National Story Telling Week: The power of stories in communicating Kineara’s purpose and impact

To mark this year’s National Storytelling Week, we share our thoughts and examples of how storytelling plays a vital role right across our stakeholder spectrum. From supporting people through various challenges, to demonstrating the effectiveness of our programs to clients, potential funders, partners and other service users, storytelling through reports, case studies and blogs is an integral part of our work here at Kineara

Everyone uses stories to help them make sense of who they are and the experiences they have had in their lives. Stories help us make sense of the world, recognise patterns, find meaning in things and share that understanding with others. Our stories literally make up our history.

This is why storytelling is an important feature of Kineara’s work and is present in much of our day-to-day activities. We hold space for the narratives that come directly from the people we serve and allow what is most meaningful for them to emerge through active listening and reflection.

Why we encourage storytelling

Our student volunteer Tiyon explains it like this: “Storytelling allows our clients to identify their needs and gives them a chance to reflect, this is the real strength of it. Sometimes in the process we can start to identify cognitive dissonance; this gives us a change to point out to them compassionately.

Many of our clients have felt not listened to in the past. Whilst many of the renters we meet, for example, have a shared experience of housing insecurity or homelessness, no two circumstances are the same. But it isn’t about the ‘facts of the story’, it’s about how the story has been told.

Through the way people tell their story, we can quickly see what is important”, Tiyon continues. “The ‘main characters’ in a story might be the Council, or other services that have been let down by other people/people. We walk people back to the main page, to their main story. We do that by thinking about options and outcomes – reframe the barriers and think about change as a positive thing for the future. Ultimately it’s about helping people reaffirm who they are, their strengths, and the possibilities that are within reach for a more positive future.

Putting client’s needs first

When clients share their stories with us, we can help them identify points of difficulty, barriers and specific needs. With their story told as they see it, as opposed to whatever boxes are ticked on a referral form, we can work towards specific outcomes and bring in additional support that is most meaningful to then in that moment and that respects their story and history. As Tiyon says, “When we do identify their needs they’re not extrapolated from their referrals. They are needs that we hear from their story, and we confirm those together with them.”

Equally important is giving agency to people to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable. For some people, in particular with a mental health diagnosis or experiences of trauma, it can be difficult and even retraumatizing to have to explain their circumstances to each new professional that they work with. In these cases, we tread very carefully and only ask for more detail if we feel it may be relevant for the support. Part of embedding storytelling as practice is that sometimes, client stories are told over time and when they feel it’s right. It is our job to build respectful and trusting relationships with clients so they can feel comfortable doing so.

Stories as impact

Storytelling also forms the foundation of reflection and sharing between our staff and is an integral part of how we support clients facing challenges with their housing, education or wellbeing. We use stories to talk about the impact we have had, because they provide the rich detail behind a wide variety of both the barriers and solutions we work on with clients. It allows us to demonstrate how tailored the support we provide is and that demonstrate that every support journey is unique in the same way that every person is unique.

National Storytelling Week is in our view a worthy awareness day that both highlight the power of stories in all their forms – written, verbal, and digital – in reaching people of all ages and backgrounds. It also reminds us that everybody has a story to tell, so we should spend more time sharing, talking and listening. This is fundamental to how we give and receive support at Kineara.