Where’s the Story? Story Listening for Leaders

Story listening is not an art. It’s a practice. And it’s really easy to develop if you are willing and able to listen. Stories exist everywhere in your organization. You just need to be intentional about hearing them. A story does not have to be a particular length or a particular structure when it comes to listening. It may be a short anecdote about how an employee has helped a customer or an example of a time when a manager helped someone develop a skill. Or it may be a longer narrative of a long term employee’s experience of the company. Whatever the length or subject, there is always opportunity to become a better leader by listening to stories.

So why listen?

Stories provide rich information about customer experience, about the temperature of your staff team and about how you are doing as a leader and as a business. Stories exist whether you are listening for them or not. The people in your organization and who come across it are telling each other things about their experiences. Listening to stories enables you to respond to what is happening in your business. Note the word respond. Not react. Reacting would mean involving yourself in the conversation and either taking credit or being defensive. Responding involves remembering the stories you’ve heard and allowing them to influence you in developing your policies, creating communications or evaluating progress.

Listening to stories also builds connection. As organizations grow, people can sometimes get disconnected. They may be segregated into departments or work spaces. Strange silo behaviour can erupt into your corporate listening-wide (2)culture where it was never there before. Stories get created about which department is getting more money in their budget or is favoured by the CEO, etc. These are often based on not having enough information about what others are doing or better stories to latch onto. If you have a regular practice of listening to stories, you will be able to be proactive in heading off the negative growth of stories and steer your staff toward more positive tales of cross connection between individuals or teams. Creating a culture of story listening by modelling it yourself will also help keep staff connected to you and the bigger picture of making a difference in the lives of your customers.

How to Listen


Surveys are a great research tool. Unfortunately, too often we rely too much on the numbers and don’t give room for people to actually tell us about their experiences. We go for the easy percentage rather than introduce the hassle of trying to bring together what can seem like random information. However, asking people to ‘Tell us about’ their experience can provide more benefits than are immediately obvious. Yes, the number of people who rated the service to be 4 out of 5 is important. That is good information. But what does it mean? For the business overall, maybe it meets some targets. That’s great. But for the people on the frontline it means nothing. Collecting stories that they can read provides them with valuable information that informs their service delivery. Yep. It’s unscientific. But I guarantee you that your staff will remember the story of why the customer gave them the 2 rating more than they will the overall percentage relating to their performance that month. And they will make changes along the way. Isn’t that what customer feedback SHOULD do? These stories also provide great case studies for training or testimonials for your marketing.


This is my favourite leadership tool. I will admit to sometimes utilizing it because I was bored with some admin task but it is always a valuable thing to do. The key to wandering is being comfortable with not having an agenda or a reason to be talking to your staff. Drop in to an office and see how they are. Ask them what they are working on or about how things are going and listen. Really listen. Ask more questions. You don’t need to stay there for too long.  Then move on to another person. Doing this once a week even makes a real difference to your understanding of what is happening in your organization. AND, it gives you lots of great stories to pull out of your back pocket when you have speaking engagements, meetings with potential partners or in performance reviews. Wandering takes you beyond the monthly reports and gets you in touch with actual experience. And that is where you will find the stories.


If you are wandering as a leader and using story based surveys, you are creating an atmosphere of inquiry.  So your customers and employees may be ready for this little known ancient techniquBusiness man asking questione called ‘asking’. You may not have heard of it in our world of being very ‘busy’ and relying on technology to communicate for us, but it’s a real bonafide way of finding stories. Directly ask your customers or employees to tell you a story. To you personally. If you want to use Skype, Facetime or even your blog, go for it. If you are talking to customers, ask them how your business has made a difference in their lives. Ask them to tell you a story about how you or someone who works for you has helped them. If you are talking to your staff, ask them to tell you about how they have been helped to grow (or not!) in the company or about a time when they felt proud of their work. You will find out how well your Managers are doing and how engaged your team is in your organization.

So get story listening! Not only will it improve your effectiveness as a leader AND help your people feel heard, it will help you to tell better stories. And that is definitely good for business.

If you have any other suggestions about how to listen for stories as a leader, please let us know in the comments!

Lianne is also the Owner of Very Good Stories and a social licensee of the Institute of Community Reporters . You can find out more about Lianne and Very Good Stories at www.verygoodstories.com

Thinktank @IPPR commission Institute of Community Reporters in UK-wide listening exercise

When we started to develop the social network across the UK and beyond, we were aware that the network offered incredible reach into communities. We have a fantastic range of organisations in all regions of England and South Wales who are delivering grassroots activity with communities, so if anyone wants to know what communities are thinking, feeling, wanting or needing then it would make sense to talk to the Institute of Community Reporters.

We got our first opportunity to put this to the test with a commission from thinktank IPPR. IPPR said,

In the early 1990s, IPPR ran the Commission on Social Justice and redefined the mainstream political response to core social policy questions. Now IPPR has launched a major new flagship programme called The Condition of Britain with similar scope and ambition. 

A key element of the project is to ‘hear from ordinary people across the country’ about their everyday experiences, the stresses and strains they encounter, and what is needed to help them to live more fulfilling and less pressured lives. Part of this will be achieved through the primary research project, but in addition IPPR wants to launch what we are calling a ‘Voices of Britain’ initiative. 

This initiative would aim to give a ‘snapshot’ impression of this country in 2013 through creating an on-line ‘collage of voices’.

Between July and September this year, we deployed out Community Reporters from across the UK to go out and capture these voices, and the result is  powerful, sometimes moving and thoroughly engaging. You can see all 100 interviews on the project  video wall.  Common themes that emerged were the challenges of caring for elderly parents whilst raising a family, actual and fear of unemployment and lack of opportunity for young people. But there was also a reflection of how communities become more resilient in difficult times and turn to each other for support.

The experience was incredibly positive for us, for a number of reasons:

  • It enabled us to work with our partners and offer them financial reward for taking part in the project
  • It offered Community Reporters the chance to develop their skills and be part of something of national significance
  • It proved that the model of sustaining organisations to deliver community reporting activity at a local level is the right model in being able to get the voice of communities out to a wider audience.

We are extremely proud to have been part of this important research. And what is like for IPPR to partner with us? Tim Finch, Director of Communications at IPPR, said, “We are very happy with how the project went and it’s been great that we’ve been able to do something that takes us out of usual think tank territory.”

And the social licencees offered this feedback:

“Loved the way it was flexible for  us, so our reporters could film who they wanted, when it suited them – they (and I) really appreciated that aspect of it.”

“For us being able to say we have worked on a project with IPPR gives us extra kudos.”

“It was a straightforward piece of work for us to do (these things usually aren’t).”

ICR welcomes two new UK licensees – becoming “part of a winning team”

And so, to our favourite part of the day, the time where we get to welcome new members to the growing network of social licensee holders.

future logoThis time around, we are really pleased to welcome aboard Future Radio, a community radio station based in Norwich. They say:

Future radio is part of Future Projects (formerly known as The NR5 Project), a community based arts, media and education charity. Future provides school inclusion projects for young people aged 13 to 16 years, post 16 support, music, media and radio training, education films/DVD’s and much more.

Since 1999 the membership within Future Projects has increased from 40 to over 1500 members. Many other volunteers have been involved with broadcasts for Future Radio since we began broadcasting in 2004.

We asked the station manager Terry Lee what joining the ICR meant to him and he said, “Becoming part of the ICR licensee network feels like we’re joining a winning team. For an organisation like us, with community engagement at our core, being able to deliver training to groups as ‘Community Reporters’ fits in beautifully with our aims and objective, and also makes sense financially. The ‘train the trainer’ program was great fun to participate in too.”

Find out more about they have to offer here:


vista-logoWe are also very happy to welcome aboard Vista, based in Somerset. Vista’s mission is to “bring out the best in people and communities”, making them the perfect newest member to the network. We look forward to working with them and developing their Community Reporting activity in Somerset early next year.


If you would like to know more about becoming a member of the Social Licence network then email us on: enquiries@peoplesvoicemedia.co.uk

European Network of Community Reporters – meet the partners!

We are so proud to manage the European Network of Community Reporters. The network is representative of a vast array of different organisations – from NGOs to Universities and Local Authorities – and the talent, experience and knowledge represented is phenomenal. What they all have in common though is the desire to increase citizen voice and participation.

We have plans to develop this network further in 2014, but for now, why not find out a little more about some of the members on the ENCR website here:



If you would like to know about the European Network of Community Reporters, then please contact us at: enquiries@peoplesvoicemedia.co.uk


Sharing as an answer to shortage: a #SocEnt model for times of austerity

As a community development organisation that has been working in the field for 18 years, we know a lot about working in times of abundance and times of austerity – and how to survive both! And we are now in the unique position of managing a network of like-minded organisations with shared values. So, what is the philosophy that drives us and how can this bring benefit to all of the members involved?

We are passionate about increasing citizen engagement and participation and have worked with numerous clients over the years. As demand for our work increased, we developed the social licence programme as a way of extending the reach of our work beyond our own capacity. The licence enables locally based organisations the chance to offer value added activity with their own communities whilst strengthening their own capacity and sustainability.

Development of the network meets a couple of key goals for us:

  • working with more organisations over a wide geographical area means that more people can access the benefits of Community Reporting
  • sharing skills, knowledge, experience and resources is an extremely powerful way for smaller organisations to overcome capacity issues

The first point is fairly self-explanatory, but how does the network seek to support the capacity issues faced by so many organisations in time of austerity and cuts?

We benefit:
– we no longer employ a full time trainer. Instead we use the capacity within the trained trainer network. This offers us as a cost-effective way to respond to demand, and also benefits the participating organisation as they receive a fee when we use one of their trainers. So far, we have used a Toxteth TV trainer to deliver work in Ellesmere Port and Cumbria, trainers from Norwich to deliver work for our client and trainers from Salford to deliver work in Trafford. The organisations get paid, the trainers have a chance to develop their skills and we can choose the best skill set for the specific job required.

Licensees benefit:
– we have track record and reputation for delivering Community Reporting / citizen engagement work across the UK. Where we would have previously developed relationships ourselves, we are now bridging links with local licensees. For example, People’s Voice Media pitched for work with a housing association in Norwich, but delivery of the contract will be through our local licensee in Norwich, Future Radio, so they can develop local activity and support Community Reporter sustainability in a way that would be harder for us to do as a Manchester based organisation.

Similarly, we co-pitched for work at Liverpool Housing Trust with licensee Toxteth TV who went on to deliver the work and develop the relationship locally.

In some cases it is appropriate for us to co-deliver work, in order to develop skills and support the licensee to grow in competence, such as a delivery project between our Manchester licensee and a local housing provider. And in other cases we will co-produce a programme of activity, such as with work delivered alongside our licensee the Patients Association.

Flexibility is the key here – assessing what the licensee needs most rather than solely focusing on the cash value of a contract – and finding a way to support that so that long-term sustainability is more likely to be achieved.

In it together:
– we are committed to creating a network that has shared learning at its heart. When pushed for time, it is great to know that you can use a presentation / proposal / training outline that someone else has already produced. To that end, in addition to the communityreporter.co.uk website and the 182 page pack of training materials, we also share our back catalogue of proposals that describe bespoke packages of work we ave created for different clients over the years. And our licensees share outlines of training programmes for others to access and use.

All in all, the network is designed to be a supportive environment where our shared values allow us to share knowledge, experience, skills and resource with absolute trust and for shared benefit. And when times are hard, this is just the kind of atmosphere that can really be a lifeline. 

If you would like to learn more about joining the social licence network, then visit http://peoplesvoicemedia.co.uk/join-institute-community-reportersor email gary@peoplesvoicemedia.co.uk

Cooperatives and coproduction – developing the Social License model

Cooperative Organisations join the Social License network for a number of different reasons, but a recent member survey showed us that the primary motivation for joining for 87% of respondents was the chance to offer voice to their local communities.

Two social licensee holders – Inspiring Communities Together in Salford and MACC in Manchester – are now taking this one step further by exploring the options of setting up their Community Reporter groups as member led cooperatives.

Bernadette Elder of Inspiring Communities Together told us, “We have been working with a consultant from the Cooperative in Manchester to help us really develop our ideas and business model so that Salford Community Reporters can offer the best possible experience and range of opportunities for its members.”

Hannah Powell of MACC told us, “We have already met with our Community Reporters to have a session exploring options. They’re really keen to develop this further and see real potential for some sort of social enterprise model that might benefit them in the future.”

Still in early days of their developments, we’ll keep you posted on their progress as it happens.

Do you run a cooperative? What are some of the issues you faced in developing a member network? If you’d like to share any thoughts with us, we’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment in the box below.

Image by Anda

Stories About Stories – Introducing Content Curation

We have mentioned in earlier posts our collaboration with the wonderful staff at Storycircle, Goldsmiths University. They worked with us on establishing the Outcome Framework – to help us track our work to assess impact and target areas for development. As part of this, an idea arose around the curation of content, the telling of stories about the stories that our Community Reporters create.

We launched our new Institute of  Community Reporters website in April and with it came the first curation, created by the People’s Voice Media’s chair and committed community gardener Bernard Leach! He reflected on the powerful engagement tool of community gardening and the positive impact these projects can have on communities.

Stroke Assoc logoNext up, a collaboration with a fantastic partner, The Stroke Association. May’s curation coincided with national Stroke Awareness month, and the launch of some fascinating research that highlighted that while in-hospital care is generally rated as high by stroke survivors, the problems often begin when they return home…to potential stress, depression and the ripple effect of stroke on  the family and spouses. We have some fascinating content from stroke survivors on this theme so it was a natural collaboration. Read more here.

Big Issue logoContinuing the trend of great partnerships, we are extremely pleased to be highlighting the issue of Homelessness in next month’s curation in partnership with Big Issue in the North. There are some fascinating perspectives on homelessness to be found on the ICR website, and we look forward to the context that the curation will bring to these stories.

Check out our ICR website every month for a new curation. Coming up: Sport in the Community. Plus, the Future of the High Street.

If you are interested in being a partner in a future content curation, then drop us a line here.