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The Benefits, and Limits, of Storybanking

October 02, 2009

(Thaler Pekar, a consultant specializing in persuasive message development, helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support.)

Gold-bars As I noted in my previous post, stories are a critical vehicle for sharing knowledge within organizations and a vital means for organizations to nurture understanding, make sense of complexity, and embrace change. And, as communications consultant Andy Goodman notes, a storybank -- a central repository of stories about an organization and the work it does -- can be a powerful tool for organizations.

Indeed, David Beckwith of the Needmor Fund, which recently produced 50 Years, 50 Stories, a fine written collection of stories about the foundation, talks often about the critical importance of "collecting, codifying, and passing on" stories within an organization, while David DeLong, noted knowledge management expert and author of Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce, notes that the nonprofit sector overall possesses tremendous "passion and energy" for sharing knowledge.

That said, most storybanks tend to be collections of narratives from and about the organization's clients, donors, founders, and staff. The stories themselves are most often about the impact of the organization and only occasionally about the unmet need that the organization seeks to address.

The downside of storybanking lies in thinking that the act of collecting, tagging, and making the narratives available will create and help to spread knowledge about your organization. The existence of a storybank in and of itself will not increase engagement with your organization or spark, let alone sustain, a culture of storytelling and knowledge sharing within the organization. As Roger Shank notes, "A knowledge management system simply gets slower as a result of more information. It never has an 'aha' experience, recognizing how two different documents [stories] considered together can shed a whole new light on an issue."

The word bank suggests things of value locked away in vaults, passwords, and authorized access for a select few. Don't make that mistake. The collection and categorization of stakeholder stories is no substitute for the creation of a true story and knowledge sharing culture. Be careful not to bank your organizational stories under lock and key. Instead, work assiduously to institutionalize the sharing of your organization's stories among staff, board members, and other stakeholders. In a knowledge-based economy that increasingly places a premium on attention, your organization's stories, well told and widely shared, are as valuable as gold.

-- Thaler Pekar

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Posted by Matt  |   October 02, 2009 at 05:02 PM

Interesting post. Storybanking is an important way for foundations and other nonprofits to share their successes and even where they fell short. Such sharing goes a long way to demonstrating organizational transparency.

Posted by twitter.com/jmcaddell  |   October 05, 2009 at 09:56 AM

Thaler, I like this post a lot. My experience tells me that story banks need nurturing, both in encouraging the ongoing creation of content and guiding usage of the content stored inside. Creating & conducting exercises and finding ways to make storybank content more visible (via feeds or bulletin boards) can help the organization reap its investment in the bank. These ground-level things, rather than top-down direction, can lead to the true knowledge-sharing culture you value.

regards, John

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