“What makes a great story?”
My dissertation is focused on understanding the impact and potential of digital storytelling as a social change strategy. Digital stories are often about personal, lived experiences, and some digital storytelling workshops focus on advocacy, for example, so that the resulting digital stories from a group can be shared together to influence public policy.
In the summer of 2017, I had an opportunity to co-facilitate three digital storytelling workshops in Toronto, Moncton, and Winnipeg, with youth who were adopted, or in foster care. Facilitators from the Adoption Council of Canada, CAMH, and a digital storytelling lab at Guelph University assisted the youth with creating a video-based story about their adoption, and/or foster care experiences.
Since January, I have completed 32 in-depth video elicitation interviews over Skype with key informants working in the arts, health care, social services, and digital storytelling facilitation sectors. The interviews began with viewing three digital (video) stories created by young adults who ‘aged-out’ of foster care and are starting their independent journeys to adulthood after foster care.
My interest in this research topic is three-fold: I have lived experience as an adoptee; I am a digital media artist and have created artistic works in video installations and documentary video; and I am interested in learning about interdisciplinary adult perspectives on digital stories to study the impact of this medium on their work.
The results of this study will be shared widely, and primarily with: the youth participants who created the videos, with adult participants in this study who are interested in reviewing a summary of the study, with my dissertation committee, and with research partners at the Adoption Council of Canada, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). I hope that this research will increase awareness about the experiences that youth in the Canadian adoption and foster care system face, as well as provide insights on the diverse perspectives and similarities across professions, on the medium of digital storytelling as a platform for this population of youth storytellers.
Dr. Sarah Flicker, Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning & Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University
Dr. Allison Crawford, Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, and Director of the Northern Psychiatric Outreach Program and Telepsychiatry at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Dr. Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, Assistant Professor, School of Image Arts, Ryerson University
Dr. Steve Bailey, Graduate Program Director, York & Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, and Faculty of Humanities, York University
About the photographs
As a workshop participant was recording their story by the Brokenhead river in Winnipeg with another facilitator, I sat on a patch of the dried-out riverbed and took two photographs. This turned out to be the last workshop that I co-facilitated before data collection began for my dissertation, and by then, I think I gained a greater sense of empathy and understanding of why the youth wanted to create a story about advocacy, as well as engage in a process of telling a very personal story.
While the participant talked, I held onto the bright green leaves that lay on the riverbed, and before I took the photo of the leaves, I placed a moss-covered stone over them to prevent them from blowing away in the wind.
Adjacent to the stone and leaves, there were tiny ferns growing out of the riverbed between the dried moss. In that moment, the photograph that I took of these ferns represented the youth, and the workshop facilitators. The youth, were resilient, and rejuvenating— even at the end of the summer— and they were reclaiming their stories by sharing them. The facilitators were witnesses to their stories.