StoryLab Symposium 2018

Communication, Culture and Media - StoryLab

The StoryLab International Film Development Research Network is a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and as part of its conclusion, a symposium was held in January 2018.

The ubiquitous nature of story means that we are all actually storytellers, employing various narrative forms depending on context and expressive tools. The computer game, the poem, the annual accounts, the documentary film, the mathematical formula, the archaeological exhibition, the healthy eating leaflet, the classroom lecture, the legal document and the conversation are a few examples of the numerous narrative forms which all have the one quality in common: they are engaging us in wider themes and issues through story. It would therefore seem to make sense to develop some kind of transdisciplinary forum around that thing we call story.

The symposium

Thirty delegates from various disciplined joined the working symposium which sought to develop tangible outcomes for the future development of StoryLab. It saw a select number of colleagues from across the UK and internationally invited to discuss initial findings from this network project and to explore transdisciplinary opportunities to apply the enthnomediaology methodologies to broader research themes, such as the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Prof Erik Knudsen speaking at the StoryLab symposium

The symposium explored how the network itself – loose, flexible, responsive and multiplied – and the methodology – ethnomediaology – could be used to provide an inspirational and eclectic environment in which to explore, address and communicate the problems and issues arising out of achieving the UN’s Sustainability Goals. Direct engagement with storytelling across narrative forms remained central to this idea.

The symposium was designed to be a multimedia-rich experience, with screens showing video clips of workshops and interviews, and social media conversations happening in real time. The whole event was broadcast live via YouTube, enabling the filmmakers from the participating countries, and others, to observe the proceedings and engage via social media. This seven-hour recording now exists as a permanent archive of the event.


The day featured talks from a number of presenters. First up, Professor Erik Knudsen, Dr Nico Meissner and Dr Carolina Patiño described and reported on the initial findings from the project, including feedback from the 45 participants from Malaysia, Ghana and Colombia.

Listening to a speaker at the StoryLab symposium

Two diaspora filmmakers, Razli Dalan from Malaysia and Inti Martínez from Colombia, shared their experiences, after which followed a creative discussions led by Dr John Law an using the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals as a focused aspiration on which to build discussions.

Discussion workshops

All delegates took part in an afternoon of creative discussion using Remerge technology and Open Space / World Café techniques.

Led by Dr John Law, conversation was focused on questions around the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Initial questions were designed to identify and prioritise themes and problems around which people could congregate, and to discuss the importance and potential shortcomings of collaborating across disciplines.

The narrative of the questions then moved on to becoming a lot more pragmatic. The focus moved to delegates’ particular areas of expertise and how these could address specific UN goals. The objective was to arrive at a series of concrete opportunities and then to take the products of these discussions to explore common threads that could potentially be the basis for further discussions around projects for eventual development.


The answers to the questions provide a fertile context for further exploration in identifying key themes and potential projects. It is also clear that story and narrative features heavily in the work of almost everyone who participated as a delegate, and there is a strong appetite for collaboration across disciplines.

While the focus was on the UN’s global goals, delegates showed great interest in applying these in local contexts not far from home. Themes around inequality, diversity and justice figured strongly in most of the debates and a lot of the particular ideas discussed involved community engagement and participatory expression in various forms in order to give voice to marginalised people and communities.

Symposium organisers are hopeful that the discussions will continue. They said: “Different themes and issues may be deduced from this summary document and part of its purpose is to enable further discussion and facilitate further exploration of collaborative opportunities around the idea of story. By sharing this raw data, we hope that it may stimulate further conversations that then lead to concrete action and outputs.”

Next steps

The StoryLab Research Network continues beyond the end of the AHRC network funding in February 2018.

Following on from the symposium, the organisers will encourage delegates to continue discussing project ideas and assemble around some opportunities in smaller groups.

In addition, existing StoryLab Research Network projects will be expanded in Malaysia, Ghana and Colombia and beyond.

We would like the evolving StoryLab to continue to:

  • bring transdisciplinary groups of people together for focused story and narrative-led workshops and symposia around defined shared issues, themes and problems;
  • organise various ‘open source’ story and narrative led activities exploring defined themes, issues and problems by researchers, practitioners, NGOs and communities from different contexts and disciplines; and
  • provide a branded creative space with which to engage various communities and collaborators from within and outside NGO and university environments, including potential frameworks for inter-institutional collaborations

The StoryLab organisers welcome any contributions and suggestions. Get in touch or find out more on the StoryLab website.