This post is for my upcoming trip to Luxembourg as part of the "Meet the Streets" Project where young people from 20 countries in Europe ar coming together for an initial training programme that aims to collect the views of young people across Europe on their views on youth policy.
My name is Mog (not Mr. Monk who is, in fact, a character from an American comedy detective series; completely obsessed with cleanliness and germs)
I work for Canllaw Online in Wales, UK, an organisation dedicated to providing quality information to young people at a local and national level.
I have a tendency to speak at a rate and often get a little over excited to the extent that my own mother would probably misunderstand me!
I run a Digital Storytelling project in Wales where I travel all over the country collecting the stories and individual experiences of young people on a range of topics including being young and..gay, young and..homeless, an offender, a volunteer, in transition, making a choice etc etc.
I’ve been invited here to talk to you about effective means of recording interviews in order to get the best possible content for the fantastic “Meet the Streets” project.
In my work I am constantly trying to find effective ways to capture stories in a way that is honest and uncolored by the presence of both myself, and any kit I might be using. It’s often much better and easier for the YP I speak with to respond instantly to questions aimed at teasing out the story. Some of the YP I work with have literacy issues or perhaps don’t feel comfortable reading from a script.
For these reasons as well as an awareness of how much a microphone and the environment of “being recorded” can effect the honesty, integrity and “realness” of a story, we have developed a series of techniques and workshops designed to illicit stories without undue discomfort and stress for participants.
Although the aim of MTS is “gathering and analysing the opinions on young people on the future of youth policies in Europe”, the means of recording responses to questions can often result in content with little or no substance. For example:
Q: What is your opinion on the future of youth policies in Europe?
A. Uh? What?/Good/Bad/Dunno!
Obviously some groups and individuals may respond better (in terms of actual editable, concrete content) but it may well be worth breaking the question, or list of questions, into 2 problems that need to be solved by the interviewer:
1. What is the question to be addressed (i.e. Q above)?
2. What does the question actually mean?
Think about how you would respond to being approached by a complete stranger with a clipboard and a list of questions. By it’s very nature, asking questions of strangers “on the street” is an invasive activity, which can lead to offence and non-cooperative attitudes very quickly.
It’s happened to me, what I mean is I’ve been the person being asked questions on the street by a film crew with a big camera. It was a question about politics in the UK for a local news item. Suffice to say my response was not aired and I was left feeling a bit stupid and humiliated by my inability to comment when feeling a little pressured. What about you? Have you ever been questioned by people in suits? Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. If so, like me, I’m sure you would want to stop that experience happening to anyone else.
So, let’s think of adopting another more friendly approach (I mean universally friendly and not just “youth”-friendly).
The Storytelling Approach
Everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes we may feel that our stories (often the “containers” of opinion) are unimportant and not worth being told as no one really wants to listen to them. But we tell stories every day, a great deal of our daily conversation is based on storytelling, it’s just that somehow we have managed to remove the term from ourselves and applied it to story “professionals”; writers, performers etc.
Think about how many stories you have told since arriving here. Who have you spoken to and given information regarding where you come from, why you’re here, what your expectations are, what last night’s dinner and activities were like? etc.
All these communications are stories of our lives; as we tell our stories we offer the listener a chance to understand us, to understand our motivations and opinions; as a listener we gather information in order to evaluate and make decisions and from opinions about others.
Stories and storytelling help us form alliances, share opinion and form communities. Listening to others’ stories helps us figure out where we fit into the world, what others have to offer and how we stand in relation to our communities.
Are you hearing me?
An ability to listen in an active manner can be crucial to retrieving information from a story we are being told. It is often the case that what is really being said can be missed by a “non-active” listener and in the context of this project can result in an opportunity to record top quality content being lost.
Often as active listeners we are like gold prospectors in that we often have to “pan” or sieve the sediment in order to reveal the ”nugget” of gold; the crux and opinion; the real meaning of a story.
Hearing and listening is not necessarily the same thing. We can often listen without hearing. In other words there are several factors involved in picking up the nuances of what is being said to you:
Know what I mean?
SOLER is a technique that will assist you with attending skills and active listening. Your verbal responses will be based securely on a firm non-verbal foundation, using your body language to say that you are open and listening to another person.
Do you see what I mean? (The projector inside my head)
I don’t know about you but there is a projector inside my head. It’s at the corner of mog street and 5th, inside an old style cinema with a uniformed usher at the box office. There is a plush red interior with gold furnishings and thick rope that the usher lifts when you’ve paid your entrance fee. There are burlesque statues and paintings hanging from the lobby walls in ornate frames sporting cherubim and golden scrolls. The seats in the cinema are equally ornate, you can’t see them as it’s dark, but when you are guided to your seat you are able to just glimpse the dark red velvet in the torch beam wielded by the usher. It’s smoky and warm with the smell of fresh buttered popcorn and filled with the low murmurings of just a few other people somewhere close…but not too close.
The heavy curtains part and the whirring of the projector accompanies a conical flickering light that excites the warm smoke and falling balls of dust into a frenzy of dancing activity, rising and falling in tune and time with the whirr and the flicker of the old projector.
This is where I “watch” the stories I hear, the stories that live their lives outside the cinema and belong to me. This is where I watch the repeats of my favourite stories and the new features, soon to be advertised as part of the cinemas’ “on demand” facility.
You see, despite the antiquity of this building, it still manages to stay current and up to date. The management is still very intrigued and inspired by the outside world.
During the interval, a young woman comes selling cigarettes, ice creams and drinks.
One of my favourite stories I watch often is about my brother Mog and the action men…
Now, I’m obviously a very visual person. This is something I have only discovered relatively recently through allowing myself the opportunity to objectively examine my own listening processes. However, the point I am trying to make here is that regardless of the format in which a story is delivered (through text as in my cinema, or told narratively as in Mog and the action men) we are able to create images in the minds of others. This is the reason that purely audio stories can be extremely effective. It is also the reason why reading can be such an immersive experience; we will try and project our own experiences, pictures and feelings onto others’ stories in order to connect to and make sense of it. In essence, we should never ignore our inherent need for interaction with others as well as our seemingly never-ending curiosity and want for others’ company and a sense of needing to belong somewhere, be a part of something, to belong.
The Stories of Pictures and Objects in your Pockets
The starting point for a story does not always have to be words that cerate images, it can be the reverse. Remember that all we’re trying to do, through storytelling, is encourage participants to start sharing their stories and experiences. A picture, or an object can often be the jumping off point for a story perhaps you never knew you possessed.
Take a look in your pockets, see what you’ve got. I bet there’s a story there somewhere.
Take a look at this random pic of me and see if you can guess the story behind it. I can make up a story. Maybe there’s something around that corner that has grabbed my interest. What would the next picture be?
What about this one?
The Learning Event Generator
After a recent conference on new tech, I got in touch with John Davitt, a champion of open source learning and creative thinking who has developed the LEG for educational purposes. Here’s how it looks and the web address is underneath:
The LEG generates random tasks using 20 possible “do” and 20 possible “as”. By “clicking here” you can generate new tasks at random.
I’ve adapted this using Nodebox on the Mac:
As a summary to all this I think it’s all about tools. These approaches to generating content are just tools that you can use to engage participants and get the best content you can by making sure your sessions are fun, interactive and most importantly more fun.
The main tools perhaps are:
- Do you have a picture or object that represents your story/opinion?
- How do YOU want to tell YOUR story?
- Be interested and engaged
- Use the LEG?
- Play some warm up games: e.g.tell us about something you love/something you hate (this often brings out the passion!)
Sometimes you may be working with a group, and other times you may be working with individuals. Whichever situation you find yourself in, I think the most important thing is for YOU to be engaged, involved and interested.