The Healing Power of Stories: How Story-based Evaluation Can Contribute to a More Just, Beautiful, and Liberated Reality

Inspire to Change
4 min readJun 14

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By Nora F. Murphy Johnson, PhD

Stories have a profound capacity to heal. This simple, yet extraordinary truth has been recognized across cultures and throughout human history. As narratives unfold, they offer an intimate glimpse into the human experience, acting as catalysts for empathy, understanding, and connection. They weave together the fabric of our collective consciousness, bridging the gap between individual and shared experience.

In the realm of impact measurement and evaluation, stories and storytelling can be instrumental. They are powerful tools that transcend the constraints of traditional data, opening up new dimensions of understanding and insight. But beyond their utility as evaluative instruments, stories have the potential to provide healing — both for the teller and the listener. This realization compels us to reconsider the ways in which we approach and conduct evaluation.

Aligning Methods with Vision

In our quest for a more just, beautiful, and liberated reality, it’s crucial that our evaluation methods reflect this vision. This means moving beyond traditional, data-driven approaches to embrace the power of stories and the healing they can facilitate.

A liberatory approach to evaluation recognizes that people are more than mere subjects of study or sources of data. They are the holders of unique stories, experiences, and perspectives that hold immense value. By honoring these narratives and ensuring they are shared in a safe, respectful, and supportive environment, evaluation can become part of the solution.

When we approach evaluation with an attitude of reverence for the power of stories, we not only gain richer, more nuanced insights — we also contribute to the healing process for individuals and communities. This approach transforms evaluation from a purely analytical exercise into a practice of empathy, connection, and liberation.

Storytelling as Healing. Storytelling for Liberation.

The act of storytelling can be a transformative journey of healing for the teller. It provides a platform for individuals to express their experiences, comprehend their realities, reconcile with their past, and shape their own narratives. This can facilitate a cathartic process, enabling individuals to reclaim their agency and identity.

For the listener, stories present an exceptional opportunity to perceive the world from a different standpoint. They stimulate empathy and understanding, dismantle barriers, and nurture profound human connections. Engaging with someone else’s narrative can shift our worldview, challenge our preconceptions, and inspire us to act.

Drawing on research from multiple disciplines, five key roles emerge that illustrate how storytelling functions as a healing tool and a means to liberation:

Self-expression

Storytelling enables individuals to articulate their experiences, aiding them in understanding their realities, reconciling with their past, and shaping their narrative. It’s a process that catalyzes catharsis, enabling individuals to regain their identities and agency (Chioneso et al., 2020).

Fostering Empathy

Narratives offer listeners an unparalleled opportunity to perceive the world from another perspective. They cultivate empathy and understanding, dismantle barriers, and nurture deeper human connections (Zak, 2015).

Creating Safe(er) Spaces

By honoring stories and the individuals behind them, we can establish environments where everyone feels heard, acknowledged, and valued, thereby contributing to a larger fabric of understanding and a sense of belonging (Tuck, 2009).

Inspiring Action

Engaging with someone else’s narrative can reshape our worldview, challenge our assumptions, and prompt us to effect changes (Bentz et al., 2022).

Promoting Liberation

The reverence for narratives can contribute to creating spaces where individuals and communities feel empowered to shape their futures, thus facilitating liberation (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).

The Way Forward: Evaluation as a Healing Journey

Harnessing the transformative power of stories allows us to reimagine evaluation — not merely as a cold, analytical tool but as a practice deeply rooted in empathy, connection, and liberation. The realm of impact assessment is undeniably complex, a labyrinth of interconnected challenges and intricacies. Yet, by acknowledging and cherishing the healing potential of storytelling, we can travel this complex terrain with enhanced empathy and integrity. This approach enables us to cultivate spaces where individuals feel acknowledged, comprehended, and esteemed, and where their narratives augment a larger, richer canvas of understanding.

Stories offer more than understanding — they are conduits to healing. When we respect their place in our evaluation practices, we take an important step towards shaping a world that genuinely echoes the richness, diversity, and breathtaking beauty of the human journey. As we strive towards our collective goal of a more equitable, vibrant, and liberated world, it is essential to align our evaluation methodologies with this vision. Let’s envision evaluation as more than a process of measurement — it should be a vessel for healing, a catalyst for connection, and an instrument for liberation.

References

Bentz, J., O’Brien, K., & Scoville-Simonds, M. (2022). Beyond “blah blah blah”: exploring the “how” of transformation. Sustainability Science, 17(2), 497–506. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11625-022-01123-0

Chioneso, N. A., Hunter, C. D., Gobin, R. L., McNeil Smith, S., Mendenhall, R., & Neville, H. A. (2020). Community healing and resistance through storytelling: A framework to address racial trauma in Africana communities. Journal of Black Psychology, 46(2–3), 95–121. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0095798420929468

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79(3), 409–428. Retrieved from https://pages.ucsd.edu/~rfrank/class_web/ES-114A/Week%204/TuckHEdR79-3.pdf

Zak, P. J. (2015). Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React: The Neuroscience of Narrative. Cerebrum : The Dana Forum on Brain Science, 2. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445577/

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