Stories of Success: Narratives as Evaluation Data

To capture the realities of a community, we need the kind of depth and understanding that is only reached through human interaction. One unique way to illuminate a scene is to have its characters tell the story. As such, organizations more and more are retelling their own stories of success through the narratives of community members themselves.

The Power of a Story

Firelight grantee-partner Masvingo Community Based HIV and Vulnerable Children Organization (MACOBAO) in Zimbabwe has innovated their data-collection efforts by increasingly their storytelling.  MACOBAO has refined what is known as a “Story Collection Tool” relying largely on interview-style methods. The data collected, taking the form of beneficiary stories, are used in their formal reports. We wanted to share their tool with you, in the hopes that more organizations incorporate storytelling into their organizational media or fine tune the collection efforts currently used in your organization.

The Story Collection Tool is incredibly easy to use and has generated useful information for  MACOBAO. The technique allows the small staff there to capture their achievements and also increases communication across partners, stakeholders, and funders. The stories collected can be used to assess the relative success of programs, and whether goals related to vulnerable populations' exposure to HIV are met.  MACOBAO has proven to be very successful using this method and continues to use it throughout their program work.


MACOBAO sent us their Story Collection Tool and have offered it below for others to use as well:

Story of Change Interview Guide 

For a specific project, the communities involved in the program are identified and individuals are informed of the data collection efforts, their confidentiality, and asked to disclose their own personal information.

Here is an example of what that the program disclosure looks like:

Background: We [Name of Organization], communities and stakeholders would like to capture stories of change that may have resulted from their work with the support from Firelight Foundation at this project site/location/area. This will help us to capture all the best practices and share with other actors as well as transferring our model to other partners in the field of child programming. This will also help us to improve what we are doing, enable us to celebrate the success together as well as being accountable to our funders.

The stories and information gathered from you will be used for a number of purposes including:

-To explore what MACOBAO actions have achieved already and learn how these actions have impacted on the targeted community/beneficiaries

-To help MACOBAO Officers/Community groups/Stakeholders and partners to understand what people in (project site) value and support 

-To acknowledge and publicize what has already been achieved.

Confidentiality: We will use our stories for reporting to our funders, or sharing with other people in the children’s programming sector and partner ministries.

Do you (the story teller):

-Want your name to be on the story (circle one) Yes, No

-Consent to us use your story for publication (circle one) Yes, No

Contact Details: Name of story teller:

Name of person recording or gathering the information and details of the story:

Date of recording:

Interview start time: Interview end time:

Title of the story:

Once the storyteller understands the benefits of sharing their story and is willing to share his/her unique perspective, some guiding questions are helpful. In any interview context, a protocol is used. In other words, the subject is given some guidance from a skilled and prepared interviewer.  Here is an example of an interview protocol developed by MACOBAO and used to collect data about their programmatic milestones:

1. May you please tell me when and how you (the interviewee) first became involved with MACOBAO, and what your current involvement is:

2. From your point of view, describe notable changes that have resulted from your involvement with MACOBAO and/or this action:

3. Of these notable changes, which ones do you rank as the most significant?

4. Why is this most significant to you?

5. Lessons learnt:

6.Any other comments:

Questions may be adapted to your particular programs/actions, in an effort to engage community members with their perspectives on change, improvement, etc.  Regardless of your interview protocol, it is advised that after each interview, the data collector read back the story to the interviewee to ensure that the story captured really reflects the information offered.

In this way, we collect data from our community and make sure that what we are taking away was in fact the intended message. Only then can we claim to understand how we have touched community members' lives and how they experience and reflect on our global efforts. Beyond any numbers or figures, these personal stories are our measures of success.

Good luck with your storytelling everyone!