Narrative Insight Method

Author, reviewer and revision dates:

This write-up in Pattern form by John C. Thomas on 22 Jan. 2002; the METHOD itself was mostly developed by Cynthia Kurtz and Neal Keller of IBM Research.


<< Story Circles >>

Experts learn valuable lessons from their experiences that could help guide less experienced people. In small trusted groups, a natural, effective, and traditional way for experts to share their knowledge is to trade stories with each other while novices listen. A challenge for large organizations is to extend this method to larger groups and non-co-located personnel. Writing stories is a possibility; however, in many cases experts are too busy to write stories and fine the process difficult and unnatural. In addition, when the number of stories in a story base is large, it becomes difficult for a user to find the ones most relevant to the particular case at hand. We provide a method that minimizes the time of the expert, allows them to tell stories in a natural setting and organizes the knowledge in a useful manner.

Experts have valuable knowledge based on their experience. However, experts in organizations are typically very busy people. They are willing to share stories informally and orally but do not necessarily have the skill or patience to write stories. Moreover, it can be difficult to find stories relevant to a specific situation.

Less expert people in a large organization or community of practice want to learn from more experienced people. This is beneficial for the individuals as well as for the larger organization or community of practice. Some of the people who have relevant knowledge may be far away physically from the people who need the knowledge. In many cases, much of the most valuable knowledge of experts is tacit knowledge. There are people available who may not be expert in the subject matter but have relatively more expertise in writing stories and organization educational materials. The experts in a given subject matter are typically very busy and in most cases, may lack the skills to produce good written stories.

· The time of experts is valuable
· Subject matter experts may not be experts in producing educational materials.
· People expert in producing education materials need to gain access to high quality content.
· In many fields, much of the most important knowledge that experts gain through their experience is in the form of tacit knowledge.
· Tacit knowledge is not well communicated by formal methods but is well communicated by stories.
· Experts telling stories orally to small groups that contain other experts as well as some novices, is a natural way for experts to share experience.
· Storytelling occurs only when the social situation is right.
· Telling a story increases the probability that someone else in a group will tell a story.
· Producing written stories requires special skill.
· Finding stories relevant to a given situation requires thoughtful metadata.
· Experts who have experience relevant to novices may be remotely located from them.
· Different learners learn best at different rates, by different media, and in different styles.

Provide an informal setting conducive to storytelling; this is encouraged by several factors. 1. Provide non-standard seating arrangements with easily movable chairs. 2. Conduct in a room with an informal atmosphere. 3. The structure and content of the invitation should be friendly but make clear the importance of the activity. 4. Gather a commitment to participate, making sure people know their time commitment is for one hour only. 5. Provide friendly but clear reminders near the time of the session with an additional check on the commitment to participate. 6. Provide refreshments at the beginning of the meeting. 7. Limit participation to a group of 8 to 20. 8. Groups should include experts as well as people knowledgeable in the topic but less expert. 9. Set expectations both prior to and during the session that people will be sharing stories, (E.g., “We find that when a group of experts get together like this, they generally end up telling stories about their experiences.”). 10. Make the recording clear but not obtrusive, and modeling storytelling at the outset.

During the session itself: 1. Greet people warmly and thank them for coming. 2. Break people into 3-4 smaller groups. 3. Each group should include a facilitator/recorder. 4. Digitally record the sessions with separate high quality tape recorders for each subgroup. 5. Tell the subgroups that they will be sharing stories based on their experiences and that then the group will choose one story from each subgroup to share with the larger group. 6. Implement this plan. 7. Facilitate to gently guide people back to telling stories of concrete instances. 8. After each subgroup shares its story with the whole group, allow discussion to continue, encouraging but not insisting on storytelling.

We have used this methodology to provide learning materials in the form of stories for NOTES 5, focusing not on how to invoke specific functions but rather on how to use NOTES to enhance your work practices or enhance team coordination and communication. We have also used this methodology to develop stories about “boundary spanning skills.” Finally, we have also used this method to develop learning materials for the IBM Patent Process.

Resulting Context:
<< to be developed>> << The state or configuration of the system after the pattern has been applied, including the consequences (both good and bad) of applying the pattern, and other problems and patterns that may arise from the new context. It describes the postconditions and side-effects of the pattern. This is sometimes called resolution of forces because it describes which forces have been resolved, which ones remain unresolved, and which patterns may now be applicable (see the answer to question 12 of Doug Lea's Patterns-Discussion FAQ for an excellent discussion of resolution of forces). Documenting the resulting context produced by one pattern helps you correlate it with the initial context of other patterns (a single pattern is often just one step towards accomplishing some larger task or project). >>

<< to be developed >> << A justifying explanation of steps or rules in the pattern, and also of the pattern as a whole in terms of how and why it resolves its forces in a particular way to be in alignment with desired goals, principles, and philosophies. It explains how the forces and constraints are orchestrated in concert to achieve a resonant harmony. This tells us how the pattern actually works, why it works, and why it is "good". The solution component of a pattern may describe the outwardly visible structure and behavior of the pattern, but the rationale is what provides insight into the deep structures and key mechanisms that are going on beneath the surface of the system. >> Related Patterns

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