The Ownership of Stories. #WorkingOutLoud on ‘The Change Handbook’

The ownership and control of stories within organisations can be a factor of ‘Resistance’ to change. I’ve just rewritten this section of the manuscript for ‘The Change Handbook’, to explore the question of ‘ownership’ in more detail. Some of you will know that i am making a final pass through the full manuscript (circa 82,000 words) in an attempt to bring it down to something shorter, preferably circa 65,000 words or less. This rewriting of the ‘32 Resisters and Amplifiers of change’ is likely to give me half of this target… the version shared here is 300 words shorter than the first draft.

The Castle of Resistance

Castles are massive, but mass won’t protect you against change from within.

‘Ownership’ as a Resister of Change

“All stories originate somewhere, and that origin can impact how they evolve, how they spread, and how they land.

Under the ‘broadcast model’, that ownership sits with the formal hierarchy, because it owns the mechanism of story production, and channels of distribution. By playing with this ownership structure, we can either reinforce Resistance, or improve Dynamism.

When we read a newspaper article, we understand that it’s ‘owned’ by the paper itself: not just in terms of copyright on the words, but rather the gravitas, validity, and perspective, sitting behind them.

If i post a comment beneath the article, i am responding to that formal voice, but my story of response has a different ownership.

A heavily moderated comment section, where only pleasing comments are accepted, remains formal, under control of the formal power.

If the comments section includes a representative sample of positive and negative comments, excluding just those that are extreme, maybe it has joint ownership.

It’s a value call: we could argue that the space is still fully controlled, but equally, could argue that we’ve created space for moderate, considered, responses, moving beyond pure ‘broadcast’.

If comments appear immediately, with no moderation, we could say that the space is fully democratised, but this approach carries clear risk. Unmoderated spaces are beyond our control, and can be chaotic, unfair, subversive.

We can address this through different models of moderation: in the middle scenario, where comments are moderated, ownership remains inherently with the formal organisation. An alternative is to devolve ownership to a subset of the community itself, Community Managers. Support the space being more self governing, within a framework.

There are various models of moderation: in the middle space described above, where the comments space is moderated by the organisation, the space remains inherently one where ownership sits with the organisation, within the formal hierarchy.

An alternative would be where Community Managers, who are not employed by the organisation, take on the moderation role. In this case, we could argue that the space is more democratised and self-governing.

Alternatively, move to a model where anything can be posted, but anyone can flag things, and when something it flagged, it’s hidden until approved. The default position is ‘open’, but with easy ability to ‘hide’. If flagged, hidden, comments are approved, they become visible again, or even flagged ‘approved’. You could even use weighted voting, so a ‘wave’ of flagging is needed to trigger formal moderation: quantify dissent, and measure the temperature.

Overall, our approach should balance features of technology with capability of the community, the needs of formal owners, and a healthy dose of discretion.

To avoid the ownership of stories leading to Resistance, we can even make ownership explicit, for example by using a traffic light scheme. Formal stories can be flagged as such, with no option for response, moderated stories can carry a different flag, and open stories yet another. We can make explicit that which is typically implicit, or hidden, hence open to misunderstanding or abuse.

All organisations need formal channels to tell formal stories, but Socially Dynamic Organisations will almost always also include democratised, co-created, and crucially, co-owned spaces where other viewpoints will be heard.

Adding these levels of nuance and reflection into the storytelling spaces that organisations utilise will be a big step forward.

Organisations must tell effective stories, and own the messages within, but recognise that that is far from the only version of the truth.

As individuals, and communities, ‘make sense’ of what a formal story means, they weave a new narrative around it, with feeling and passion. They create a new story, which is beyond formal control, whether we want to hear it or not.

These collaborative stories are highly authentic, owned by the community itself.

Also, consider ’cultural graffiti’. In formal spaces, we see permitted writing. But in hidden, or unattributable spaces, we can hear unsanctioned voices of dissent. Voices that we may benefit from hearing.

Socially Dynamic Organisations have space for all types of stories, and recognise the value of cultural graffiti.

It does not seek to own these stories, nor to control, moderate, or kill stories that it does not like. Rather it seeks to read them, learn from them, and adapt the formal organisational story in response: as ever, it is agile through it’s actions, not simple lip service to a term or process.

What you need to do:

1. Understand the different types of ownership in different spaces. Actively play with how you utilise these.

2. Have open conversations with leadership and the wider community about what the spaces are, and how they will operate, so that the ownership is clear.

3. Experiment with clear signposting of different spaces. Listen carefully, with humility, to the types of conversations that take place in each.”

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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12 Responses to The Ownership of Stories. #WorkingOutLoud on ‘The Change Handbook’

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