How to run a Digital Storytelling service for migrants and refugees

'How to run a Digital Storytelling service for migrants and refugees' workshop was conducted during Telecentre Europe Annual Conference (TEAC16) on October 7, 2016, by Veronique De Leener ( and Stefano Kluzer.

Powerpoint presentation for the workshop: TEAC16_HowTo_Digital Storytelling.pdf

Purpose(s) of activity/ related policy areas/ political relevance/ end benefits

  • Integration of refugees in society and in the labour market
  • Digital inclusion of refugees and migrants with limited or no digital skills
  • Digital activities enhancing social interactions across cultures and language learning

Target end user audience(s)

Asylum seekers, refugees, migrants/newcomers have both common and distinctive features.

Asylum seekers and refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. After being granted the refugee status, you start life again in a new country. You may have left your family and friends, a house, a job and you have to start again in a country where you don’t speak the language and everything is different; and often your career also has to re-start from zero.

Newcomers face similar challenges, but they left their country most often for economic reasons or to create or reunify a family. Many countries have also second or third generation migrants, that in Belgium we call “Belgians with roots in another country”.

All these groups have to deal and cope with different cultures: the one of their home country and the one of the country where they now live. Many of them also share the feeling of being considered as second rank citizens and face different types of discrimination.

How to market/ engage this audience

Offering to create a digital story has proved to be an effective way to engage this audience and help them address some of the above challenges.

In a digital story, through the editing of images, sound, music, intertitles and your own voice, you tell your personal story or show your personal viewpoints about a given subject. Digital storytelling is a simple, accessible way to tell your story through a movie, without the need for extensive technical knowledge or skills.

Digital storytelling methodology is a mix of transformative (or transformational) learning and place-based learning with its different dimensions:

  • psychological (changes in understanding the self),
  • convictional (revision of belief system) and
  • behavioral (changes in lifestyle).

The focus is however not on the rational approach, but on a reflection through visual storytelling. The methodology aims to empower adult learners from a core of dignity and respect.

With refugees/newcomers/migrants, we can use this method to tell the story about one’s past or current experiences, e.g. healing trauma from persecution or conflict, coming to terms with the new life situation etc.. We can make stories together with other people, thus enhancing social interaction. We can practice in a different context the words learnt in the new language, and so on.

Hardware/ software / technology required

  • Computer with headphone (to listen to recorded/downloaded sounds music etc.) and microphone (to record).
  • Smartphone or iPad or other tablet for shooting pictures and videos.
  • Depending on the computer’s operating system, software for: video production (Movie maker, We video, Imovie). Also Google now has new software for making movies.

Data/ privacy/ IP issues

Given that much personal information, including photos and videos, may be put into digital stories, much attention should be paid to personal data protection laws, and beyond legal requirements, to address any worries about the negative effects of personal exposure.

Timing factors/ suggested duration

A digital storytelling project requires from 5 to 10 sessions, each about 3-hour long.

Most of the sessions are devoted to preparation and later to cutting and editing tasks. The duration of the recording phase depends on the chosen theme and the time needed to tell the story: “healing” stories may take 3-4 sessions, for less problematic stories 2 sessions are enough. Of course, the digital proficiency and experience of the people involved also affect duration: the lower the digital skills, the longer the time needed to learn how to work with the computer.

Remember that developing digital skills is one of the goals of digital storytelling projects. Therefore, the active participation of the target people in the production process is essential; they should not just play the storyteller role.

Sessions articulation should reflect the needs and conditions of the project’s organisers and target audience: e.g. from an intensive one session per day, during a whole week or more, to a one session per week, during 10 weeks or so.

Finance: possible cost headings/ budgets/ income opportunities

A digital storytelling project requires (reference is to the above 10 sessions, 30 hours duration):

  1. Technical tools (hardware and software), see section above
  2. Project staff (90 hours in total):

     - Recruiting participants, explaining and preparing the project: 30 hours

     - Coordinating the digital storytelling production process: 30 hours

    - Evaluating the materials, subtitling and uploading results online: 30 hours

If participants are digitally illiterate, support from 1 or 2 technical experts might be needed. Otherwise, project staff can usually manage also the technical support part.

How to train the trainer/ prepare staff

Training of project staff should primarily address: how to set up a secure environment, how to run a story circle, ethical issues, being a coach, how to help people tell their stories without influencing them.

The training of project staff on technical aspects is very basic and can be followed by everyone.

How to engage partners/ secure possible funding or sponsorship

Experience suggests looking for two types of entities for collaborating: NGOs, voluntary groups, charities etc. providing assistance and other support to the target group members; schools and other educational institutions attended by the target group members (e.g. adult education centre, language schools etc.).

Digital storytelling projects require not so big budgets, so they may be funded from existing programmes devoted to the education and/or integration of refugees and migrants.

Overall pitfalls/ lessons learned/ tips and tricks

  • Building a project environment that is perceived as safe and trustworthy by the target group is very important.
  • Be clear that you make a story to be published; create awareness about the consequences; most times, do it anonymously.

Where to find more information online/ good online resources

- (formerly the Center for Digital Storytelling)

- Patient voices UK about digital storytelling in healthcare

Check also the post by Stefano Kluzer with an overview of European initiatives for migrants and refugees, which was also presented at the workshop.

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