifying the storyteller.

The danger of omitting too many elements is that the story loses its importance, its character, its necessity. To avoid this possibility you can choose for creating vignettes.

Vignettes are based on the story, but split into smaller parts that can stand on their own. By splitting the story you anomise the story.

Preparing the re-enactment

Once we have the stories and the vignettes we can now really prepare the Cross-Talks.

The preparation consists of two phases: a first re-enactment of the stories and a choice of the stories.

  • Choosing the stories. The result of the work should be amazing/impressive. 15 long stories and several vignettes more. During the Cross-Talks it is not possible to listen to all the stories/vignettes. So, we have to choose. Which stories are most useful: which story best represents the common ground we discussed in the first phase of the project?
  • How do we choose? We therefore use the method of re-enactment. We ask the participants to re-enact, to read aloud, a story/vignette chosen from a pile. They take a story/vignette that is not their story. After the reading, we discuss in a group / collectively which story/vignette needs to be used during the Cross-Talks.

Coming together with the stakeholders

The stakeholders are “any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by, the achievement of the organisation’s objectives” of the Cross-Talks. The stakeholder could be a neighbour, a supermarket manager, a servant of social services, a politician, etc. Each one of them can affect or is affected by the Cross-Talks, by living together with people who have a story of migration. (Based on Freeman, R.E. 1984. Strategic management: A stakeholder approach, Boston: Pitman. Page 46)

The stakeholders follow a similar, but much shorter course to the participants. Their part comprises

  • Introduction to the project
  • Trust-building
  • Discussing the rules of conduct about confidentiality, respect and recognition of limits, punctuality, reliability, honesty, etc.​
  • Story creation

 We ask them to write short stories about how they see their “kind of life” that they have reasons to aspire to. These stories are based on personal experience combined with the views of others.

At this point of the Opportunities project we introduce the findings of WP4 on the main discourses on and of migration. A discussion with the group about these discourses is necessary and helps them to create a more balanced story.

The re-enactment as a lever to create common ground

The re-enactment is a public performance. Through this performance the performer gets agency. It is precisely her/his story, the result of action and speech, that reveals an agent. “Who” somebody is or was, we can only know by knowing the story of which s/he is her/himself the hero. By disclosing (telling a story) the “who”, s/he produces a certain narrative meaning in which s/he becomes a uniquely distinct person.

The story needs thus a public. A public that must listen to the storyteller. Listening is crucial for a story. Without a listener the performance would be senseless. Through listening, we recognise the storyteller.

The performer tells her/his story in a context (a place, a time, a historical moment), and in relation with the other performers, and with the public. The telling is not just telling: the performer enters into a relationship with the other performers, the audience and the context. The result is an "improved" performance that changes the story, the meaning of the story, the tone of the story.

The re-enactment is now a re-telling of the story in (a selected) public. Further, it has established the conditions for a common ground. It uses the representative storytelling-method.

Common ground

Without a common ground, the prospect of starting a dialogue is unlikely, if not impossible. Without some form of common ground we are left with the spectacle of advocates of diverse positions exchanging ideas in an atmosphere that, to say the least, is non-conducive to create mutual understanding.

Lack of common ground also causes a great deal of wasted time and talent. Good intentioned, talented people on each side of a controversial issue often spend most of their time defending their position and/or attacking the position of others who disagree, rather than joining with others in a common search for truth. Without a common ground - common focus, common method, common goals - true communication is most difficult, because participants are often speaking a “foreign” language.

Common ground is thus based on collectively, shared ideas, interests, or beliefs, especially between people who often disagree.

And so, we may still disagree, but in establishing a common ground our task has shifted from seeing each other as “the enemy” to overcome, to see each other as fellow human beings with the same goal - the good of humanity - and using the same method in the quest for well-being.

The representative storytelling-method

By telling a story we step into the public realm and search an audience. Essential character of the public realm is the inter-subjectivity, the storyteller is searched by the audience. The storyteller needs the public and in her/his performance s/he counts with the reactions of the public. There is always a “va-et-vient” with the public. The audience creates also the story and the telling of the story.

The storyteller tells her/his story not from scratch. A storyteller creates her/his story from a collectivity of stories. Her/his story is thus embedded in a web of stories; old and new stories. All these stories form a web of inter-personnel memories, it forms the foundation of a society.

The act of telling has thus a double consequence: it creates a kind of society and at the same time it connects the personnel story with all the other stories. Through this connection people get a grip on the facts of the story: they become agents of their story that is embedded in a web of stories.

The representative storytelling plays with these features.

Here the storyteller is not the person who has created the story. S/he is only the performer of other (wo)man’s story. But this performing is an act of storytelling: s/he has to integrate the performance into her/his own web of stories and by performing also creating an audience.

Representative storytelling challenges the performer:

· first of all, s/he is performing the other. So s/he has to listen to her/his own performance and the content of the story. All kind of emotions and intellectual reactions are then possible. This creates a kind of (positive or negative) embarrassment; the performance makes her/him vulnerable;

· secondly, s/he has to perform the story and recon with the reactions of the audience. The performing is thus a form of dialogue with the public. The performance can then be adapted to the public’s reactions. The performer thus becomes the owner of the story;

· thirdly, this listening to her/his performance challenges her/his own thoughts. S/he has to evaluate her own ideas, incorporate into her/his mind the experience of the other.

Representative storytelling challenges also the owner of the story. S/he who has written the story is confronted with another person who acts her/his story. S/he undergoes a kind of schizophrenic feeling. This challenges the listener:

· S/he must, is obliged to, listen to the performance, but also to the reactions of the audience. Her/his story is not her/his story anymore. The results is that s/he must revise her/his own thoughts, ideas about her/his own story.

Representative storytelling challenges also the public. They see and hear the embarrassment of the performers, they react to the performances, they must adapt their thoughts to their emotions.

The representative storytelling-method obliges the performers, the listeners and the public to incorporate the performed stories and the reactions on the performances into their view and thus to revise their own ideas and thoughts. This revision makes a common ground possible.

Gender during Cross-Talks
by
Fatemeh Rezaee and Mona Röhm 

Gender as well as other aspects, as for example education, language, and shared experiences,  shape our position within a social relationship. Everyone brings a different package of characteristics (age, gender, appearance) experiences, life stories into the interview setting. As researchers in social settings we never can be entirely objective.

Thinking about gender aspects, specifically in the area of „Migration and Integration“, we are confronted with presumptions but also different norms and values considering gender relations as we have encounters with people from all over the world.

From our experience within this research area there are several points to be aware of…

  • gender relations/different attitudes towards it can make field access easier or more difficult
  • power relations regarding gender may influence an interview setting
  • presumption regarding gender related differences should not pre-shape our selection of research participants/interlocutors
  • our gender positionality within an interview setting might influence the way our interlocutor talks about specific experiences
  • gender relations can also have an impact on where to meet for an interview and how many people are around; for example if you are a male researcher meeting a female interlocutor it might not be the best idea to meet in a setting that is too private to build trust first
  • most importantly all involved parts, interviewer and interviewee must feel comfortable within the meeting 
  • having kind of an outsider role as a researcher might also lead to a unique role of somebody who provides a safe space, and talking to this person is not associated with danger or harm concerning social consequences or gossip
  • applying narrative methods, as we do in the Opportunities Project always leaves room for the individual stories of our interlocutors and therefore they are in control of how much they want to share and in what way

Practical Suggestions

The experiences we make with interlocutors in different situations shape our point of view when looking at the life stories, talking to the interviewee or research participant and building relationships:

  • try to set gender-related presumption aside and be sensible towards different norms and values at the same time
  • write an interview protocol/field diary to capture the experience/impressions you made within research participants
  • talk about it with your colleagues and if it is doable also with research participants/interlocutors at a later time

Nevertheless, we think it is not only important to think about gender-related challenges within research settings, but to think about the experiences and characteristics we as researcher but also our interlocutors bring into the interview setting (e.g. education, migration stories, being a mother, etc.) 

Privacy during Cross-Talks
by 
Fatemeh Rezaee and Mona Röhm 

As we know, due to uncertain legal status, unequal power relations, extensive anti-terror laws, and the criminalization of migration, the risks for forced migrants are high. In response, we aim to apply ethical principles with specific ethical reflections for research with forced migrants.

The first step is to be sure that their participation is voluntary; the next step is informed consent (see also Clark-Kazak, 2017)

Informed Consent

Informed consent shares all relevant research details so that the participant can make an informed decision about whether to participate in the study. Subsequently, the participant is given the chance to stop participating in the research at any stage and for any (or no) reason. Nevertheless, especially when working with migrants and/or people speaking different languages, an oral explanation of the research project is unavoidable.

Informed consent also addresses information regarding anonymization and the use of the audio recording (e.g. only for my and if team based research our colleagues' ears to transcribe it). If consent forms are used, they should be written in easy language and including the first language of the research participant. This is necessary to avoid the feeling of signing something you don't understand which wouldn't be helpful for a trustful relationship.

Sometimes research participants don´t want to sign any official forms, consequently the use of oral consent on the audio recording working with non-native speakers and vulnerable groups is an alternative.

Protecting Research Participants

Researchers are responsible not to endanger anonymity, especially when the sample size is small. Six major key anonymization areas are: names of individuals, locations, religious or cultural background, occupation, family relationships, and other potentially identifying information (Surmiak 2018)

  • balance must be struck between protecting the identity of participants and maintaining data integrity
  • therefore, we should discuss with our colleagues and with respondents what should be anonymized. There is no "one" way to do it in all research settings
  • in emancipatory and participatory research the idea of collaboration with research participants is crucial, therefore confidentiality should not be "imposed but negotiated" with participants
  • for example disclosing participants' identities can have an empowering effect in specific situations, particularly in the case of people who are marginalized or vulnerable and whose voices have not yet been heard (Aldrige, 2015).

Protecting Research Participants

Researchers additionally use different methods than deleting characteristics such as age etc. to ensure that the reader does not recognize the research participant, e.g.:

  • using only short quotes of statements (to avoid absorbing too much information)
  • assembling narratives told by research participants (especially in biographical studies) à vignettes
  • sometimes these strategies include some fictionalization
  • generalizations: generalize some sensitive, intimate, or highly identifiable narratives of participants. Give an approximate age of the participants or provide only general data about the place of work or research 

We believe that the researcher is in charge of keeping the information safe both while the research is in progress and after it is finished. To ensure that participant privacy is protected, it is essential to answer these questions: What may be revealed and to whom? Who should be kept safe? And why? What are the strategies that should be used to protect information during research? 

 

Further Readings

Aldridge, Jo. 2015. Participatory Research: Working with Vulnerable Groups in Research and Practice. Bristol: Policy Press.

Clark-Kazak, Christina. 2017. “Ethical Considerations: Research with People in Situations of Forced Migration.” Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees / Refuge : Revue Canadienne Sur Les Réfugiés 33(2):11–17. doi: 10.7202/1043059ar.

Surmiak, Adrianna. „Confidentiality in Qualitative Research Involving Vulnerable Participants: Researchers’ Perspectives“. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research 19, Nr. 3 (o. J.): Art. 12. http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/fqs-19.3.3099. 

Voluntary fee 

The voluntary fee is a topic of discussion in many projects. This discussion is about the question of the role of participants in a project. A participative project depends on the work of the participants: without these participants, there’s no project.

This question becomes even more difficult when the participants are vulnerable people.

The voluntary fee is one answer to the question, but maybe not the best one. A voluntary fee is used in a discourse about work: people are working in a project and for that work they are paid, they receive a remuneration. We then enter in a relation between an employee and an employer. The question becomes then: what are the rights of the employee? Can the participant request a higher fee?

This is not only a problem of rights. This discourse can change the engagement of the participant. The participant becomes an employee with all its consequences. In former projects some participants joined the sessions only for receiving the fee and didn’t actively participate; we even got false information and false interviews to obtain higher fees.

If we stick to the discourse of work, we are trapped. So, we need another discourse, and a discourse where the voluntary fee is conceived in a different manner. I think, learning from the other projects, that we must start from the discourse of recognition. When we recognise someone, we recognise them as a holder of rights, human rights. As someone who’s capable to act, to judge. Referring to the capability approach as a doer and a judge.

The participant is then someone who co-constructs the project. Their rights are embedded in the project. A voluntary fee is then just one of the instruments to recognise them; not as a salary, but as a compensation for the expenses they make.

We thus need more instruments to recognise the participants: in our project we recognise the participants by giving them a voice, by giving them the opportunity to create a cultural translation, by providing a voluntary fee.

A voluntary fee is concretely a compensation for using public transport, childcare, to cover what they need for the cultural translation and so on. We’re each time talking about small amounts. 

To conclude, in our project, we must stress the co-construction of the cross-talks, the cultural translation and their rights to have a voice.

Example “Narrating Liechtenstein”

The project “Liechtenstein erzählen” / “Narrating Liechtenstein,” seeks to give a voice to the democratic minority opposing the far-reaching powers and rights of the micro-state’s monarchy.

Testimony, i.e. a (usually verbal) account of first-hand experience, can take various forms. While the term autobiography or memoir implies that the experiencing persons tell their own stories, biographies tell about the lives and experiences of others. In both cases, however, the underlying assumption is that we are dealing with truthful, sincere accounts of actual (as opposed to imagined or fake) experience. In narrative research, the term factual narrative (German: Wirklichkeitserzählung) serves as an umbrella term for non-fictional storytelling; it also includes collaborative forms of storytelling. In the social sciences and the humanities, life writing is an important resource either for interpreting the ways in which humans make sense of their lives as narratives, or for gaining access to attitudes and worldviews through narrative interviews. There are different types of narrative interviews (structured, unstructured) which can, for instance, be viewed as data for analysis, or as eye-witness accounts of past events to help establish historical facts.

The narratives in the Liechtenstein project were created during a process of storytelling that involves three successive stages.

Stage 1: Oral interview

The first stage is oriented towards a narrative interview, an established method from qualitative social research during which an interviewer conducts an unstructured conversation with an interviewee, intervening as little as possible. Further processing of the material, however, differs significantly from social science interviews as it pursues other goals than the mere collection of data.

Stage 2: Transcription and editing of the interviews

The project “Liechtenstein erzählen” foregrounds narrative communication: The main purpose of the narrative interviews is to collect and share experiences in order to render collective knowledge visible and accessible; consequently, legibility is of central importance. The verbal statements made during the interviews are not transcribed in accordance with the formal rules established by the social sciences or linguistics, but they are instead arranged into coherent texts that fulfill specific dramaturgical functions, revised according to explicit linguistic criteria, and captioned.

Stage 3: Revision and final copy-editing of the texts

The written narratives that result from Stage 2 are shown to the interviewees, who then have the possibility to revise these texts themselves, sometimes also in dialogue with the interviewers. The point here is that in all stages of the process interviewees keep full narrative authority and control over their own memories and experiences; the narrative interview is seen as a way of empowering people and giving them a voice, rather than treating their stories as raw data.

In line with these principles, the transformation from oral to written factual narratives as described above is conceived as a creative and cooperative process. The aim of this method is not to document and transcribe the original oral utterances as precisely as possible, but to generate a factual narrative with which the storytellers themselves can fully identify: they consent to its publication and vouch with their name for its truthfulness and validity.

 

However, the interviewees in the Liechtenstein project are not vulnerable people; in other contexts, anonymity will have to be granted in compliance with ethical standards.