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Story Hui — a design for social good

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Good design

Image: Sebastian Holmbäck and Ulrik Nordentoft. From Normann Cpenhagen website

By Liz Stevenson

This article was originally published on the CORE Blog.

Good design needs to make life better for us in some way — and that is not just about appearance. Design also needs to perform, to change our experience and fulfil its purpose.

Does the beautiful chair with its natural pine legs and elegant shape feel comfortable to sit in? Does the fancy potato peeler you bought from the kitchen shop actually work? A well-designed chair — or even your new potato peeler— needs to do the job better — and in doing so — somehow improve our lives.

As we fully engage with the new learning world, taking with us our old mishmash of broken furniture and ideas, we can see that nowhere is there more need for good design than in the ways we collaborate and think together. Impressively rising from the industrial rubble we have architecturally designed learning spaces and compelling digitally inspired pedagogies. But our ability to humanly engage in powerful dialogue — to really think together, to truly share, and to pool our intelligence not just our knowledge — this needs smart social design. As we make our own personal shifts from ‘me’ to ‘we’, ideas around the principles of social enterprise, social design, and social entrepreneurship offer us some direction.

Story Hui — designed for our 21st Century world

Story Hui has been created around a theory of social design (see MOMA Director Antonelli – Design’s positive influence on the world), and is a hand-in-glove fit with our complex 21C world of capabilities and work. The Story Hui process itself manages to elicit many of these capabilities in participants as they work together. It involves group storytelling that: 

  • opens the way to many of the finer points of facilitator practice (interpersonal skills)
  • reveals and clarifies the essence of a successful action (the shift from knowing to doing)
  • makes visible the actions we take to overcome barriers (‘being’ changed and transformation).

 To do this, Story Hui employs a simplified three-step interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth — or Hero’s Journey narrative, commonly found in movies, drama, storytelling, and myth:

  • the call to adventure
  • the journey
  • the successful return home.

How Story Hui works

In practice:

  • groups of participants are given a story brief that relates to their successful practice or action
  • each person takes a turn to share their story, which is visually ‘mapped’ by a group member with simple drawings on large poster paper or on a whiteboard.
  • at the same time another group member is making a digital text to record any finer detail of the storyteller’s action or language.
  • a fourth participant times the story for 4-5 minutes. (The limitation on time is the catalyst for clarity of event recall)
  • then, in a follow-up group process, the story is enhanced through the use of facilitative questioning.
  • new knowledge brought to light is immediately contributed to the mapped story, enhancing the visual transcript.

In this way, the design of the Story Hui becomes multi-channelled, rather like the creation of a movie track, layer upon layer to enrich the information available and to create an experience of group thinking.

Story Hui’s powerful applications

It is easy to see how the Story Hui process can be a powerful tool for inquiry or organisational learning and change. However, its ability to uncover meaning and value also makes it available as a monitoring and evaluation tool. An early model of this type of facilitated group storytelling was used very successfully in 1996 by Rick Davies who wrote about the power of story as a monitoring and evaluation tool for NGO microfinance schemes in Bangladesh. There have been many interpretations of his work since, including Australian Jess Dart who has worked with storytelling and Most Significant Change (MSC) in agricultural programmes.

Which brings us to thinking about the way that Story Hui can be used as an additional tool to evaluate student learning in schools. The Story Hui focus on personal experience aligns so well with the way we learn today — actively and flexibly, in partnerships and teams, in personalised, multidimensional ways. In this match we can see how storytelling and an inductive approach can begin to quietly wrap the evaluation process around the learner rather than the learner always having to adjust themselves to fit the evaluation system.

Story Hui’s versatility in assessing learner wellbeing and engagement

With our need to foster and recognise today’s 21C capabilities for learning, Story Hui is a well-matched tool of choice when we need to look closely at learner wellbeing and engagement. Rather than the process being a ‘break it all apart and count it up’, exercise, instead, it is a whole-person approach, revealing the places where learners are experiencing most development and personal success. The bonus to this is that we also get to view the signposts that suggest to us what is working well, what is not, and why.

A real strength of Story Hui as a tool for learner evaluation is found in the way it can provide recognition and support for areas not covered by formal testing. In providing rich, big picture data and making visible real understandings about learner wellbeing and engagement, it helps us to understand and then offer the important interpersonal scaffolds that learners need in order to discover eventual success in literacy, numeracy and more formal learning. Story Hui can be used by groups of teachers and leaders taking part in professional inquiry, by teachers alongside parents and their students or by groups of students themselves.

Story Hui is now available as a teacher resource

The process has been trialled during 2014 and 2015 initially by the Te Toi Tupu Māori Medium Learning with Digital Technologies (LwDT) team and later, the wider LwDT team. Story Hui is now an integral part of the evaluation plan for Learning with Digital Technologies in reporting to the Ministry of Education. Feedback from facilitators during the pilot phase has enabled the development of a teacher resource Story Hui available for download:

Story Hui ebook downloadDownload Story Hui ebook
(PDF, 10.9MB)
From the Story Hui website


The Te Toi Tupu Maori Medium team and the Te Toi Tupu Learning with Digital Technologies team share this resource as a koha for learners.