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Storytelling and Online Dialogue    

Hi, all!  I am a new NCDD blogger, and I am also the founder of Idealogue, Inc., which develops interactive web platforms to empower people and organizations to solve difficult challenges through dialogue and collaboration.

The active NCDD listserv recently addressed the question of the ability of online dialogue to provide value to the practitioner’s toolkit. At Idealogue, Inc. we have been developing an online platform for dialogue on difficult and pressing issues. On the one hand, online interaction and social networking is enormously popular, but on the other hand, public discussion boards and comment systems are not the first place many people think of for constructive dialogues-me included.

Maybe the lack of face-to-face interaction is part of the problem, but can we also better implement technology?

A recent experience with our first dialogue site,, an online network that promotes discussion and understanding within academic and non-profit communities about religious, social and political issues, illustrated to me that some important elements of in-person dialogue can be transferred online.

In a dialogue I’m participating in, the conversation eventually led to storytelling, which I found intriguing for a couple of reasons.

First, what was even more interesting to me than the in-depth issues and opinions that had been shared thus far in the dialogue were these stories and experiences. The stories, whether experienced personally or passed down, helped shape the opinions and perspectives we were discussing, and brought the issues out of the abstract into something tangible and real.

Second, the online dialogue process helped bring about awareness of the stories. Uncovering stories, like finding one’s interests, can take some work. It was interesting to see that an online process helped uncover stories, which then helped inform the conversation further.

Even a short, anecdotal story can bring about important understanding in a conversation. Storytelling can also be an effective communication method in that stories are a little more apolitical than statements and comments; a story is verifiably your own experience and is not necessarily tied to a pre-defined ideology or political platform. Storytelling can remove the artifice of politics and allow people to really hear, and also question, the reasons behind a belief system. So if storytelling can occur online I’m excited about the potential for online interaction to play important roles in dialogue processes for many situations.

Of course, storytelling has long been revered by many and been an important part of facilitation. So to be clear, I’m only sharing my own experience (and story!) about starting to understand the strength of storytelling, and in the context of online dialogue. My experience has encouraged us to make storytelling a more integral part of as we develop the platform further, including upcoming features to highlight stories in dialogues and to start a new dialogue based on someone’s story.

Can storytelling add to the depth of online interaction and help make the process more effective? Please comment here or send any thoughts or questions to [email protected]. If you are interested in utilizing we can send additional information, or feel free to sign up with the registration code “beyondtolerance10.”

Here's What 3 People Had To Say...

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  1. Comment added by Ariana McBride on March 11, 2010:

    I was intrigued to read about the value of storytelling in online interaction and I look forward to checking out In our community planning projects, we have found storytelling to be an effective way to uncover what people value, build understanding across difference and strengthen relationships. Some of the stories from our partner communities can be found on our website,, and we plan to share more about these storytelling processes in the coming months.

  2. Comment added by David Kimball on March 15, 2010:

    What has helped me to reconcile many “issues” is to depict a model of the mind as having two parts - a rational mind and an intuitive mind. The language of the rational mind is logic and science and determines what is True/False - binary, either/or. This leads to knowledge.

    The intuitive mind uses the language of story and metaphor which is used to discern truth. There can be many truths and some of these may even be opposite from each other. This leads to wisdom.

    Often I see problems arise when something is really story but is presented as True/False. And also, when something is presented as absolute through logic or science, but it is really story. Like creation vs evolution.

  3. Comment added by Noam on March 17, 2010:

    Thanks Ariana for the comment and reading this post. Some exciting projects from looking through the site and blog! I look forward to exploring further.

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