The 3 Levels of Narrative

Across the writing on the Social Age, i talk about levels of narrative: personal, co-created and organisational, so i felt it was about time to capture and define them properly. The ways we use stories are many and varied, but this framework is intended to help us plan and execute in a structured and rigorous way. The levels of narrative are complimentary: the personal feeds into the co-created and, if we architect it right, the co-created and personal both inform the Organisational story.

The 3 levels of narrative

In the old world, organisations wrote stories and did them to people: in the Social Age, those stories should be co-created and co-owned. The organisation may frame them, may create a narrative space, but the detail, the story itself, should be collaborative. Why? Because everyone should have a voice if we want them to be invested in it’s success. Because every voice helps us with our ‘sense making’ process.

Change Curve - Dynamic Change Model - Co-Creating the story

Personal narrative is our story of learning and change over time: it’s about both formal and social learning opportunities, about what we take from them, what we do with that, how we execute it, protoype and experiment, rehearse and learn, and how we make our marks in the sand over time. The personal narrative is written by the individual, over time, and forms the first reflective space.

Co-creation is what happens within our communities: it’s about curation, storytelling, sharing, it’s about challenge and support, critique and cross linking. Our communities help us carry out this ‘sense making’, creating meaning out of the deluge of information and inputs. The co-created group narrative is co-written by everyone in the community: it’s shared and iterated rapidly. It reflects the best sense making effort in that moment, but not the best we will ever do. That’s the beauty of co-creation: it evolves as circumstance changes. It’s adaptive and dynamic, and that’s why, if we unleash the power of co-creation, we can become agile.

Facets of Co-Creation

Co-Creation is something we do in communities: it’s a core skill of the Social Age

The organisational narrative is a meta narrative: instead of being written and the top and pushed down, it should be an analysis and reporting on the personal and co-created narratives produced by the community itself. This is why i say in the Change framework that organisations have to be brave enough to relinquish control. If you maintain rigid control, you can’t truly co-create, and without co-creation, we are just broadcasting, which is a passive format.

Change Curve - Dynamic Change - Narrative and Stories

I’ll break each of these levels out further over time, helping to build an understanding and approach, as well as looking at the dynamics that can interfere with, or amplify the success of, this approach.

The concept will be familiar if you have read my other explorations of the Social Age, for example:

In Social Leadership we look at co-creation in terms of how a Social Leader forms or engages in various communities, taking a different role in each, and co-creates solutions. We look at how the Leader facilitates each of these voices to be heard, supporting Storytelling in each space.

In Social Learning we look at the co-creative approach to learning, making sense, together, of the formal elements and contextualising them to be relevant to us in our everyday reality. We write personal and co-created narratives to share learning back out into the tacit wisdom of the organisation.

In the Change work i talk about co-creating and co-owning the future state, using stories to break through the resistors to change and writing the future stage, the new organisational narrative, together.

By architecting our work in line with, or taking account of, the three levels of narrative, we can tie into the ways stories form, are shaped and amplified, ensuring we can gain momentum in our work.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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8 Responses to The 3 Levels of Narrative

  1. I am fan of your site!
    The content is good but I also like how you optimize the presentation (those charts).
    Regards from Spain

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