Collective Narrative Practices & Innovation Projects

The innovative projects which we discuss in this chapter draw on collective narrative practices that are concerned with responding to groups and communities who have experienced significant social suffering and oppression in contexts in which ‘therapy’ may not be culturally resonant. Collective Narrative Practices have a rich history and engage a diverse range of methodologies that can be used with individuals, groups and communities. In this chapter, we will just touch on a few methodologies …


“As counsellors, therapists, psychosocial workers and community workers, stories of hardship find their way to us. In some ways, we are cultural receivers of stories of suffering (Waldegrave, Tamaseses, Tuhaka & Campbell, 2003). And often this suffering is linked to broader injustices: to violence, abuse, racism, poverty, sexism, heterosexual dominance. To be the cultural receivers of these stories brings with it awesome responsibilities; for instance there are responsibilities to comfort and to somehow alleviate hardship. But there is another responsibility that I am hoping we will also engage with. How can we receive these stories and engage with them in ways that not only alleviate individual sorrow, but also enable and sustain local social action to address the broader injustices, violence and abuses in our varying contexts? How can we provide forums for the sorrow, anguish and hardship of the stories that we receive to be transformed into collective actions? I don’t mean grand social actions, I mean local, meaningful, resonant, sustainable, social action or social contributions’

(Denborough, 2008, p. 192)

For a link to the book you can visit Collective Narrative Practice by David Denborough 

The following paper is an example of conversations that have taken place in a number of villages in rural Malawi. Here practitioners engage problems in a personification with one worker playing the role of Mr/Mrs AIDS, who represents HIV/AIDS; and another plays the role of Mr/Mrs CARE, who represents the community. Members of the village are invited to ask questions of these two characters, and a conversation develops. Please click on the link to read about this compelling example of collective practice!

Little by Little we Make a Bundle

In this interview, Paulo Freire describes some of his thinking about oppression, ethical responsibilities and how these shape possibilities for social change. The work of Paulo Freire has influenced the development of collective narrative practices.

Making History and Unveiling Oppression

The Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project, based in rural Uganda, uses narrative practices to spark and sustain local social action and environmental and economic projects. This video contains some of the stories of the work of Caleb Wakhungu and the Mt Elgon project.



One of the ways in which the field of narrative practice continues to diversify is through innovation projects. These are often the result of collaborations, invitations and challenges. Many of them involve ‘cross-cultural inventions’ and partnerships. You might like to explore some of these examples:

Tree of Life

Life Saving Tips from young Australian Muslims

Healing Stories Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities

For more projects of this kind you can see the full list here:

Innovation Projects

Many narrative therapists and community workers are now using music and song in their work with individuals, groups, and communities. This page contains songs created during various Dulwich Centre projects both in Australia and overseas, as well as links to find out more about the contexts they were created in.

Songs as a response to hardship and trauma

You can listen to David Denborough discussing the use of song in narrative practice on the radio program ‘Songcatcher’, a Radio Adelaide production. 


For Reflection

Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?

What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?

In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?



What do you think? Have you got an idea that might be interesting to exchange with others? Please let us know and share your thoughts on this chapter below before moving on. Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 139 Comments

  1. Jill Lawton, Durban. Living in South Africa I was very touched by the Mr/Mrs. AIDS/CARE project as changing ideas of stigma and fear around AIDS has been and continues to be a huge thing in our communities. I also loved hearing about the Koori way of dealing with death and dying – noisy and communal rather than silent and alone. I feel there is something really important here for what we are facing in the world right now – fear, yes, dying possibly – but the cruelty of people dying alone is another thing altogether and the narrative approach has something really important to say about how we handle what we are currently facing.

  2. The idea that has really struck me is the tree of life. I feel that this would be brilliant with the young people I am on placement with and even the young children I work with. What a wonderful way for them to be able to describe their stories and be vulnerable in a safe way as a lot of the children and youth I work with, do not have the feelings of being safe. Also what is poignant about this is being able to put it all together to create a forest. To me, this is like a collective consciousness, a world wide process where one can feel that they are joined with others. Also allowing others to see their stories, their thoughts, their strengths and knowing that they are altogether in this.

  3. This is Rosalind from Sydney, Australia. I was inspired by the Mt Elgon self-help project, in particular how they strengthened hope moving from seeing their strengths to thickening the story of their dreams for the future and seeing how those were connected to people in their lives.I find this personally helpful and can see how it could be use or adapted for many groups.

  4. My name is Maggie May, and I am writing from the state of Louisiana in the United States. One of the projects that has inspired me the most thus far is the children’s suitcase project. I love the idea of drawing out your journey and then mapping out where you want to go. I think the idea of realizing certain people, places, and experiences that have made a person who they are will follow him or her throughout their lifetime is very important, and this project not only points that out, but also emphasizes that things can always be hopeful.

  5. Hi there, high school social worker from the Kingston ON region here. I really liked the idea of the Mr/Mrs AIDS and Mrs CARE project, and in particular how the facilitators worked with community members to create those characters and present them in a culturally relevant way. It struck me how non-threatening this approach was, and how it stayed true to the community’s experience. I am going to think more about how I might be able to use this approach in youth groups.

  6. It is lovely to see the use of the Tree of Life around the world. I use it in my own practise to help young people address grief from loss of a parent. What really stood out for me was the title of one of the songs ‘Nine years old, Nine years young’. I feel the contrast between old and young highlights the vulnerability in children and can be a great way to start non-blaming conversations surrounding trauma and guilt around events that occurred in young age. I look forward to incorporating it in my practise. Thank you.

  7. Using collective narrative in projects that have collective impacts seems very valuable to me as a social worker. Here in Canada Indigenous Peoples are often described as victims of colonial violence and attention is focused on problems within Indigenous Communities. It is true that colonization has hurt Indigenous Peoples in Canada but a shift in collective narrative would be a powerful thing so that descriptions of Indigenous Peoples created positive collective narratives. I see this in many initiatives where Traditional language is reclaimed and where maintenance of Knowledge is framed as resistance or where participation in Culture is discussed as resurgence. Instead of weak, broken, and ashamed stories, these shifts in collective narrative create strong, empowered, proud Community stories

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