Note: This page is out of date. Rakontu (the software) won't be able to work for anyone right now out of the box. But Rakontu the idea is still a good one, and making something similar work can happen in many ways. I leave this page up mainly to give people ideas on things they could do, with or without my help.Rakontu (that is, the idea of Rakontu) does not require any consulting help to be effective for any small group. Those who have goals but not budgets can can read my free e-book Working with Stories to learn how to make their story collection and use more effective.
For those with budgets as well as goals, I (Cynthia Kurtz) offer a consulting service in which I can help you tailor your use of Rakontu to your context and goals and achieve a more effective outcome. I have been working in the field of organizational and community narrative since 1999, and I've helped with several dozen projects involving story collection and use for decision support, conflict resolution and understanding. For examples of the types of projects I have helped clients with in the past, see my web site.
My help is most appropriate when you have specific goals you would like to pursue with regard to a topic or problem of interest. For example, a non-profit group may want to work with the stories collected from its members to improve their strategic direction or to discover upcoming opportunities or dangers. Or a corporation may want to find out what concerns it can help its customers with. Or a government agency may seek to find out how to best serve its constituency with respect to a particular problem.
There are three main elements of consulting I can provide with respect to your use of Rakontu: in preparation, monitoring, and output.
Preparation elements involve populating a new Rakontu (or Rakontus) with information that will make it/them more engaging, memorable, and effective and thus improve the quality and quantity of contributions.
Seeding the Rakontu with relevant storiesEspecially if people in the population of interest are busy, intimidated, fearful, or dismissing, starting the Rakontu with a set of stories in place can stimulate storytelling and increase the diversity and quality of the stories told.
- Immersive option: Collecting new stories and metadata via interviews and/or storytelling workshops (with various techniques) and putting them into the system.
- Consultative option: Taking stories already told, perhaps in earlier interviews or focus groups, adding metadata, and putting them into the system to get things started.
Creating relevant Rakontu charactersCharacters in Rakontu are fictional personifications that members can use to tell stories and give opinions (nearly) anonymously. Characters are particularly helpful when the purpose of the project is to talk about sensitive topics or admit mistakes.
- Immersive option: Holding story element workshops with the people who will use the system and using the outputs to form Rakontu characters.
- Consultative option: Studying previously collected stories, documents, goal statements, talking to the client, in general going through an iterative process to derive useful characters.
Choosing questions about stories and membersWell-chosen questions related to the goals of the project can be critical to creating the sorts of shared story bases that produce revealing insights about issues.
- Immersive option: Holding narrative sensemaking workshops (with several techniques such as histories, theme clustering, etc) to find out the best questions to ask about stories. Can optionally involve iterative testing of questions in storytelling workshops and consideration of patterns of responses.
- Consultative option: Reviewing goal statements, background information, talking to the client, iteratively developing useful questions.
Immersive processes provide a surer basis in the "ground truth" of those who will use the system and a greater likelihood that the system will engage people to contribute and use it (both because it is more connected to ground truth and because they know they were involved in it). It is more likely to produce positive surprises and discoveries. These together produce a greater likelihood that the long-term results will be effective in producing positive change. However, sometimes immersive processes are not possible due to people being unreachable or budget constraints.
Consultative processes involve the review of pertinent information, conversations with project sponsors, and iteration on elements (questions, etc) which improve over time. It draws on my experience in having done this sort of thing a few dozen times already with a range of clients, contexts and goals. To be frank I don't think the consultative approach is as effective as the immersive approach, especially if those planning the project are not sure of the mindset and context of those telling the stories; but it can work and has worked in the past. It is also more private and less expensive.
This phase involves watching over Rakontus in which people are participating, observing trends and patterns of use and interaction, and making suggestions to sponsors on how to keep the system effective or respond to problems as they arise. It can include periodic reporting on trends and patterns seen.
The extent to which sensemaking (that is, using the collected stories to create integrated information products that communicate insights and discoveries) matters for any particular project will vary depending on its context and goals. We can draw upon several different group exercises (some described in Working with Stories, some not) that have been developed in the narrative field (by myself and others). For example, timelines can help people think about the past, present and future of a field or endeavor; knowledge asset exercises can help people think about how to maximize their knowledge re-use; narrative complexity mapping can help people detect opportunities and dangers in a landscape of meaning contructed by storytelling; story construction can help people bring out unarticulated truths; and so on. All of these exercises benefit from starting with richly contextual stories such as are contributed to a Rakontu.
Another service I can provide related to sensemaking is narrative pattern catalysis. For more information on this service, including how it relates to sensemaking, see the Frequently-asked-questions section on my web site (which includes an example catalysis report).
No matter what sensemaking activities take place, it is always helpful to feed such results back into the Rakontu so that they can continue to stimulate thought, discussion, and (most importantly) storytelling.
To find out more about the consulting services described here or on my web site, send me a note at cfkurtz at cfkurtz.com.