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Neighborhood Story Event Ideas

Page history last edited by bgblogging 13 years, 8 months ago

Flickr Image by Daniel Greene


Here are a few storytelling options for Neighborhood or Place-Specific Storytelling Events, moving from the most simple and easy-to-prepare and execute to the most complicated:


Small Story Circles



Small groups identify storytelling hotspots in the neighborhood. A hotspot can be described simply as any place that holds important or numerous stories about the nature of this neighborhood, about what makes it itself. It is possible to distinguish between locations that hold stories of the past, and those that seem important right now, and those that could well be significant in the future.  Of course, there will be overlaps, and sometimes one location contains stories from all three eras, but it can be useful to note your interest in stories of the present and future as well as of the past. You can also make it explicit that ultimately you are hoping that this exercise leads to a new way of thinking about land-use planning and so you are seeking stories that reveal what works in the neighborhood and what could be improved.  See the diagram and explanation of the relationship between past, present and future stories.

You can dispense with the location-specific theme and instead list the values they hold dear about the neighborhood and then tell stories illustrating those values. 

In the story circle (small-group) people share their brief stories, one by one in quick succession.  The group then uses sticky notes to jot down values that they heard in the stories. The group shares & clusters the sticky notes on a flipchart sheet, and then starts to tease out more detail about the values with a mind-map such as the sun and its rays example.  They look for emerging themes, and contrasts, and relationships between the values.  Each small group selects on story from the group to be told to the larger group.

Plan on two-three hours for this event. Serve food!  Offer childcare/kids' storytelling activities and transportation.



Sticky notes, maps of the neighborhood & city, flipcharts (preferably the kind with sticky tops) & markers, sun-and-rays sheets.

Small-group facilitators need to be trained:  two-hour workshop

Invitations to the event: RSVP, ask people to bring stories (objects/photos,too?) related to the neighborhood. See Overview.




Kick off the event with several stories recorded: you can have them touch upon different themes you anticipate to be important, or on different locations, or on different eras (past, present, future), or on different kinds of people in the neighborhood (elders, middle-aged, youth).  People respond to these stories with their own in the story circles.

Add WORDLE element

VIDEO or AUDIO capture of each group’s storytelling. Photos taken of the people, the map, the sticky-note clusters, the rays.

AUDIO OR VIDEO CAPTURE BOOTHS following the event for people to share their stories.  A CD can be burned right there for them to take with them.  The story can be uploaded to Community Almanac in its entirety or edited.

Note: these entail more training, preparation, plus permissions to record and use the stories.  See Damariscotta wiki for a range of permissions.



PART ONE: Introduction (10 minutes)

1.    Explain to the full group the purpose of the storytelling portion of the event: to give people a chance to get to know one another better, to listen to one another’s stories about the neighborhood, and to gather and compare values held about the neighborhood and the city.


Part Two: Story Circles (one hour)

2.    Ask people to form groups of six-eight people who do not know one another well. (You can also help this along by handing out numbers when people arrive)

3.    In the small group open with an overview of the purpose, the ground rules, and a brief introduction of each person “What brings you here tonight?” 

4.    If you need a conversation starter, you can use a fun, quick exercise that gets them relaxed and ready:  look at a map of the neighborhood; have each person post a star on a storytelling hotspot.

5.    Help the conversation really take off by saying, “Think about…” and then asking a focused yet open question that invites a spectrum of emotion to make people feel welcome to talk about the things that are good about the town or need changing.  Using the terms “experiences” and  “examples” can sometimes produce better stories than the word “story” which can seem intimidating (“I’m not a storyteller!”)  If your group wants more guidance, you can start off with your own story—your brief, yet detailed story in answer to the question.

6.    One scenario that works well:  first round—go around the circle, each person offers an example, an experience, an anecdote in response to the question. Go around the circle again, having people share insights gained from these stories.  A third round could be more informal, a conversation including questions, extensions.  Another scenario allows interruption by the facilitator if it seems as though additional detail would enhance the story.  “Could you give an example?”  “Could you tell us more about that?”  Being an active story listener can entail digging deeper.

7.    Make sure you do not punctuate the conversation with your own thoughts--you do not need to speak after each participant.  This is crucial if you are to avoid dominating the conversation and turning it into an interview. You can write things down on a flip chart (or have someone else do this, or pass out sticky notes to everyone).  SILENCE does not need to be filled.  Give people room to think, to explore, to experience.

8.    If someone in the group is a known talker and might well dominate or even interrupt others, sit next to that person.  Not being able to have eye contact with the facilitator can reduce the urge to talk.

9.    If someone goes way off topic, do not interrupt. When there’s an opening, ask the person to relate the story or statement to the topic.  If someone starts to spout positions rather than interests, or get rather heated, inject light humor or gently ask the person a question to move things to a positive place.  “Tell us more about….”

10.     Use the sticky notes to jot down keywords about what people heard (one sticky note per value/keyword/theme/topic).  Make sure you emphasize the positive—what did we hear that we want to keep?  That we want to work towards?

11.    Have everyone post their sticky notes to a flipchart sheet and then cluster them by theme. Group similar or related values to locate potential common ground and real discrepancies within a group’s stories, to provide a springboard to discussion that can specify as precisely as possible what is meant by one of the more general terms people often latch onto when they first try to harvest values.  For example, many groups come up with “friendliness” or “natural beauty” as qualities they value in their towns.  We’re trying to get them to say more, which we do by drilling down into that word, by looking at the word next to similar words, and in relation to other values. Looking at the values as a group can reveal conflicts between values as well as common ground, providing an authentic, detailed picture of sorts of the neighborhood.   They can, if they wish, prioritize the values as well and discuss qualities of the neighborhood that did not come out of these stories but that are important to them. 

12.    Draw out more detail by drawing rays/arms/branches to link ideas and to add more specificity.  Discuss the results.

13.    Make sure you close the conversation by expressing your appreciation and asking them for ideas about next steps.

14.    Set a positive, relaxed tone.  Your emotions, attitudes will be felt and affect the experience.  Levity from time to time can help, but be careful not to dominate through your personality.


Part Three:  Full Group (30-45 minutes)

15.     Back in the large group, each small group reports out, sharing the map/diagrams they have created and summarizing the values harvested and the discussion about the values looked at as a group (relationships between the values, any dissonance, common ground, the picture they present of the neighborhood). What about values that only a few people expressed?  What is missing?  How do these stories intersect with the city’s story?  What would you like to hear from other neighborhoods?  What of this would you like to share with other neighborhoods? Discuss the relationship of these neighborhood values and the city, about planning the future.  Is there common ground?  Are there recurring themes that make for a promising next-step, either storytelling, or bringing in other Heart & Soul approaches?

How you will capture this discussion depends on your time and resources: a graphic facilitator could show the discussion visually, or someone could take notes to be distributed later.  A sign-up sheet/evaluation/survey at the end of the evening can gauge people's interest.

In addition, to keep the storytelling threading through the evening, have each group share one of their stories. Which story? That all depends on the group—some groups will want to ask for a volunteer, others will make a group decision on a story that articulates something precisely about the neighborhood.   


16. Summarize the conversation and distribute evaluation surveys that include questions about what was valuable about the event, ideas for future events, willingness to participate in future storytelling, interest in being trained as a story gather/facilitator, etc.




Flickr Image by zen



Overview: The neighborhood will prepare a story tour for people from other neighborhoods as well as to take on their own in the moment.


Materials, Training & Prep

Maps, big and small.  Flags or pushpins to mark stories on the maps.

Tour maps (after the RSVPs are in and tours designed: see #2 below)

Invitations to the event: ask for RSVP (see #1 Below)

Provisions for childcare/kids' storytelling activities.

Choose a meet-up spot for opening and closing activities

Training of tour leaders: two-hours


Examples of Location-Based Stories  & Story Tours

Mapping the stories using Wayfaring

Flickr MemoryMaps

Bay Area Map of Dangerous Intersections

Travels of Marco Polo and Google Maps

Storymapping Example from Ukiah, California

City of Memory Project in New York City  (StoryCorps)

Storytelling Project in Oakland, CA, The Organic City (Tours using iPODS)

The Murmur Project





1.    Have invitees RSVP to the invitation by sharing the location of the story they would like to tell, or the location about which they hope to hear stories.

2.    Someone gathers these locations onto a Google map (or Community Almanac map) and onto a large map printed for the occasion. Create a list of several mini-story tours, and a map for each tour. These can be crafted in many ways: randomly, to visit the widest area, to visit one area with a cluster of stories.  It all depends on what you get in the RSVPs and the number and variety of story locations offered. 6-8 is an ideal number for small-group storytelling activities: it’s small enough to feel intimate, and a sense of intimacy can lead to first connections and then to trust.  Any more than that, and it is also difficult to get through the storytelling and value-harvesting and ensuing discussion of next steps.  You want to keep people engaged.  Any smaller number and you lose the kind of critical mass that leads to excitement and engagement. Thinking about group size is important.

For the tours, 8 is fine, but 6 is better for the reasons above, plus walking about in a group of 6 leads to opportunities for everyone to get to know one another.

3.    Have people visit the map during the early moments of the gathering, noticing locations, hotspots (locations associated with several stories), empty spots.  Have them look for their name on a tour sheet.  If they did not RSVP but have a story, have them add a push pin to the map, locating that story, and have them add their name to a tour group.

4.    Gather the full group and explain that they have one hour for the tour—six stories, a walk, and conversation. 

5.    Return to the full group and share the revelations. It doesn’t matter if the revelations aren’t particularly surprising or new—part of the reason for telling stories is to bring people together (bonding and bridging).  Through the harvesting-of-values exercises, the stories get richer, and often people add missing detail to them at this point. If people have little practice at sharing stories, then the stories themselves, in this first exercise, might not seem all that interesting or useful from a Heart & Soul perspective. You can be deliberate, though, by adding #6 from Scenario A to the tour—when they return.  Another possibility is to mix the groups upon return and have people share their experience of the tour and THEN do a values harvest and discussion (see #10-12 in Scenario A) before bringing the full group together to craft a visual document of what the tours expressed about the neighborhood.  They can look at what was left out—were there places no group touched?  Why?

6. They can then discuss next steps: 

Should they hold another such event to which they invite other neighborhoods-- a real-time tour?  Should they try to reach out to their neighbors who did not attend and record their stories (on location) and add them to an online or iPOD tour?

Should they create physical markers locating the stories—plaques or signs?

Do some of the themes recur enough across the stories to rise as topics for a second-round of storytelling?  For instance, at this point, you could schedule story interviews on this topic, or hold a story-circle event, or schedule a digital-storytelling workshop using the topic.  Perhaps the topic would more readily lend itself to a different Heart & Soul approach, or to a mix of storytelling and data presentation.

Do they want to think about how the arts can intersect with these stories: say, mount a local photography exhibition exploring the topic?





•    People bring pictures or written stories to pin to the map.  These objects are photographed and entered onto the digital map.

•    Each group is given a video and or still camera and audio recorder to capture the tour, especially the stories. These can be shared on Community Almanac.  They can be put into a podcast version and housed at the library (or elsewhere) on iPods with tour maps to check out and follow the way MOMA does with its ArtMobs.  People can add their stories by recording onto the iPod if they are also given an iTalk recorder device to clip onto the iPod.  Schoolchildren and families can build story tours.  Lots of possibilities here.  Other neighborhoods can include a tour of previous neighborhood events and compare the stories, the values, the details, looking for common ground between neighborhoods.

•    Several stories are prepared in advance and form the backbone of a neighborhood tour.  The group listens to these stories in their locations (either a storyteller awaits them there, or they bring along a recording—kids are great to involve in this by being storytellers-in-place) and responds to these stories with their own.  Prepared stories can be from the past (pull from the historical society or the museums), and the stories the neighborhood tells are of the present AND of the future.  This is an interesting possibility—having the story tour move from the past, to the present, to the future.



Flickr Image by AnimalVegetable

This mural was created in conjunction with tree-planting in the neighborhood.


 Visual Stories


An event to tell the story of the neighborhood in pictures and words.  A huge painting/drawing version of the neighborhood map will be created at the event and put in a prominent place there or in the city.


Materials, Preparation/Training: 

Paints, markers, pastels, a large mural-sized canvas.

Someone in the neighborhood—or group of volunteers (children included)  to draw a map of the neighborhood on the mural (just a sketch). Having local artists participate is helpful!

Location for the project.

Timing: will this be a one-day event coupled with other storytelling activities (a neighborhood storytelling fesitval) or will the mural be available at certain times for a week or two for people to add to as they can?



Example from Canada

Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan,


Duke University's Face Up! Project

High school students in Denver--a mural club

Chemainus, British Columbia



1.    Have people bring images/symbolic mementos they want to pin to the map.  Let them know that they will be creating a visual representation of the neighborhood stories.

2.    Invite small groups to add their stories to the mural-map, by drawing their home, the location of the story, important places to them.  When the group is finished, have them tell one another their stories, work on value harvesting.

3.    Capture the storytelling.

4.    Publish the mural online and in the town.

Variation:  Have people create neighborhood postcards with pens, cameras (and a printer right there), crayons, markers, and post them to a large map or bulletin board or kiosk.  The stories can rotate week by week—thematically, etc.  Lots of possibilities here.


Interactive storytelling events:  theater.  See Ukiah project

Heart of the Town Festival, with all kinds of storytellers, story listening and recording booths, places to pin stories, games

Local television storytelling events

Geocaching/Vision quest stories:  Have people go out and find the stories, or find the locations where the story is set.

Mural projects (see below for list of examples)

Digital Storytelling Workshops

Combining Storytelling with Other Heart & Soul Approaches:  SUing Stories to Lead off discussion/polling/charrette, etc.

Community displays: bulletin boards, etc.

Contests: Calendar stories, essays, postcards




Some particulary useful examples

Kodja Place Stories, Australia


MAP Memory and Place, Melbourne Australian ACMI


Skohegan Revitalization Project:  schools and community partnering to engage youth in revitalization efforts


The PlaceMeant Project in Ukiah: mapping local stories and collaborating with a local theater company


Saving the Sierra:  stories about the local


The Organic City Project: capturing people's stories of downtown Oakland, California


Meadowlark Institute creates stories to use as springboards to community dialogues and planning for the future


Expressions of the Land: a project to research local views on land-use


Holding Up the Memories  by Jonathan Young, a project to capture the voices of Kentucky


Common Ground: story capturing two sides of rural development


Alberta Community Walk


Chris Maser  True Community is Founded on a Sense of Place, History and Trust


Community Arts Projects:http://www.communityarts.net/readingroom/archivefiles/2009/02/social_imaginat.ph


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