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Orange Unit: A Person-Centered Launch

4A: Launching Our Counterstories

The Universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.

From “The Speed of Darkness” by Muriel Rukeyser, 20th century American poet

A story is a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world.

Robert Dickman and Richard Maxwell, The Elements of Persuasion

Stories are narratives designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the listener or reader. Stories can be used to share things important to us, things we care about, and descriptions of who we are, where we come from, or where we are going/could go. Stories can be memorials of those we find have done something notable, retellings of challenges overcome, of hurt and healing, and tales of adventures.

Numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart.

Andy Goodman, creative director

Storytelling lets us reflect on our pasts and build communities around shared thoughts and ideas. It invites people to be a part of something, whether something already happening, or something we could imagine might happen if we worked to make it real.

Digital storytelling is a technique that allows the story to be retold even while the storyteller is sleeping. This technique also allows the storyteller to use additional media to better bring home the moment. It is an innovative community-based participatory research technique bringing together community members and health workers to approach, research, and collaboratively address local health issues.[1] It has been incorporated into traditional quilting, along with capacitive touch sensors, to create living archives of voices in the sex work industry.[2] It has played a role in co-design initiatives involving local underserved communities in data generation and to spur grassroots initiatives and encourage broader local participation and engagement in community-based co-design projects.[3]

Stories can take many forms, and can work towards a wide range of goals, depending both on teller and audiences. Dr. Nicole Cooke, in her chapter “Becoming New Storytellers,” states that counterstories work to further “buck the status quo and challenge the long held collective stories of a hegemonic society, which tacitly maintain the narratives and normative behaviors of dominant groups.”[4]

For this activity, co-explorers are called to work on the design and creation of counterstory prototypes. These should remix the normative understanding of technology innovation by highlighting in some way the collaborative work done by a community of practice to accomplish the innovative design of a past or present technology. In particular, the remix challenge should include key roles that women, people of color, or other oppressed peoples have played in that technology design and development, where technology is broadly considered as any digital tool used on a regular basis to achieve an individual or community’s valued beings and doings. Consider your own innovations-in-use, those of others around you, those in the essential resources from the book, those you’ve learned about in other readings, podcasts, and explorations.

Common parts of a story that you may want to include are:

  • A beginning or first act: Introducing location, characters, and questions/conflicts/challenges to be addressed.
  • The middle or second act: Sharing the main course of events detailing what happened.
  • An end or third act: Revealing to the audience how it turned out, and potentially the meaning of the story.

As you develop the design and prototyping of a digital story, consider the audience. Who are they, really? Why would they relate? What gift can you offer? If you are telling the story yourself through speech, adjust the pace, emotion, and your tone of voice to fit your intended audience.

Good stories are personal reflections that captivate the audience. Follow these prompts as you engage in your reflective process:

  1. Own your insights. Ask yourself questions, such as:
    • Why is this story important to you?
    • Why do you want to tell this story?
    • Why now?
    • Who is it for?
    • What do you want to hear?
  2. Place yourself in history:
    • Where do you see yourself in your story?
    • What do you hear?
    • What do you see?
    • What is being said and what are your feelings?
    • Do you see yourself as the victim or the survivor?
  3. Own your emotions:
    • What emotions were you feeling as you lived the story?
    • What emotions do you feel when you relive it?
    • Which emotions best convey they story to your audience?
    • Emotional complexity can help the audience understand your story more completely.
    • Emotional honesty can help the audience really connect to your story.
    • Play to your audience.
  4. Find the moment:
    • What is the moment(s) of change in your story?  If more than one, which moment best conveys the meaning of your story?
    • What are different ways you can describe the moment in a scene?
    • What are the key pieces your audience should know for them to fully appreciate the moment of change and the meaning of your story?
    • What parts of the narration distract from the essence of the moment?
  5. Build your story around the moment.

Counterstory Creation Steps

You’ve already begun working towards inspirations for a counterstory as you’ve worked through the reading of the text and context in the book and in the essential resources; you’ve come together in conversation, you’ve begun practicing through hands-on individual and collaborative works, and you’ve spent time with your Professional Journal Reflections.

  1. Take some time during your Professional Journal Reflection to bring together some ideas of a counterstory or stories that could be told as part of this counterstory challenge. To begin, work alone, jotting down notes, images, or recorded words exploring these ideas.
  2. Moving forward, you are encouraged to join into a story circle. Story circles are a place where you can share your story with others. In a real sense, they are an informal peer review or critique activity common in all design work. Seek out from, and in turn provide to, others:
    • Generally, provide:
      • Feedback on the clarity and effectiveness of the story.
      • Ways others in the circle connect the story to their own experiences and provide additional insights into the subject.
      • How members of the story circle have new opportunities to reflect on their pasts, reexamine their histories and place themselves in history.
    • From there, provide more specific feedback:
      • What do you see as the moment in the story?
      • How well did the beginning and middle set up the moment?
      • What was the point of the story?
      • What might be done to help highlight the moment?
      • What will you take away from this story?
  3. As you move from inspiration and ideation to prototype iterations of products, write scripts of each counterstory prototype before creating audio recordings of the story. (While you can certainly do digital storytelling using much more than just audio recordings, for instance through blogs and videos, for this exercise you are encouraged to focus more specifically on audio.)
  4. Next, create audio recordings using the script.
    • There are many resources for recording audio built into Microsoft and Mac computers. I find that even with a script, my recorded audio isn’t as good as I’d like it to be. So I like to use recording software with solid editing features. If you find your computer’s preinstalled software insufficient for editing, you might consider Audacity.
    • Audacity is a free cross-platform digital audio editor and recording application. While free, the software is feature-rich and is capable of simple or more complex audio recordings. Audacity allows for the creation of multiple tracks to allow for voice, background music, and ambient sounds to be overlaid.
    • Think about your audience when recording a story and your tone of voice. Should this story be recorded orally? Would this story be more effective written down?
  5. After recording at least one counterstory, record two more files: an introduction and a bibliography (supplemental list of resources).

In the accompanying technical session, we will play back these media files on the Raspberry Pi. As we work through exercises of the Blue Unit, we will create a tool using the Circuit Playground Express and the Raspberry Pi for archiving and selective playback of stories.

The inspiration for this activity comes from a presentation by Angelika Strohmayer and Janis Meissner at the Community Informatics Research Network conference in 2016.[5] Lastly, consider other ways you might share this counterstory using the Raspberry Pi. As one example, here’s an Ideation and Iteration Code: Scratch Example remix by Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross.

Lesson Plan

Essential Resources:

  • Cooke, Nicole. “Becoming New Storytellers: Counterstorytelling in LIS.” In Information Services to Diverse Populations: Developing Culturally Competent Library Professionals, 113–36. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2017.
  • Lorini, Maria Rosa, Amalia Sabiescu, and Nemanja Memarovic. “Collective Digital Storytelling in Community-Based Co-Design Projects: An Emergent Approach.” The Journal of Community Informatics 13, no. 1 (2017): 109–36.

Additional Resources:

  • StoryCorps is a nonprofit with a mission “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”
  • Wolske, Martin. “Digital Storytelling Workshop.” Presented at the Faculty Summer Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011.
  • Gubrium, Aline. “Digital Storytelling: An Emergent Method for Health Promotion Research and Practice.” Health Promotion Practice 10, no. 2 (2009): 186–91.
  • Crane, Beverly. “Digital Storytelling Changes the Way We Write Stories.” Information Searcher 18, no. 1 (2008): 3–9, 35.
  • Drotner, Kirsten. “Boundaries and Bridges: Digital Storytelling in Education Studies and Media Studies.” In Digital Storytelling, Mediatized Stories: Self-Representations in New Media, edited by Knut Lundby, 61–84. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.

Professional Journal Reflections:

Dedicate some time to create two or three short, partial drafts of counterstories that you can share with others, highlighting in some way the role of women, people of color, or other underrepresented people in digital technology. You might draft the same story told to different audiences, different stories told to the same audience, or other mixes as you see fit. Drafts should rough out:

  • How the story would build towards the key moment
  • Introduction of location, characters, and questions/conflicts/challenge
  • Main course of events
  • Conclusion revealing what happened and its meaning

Also draft an introduction to your stories and a supplemental list of resources.

Record these drafts and save them as MP3 audio files, which we will use in an upcoming hands-on exercise.

  1. Aline Gubrium, “Digital Storytelling: An Emergent Method for Health Promotion Research and Practice,” Health Promotion Practice 10, no. 2 (2009): 186–91.
  2. Angelika Strohmayer and Janis Meissner, “‘We Had Tough Times, but We’ve Sort of Sewn Our Way through It’: The Partnership Quilt,” XRDS: Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students 24, no. 2 (December 19, 2017): 48–51.
  3. Maria Rosa Lorini, Amalia Sabiescu, and Nemanja Memarovic, “Collective Digital Storytelling in Community-Based Co-Design Projects: An Emergent Approach,” The Journal of Community Informatics 13, no. 1 (2017): 109–36.
  4. Nicole Cooke, “Becoming New Storytellers: Counterstorytelling in LIS,” in Information Services to Diverse Populations: Developing Culturally Competent Library Professionals (Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2017), 114.
  5. You can find out more in their article: Strohmayer and Meissner, “‘We Had Tough Times, but We’ve Sort of Sewn Our Way through It’: The Partnership Quilt,” 48–51.


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A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology Copyright © 2020 by Copyright © 2020 Martin Wolske. Copyright “Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example” © 2020 Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross. Copyright “Introducing the Unix Command Line” © 2020 Martin Wolske, Dinesh Rathi, Henry Grob, and Vandana Singh. Copyright “Security and Privacy” © 2020 Sara Rasmussen. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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