Tricia, Ross, Ray, Isobel and I all took part in this ‘unconference’ on digital storytelling held at the University of East London in early July https://www.uel.ac.uk/events/2017/07/unconference-digital-storytelling. Advisory Group member Mark Dunford was one of the organisers, and the innovative format ensured that participants over the course of the 4 days had many different opportunities to engage – unlike the traditional academic conference which is much more about reading papers followed by short Q&As.
Before the conference began, participants were grouped into ‘demes’ to start work on specific themes relevant to digital storytelling for example ‘Ethics’, ‘Health’ and ‘Civic Engagement’. Deme members took part in discussions online leading up to the ‘unconference’ and these discussions continued at UEL both with other deme groups and with other attendees. One day was set aside for a Master Class in Digital Storytelling led by Tricia and Joe Lambert, the ‘godfather’ of digital storytelling from the California based Storycenter where the movement began.
I was only able to attend for one day, but I learned a lot listening in to discussions about ethics and health, and meeting people from all over the world who are using digital storytelling to help bring ‘untold’ stories to the fore. The afternoon session was facilitated by Chris Grady, a theatre producer, who invited us all to choose a place to sit based on which particular creature we identified with. I decided to avoid the too-obvious ‘cat’ and sat next to ‘whale’ with some trepidation….
Participants from the circle were then asked to step up and propose discussion topics. I sat in some fascinating discussions about how we can preserve digital stories for the future, and I also joined in a session Ross called to discuss ‘authorship’ and what that means in the context of digital storytelling. It turned out to be a really great way to stimulate debate and to help kickstart possible new collaborations and projects.
We then moved into a lecture theatre for a screening of some of the stories Tricia and the team have been making in collaboration with the Salvation Army Housing Association (SAHA) with youngsters who have experienced homelessness. As with our own screening back at BU, it was wonderful to be in the room watching these stories with the young people who made them, and to hear from some of the storytellers about their experiences and the rewards of taking part.
The story circle is of course one of the bedrocks of the digital storytelling scene, and so it was fitting that the day ended with everyone sitting in a circle sharing their reflections on the day. But it was also good to see over the course of the time that I was there, that digital storytelling is moving on and adapting to the times, and that practitioners are more and more open to confronting some of the challenging issues around ethics and access while also remaining true to the ethos of participation and collaboration that makes DS so unique and special.