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 120 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed learning more about how Collective Narrative Practices can be implemented and integrated within communities. I appreciated reading the article the article Little by Little we Make a Bundle and learning how villagers were able to connect to their own histories and create caring communities and take collective action.

    I also appreciated learning about the Mt. Elgon project in Uganda and how Narrative Practices enabled them to “spark and sustain local social action and environmental and economic projects”. Reviewing the steps that the community took to envision and celebrate their hopes and dreams was powerful.

    I am hopeful and excited to use Narrative practice with my clients and help them envision their own dreams.
    Rockville, MD, USA

  2. Hello Everyone
    I like the most Mt. Elgon Self-Help Community project because it is related to community like my profession . Moreover, it helps people to recognize their strengths, and empower them to move forward in their life.

  3. This one caught my eye as I am in the middle of working on a huge project within the community using many of these ideas. It is great to see this course is out for everyone to see. To be able to have communities come together would be amazing for everyone.

  4. Beautiful stories and interesting to see how narrative therapy can be applied not just to individuals and families but also to entire communities. Inspirational. Thank you.

  5. I really enjoyed learning about the Mt. Elgon Self-Help Community project because of the emphasis on community building and lifting up young people. They worked together to share stories of pride and survival, listened and asked questions about witness accounts, and looked at their hopes and dreams while connecting them to the histories of these hopes and dreams. I also really appreciated the call to action for young people and acknowledged the progress being made.

    What I am curious about is using the Tree of Life approach in Narrative Therapy. I believe that I have clients currently who would really benefit from speaking about their roots without becoming re-traumatized.

  6. Writing in London, England. This page was difficult for me. The tree of life, and also the “messages to other men” videos, emphasising knowing your culture and your roots. Because my family moved here from elsewhere, I don’t really know where I am from. I never really knew any of my aunts or uncles or cousins. (I think some of them are now in NZ or Australia, as it happens.) Any attempt to “go back” or engage with a culture or language i know nothing about, feels very artificial and pointless. I am of England now, and my children all regard themselves as entirely English, even though I am not.

  7. I am currently working with families from Aboriginal backgrounds. The stories of Mt Elgon and the Australian Aboriginal Communities encourage me to keep asking these families to share their stories and to work alongside them to help them recognize their strengths, victories and the way they want to move forward. I am passionate about what I do and the stories you have shared help me to keep going though sometimes my own heart breaks with the stories shared.

  8. I found myself engaged with the idea of sharing the skills of one community with another. I can see how this would increase their sense of capacity as well as their connections. I imagine the reduced isolation would create more hope for change.

  9. The idea or project that stood out for most in this Collective Narrative Practices chapter was in the article Little by Little we Make a Bundle. In particular, personifying the problem of aids and allowing the community to talk about through the medium of drama. In particular, I found it really neat utilizing the two characters of Mr/Mrs. Aids and Mr/Mrs. Carer to address change and create the alternative narrative from suffering to courage.

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