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  • Aneesh Mohan, Shubha Khadke, Avisha Jain

Unearthing Authentic Narratives: Participatory Approaches for Effective Communication

A write-shop held by the Small Farm Incomes Team at Urmul Seemant Samiti, Bikaner, in collaboration with Rajasthan Natural Farming Coalition captured sustainable agriculture experiences from the field. The write-shop enabled grassroot workers to refine their insights that could feed into development and documentation processes.


Communication of the impact and change through development interventions is increasingly important as multiple stakeholders need to appreciate and acknowledge what it takes to bring about rural transformation. While annual reports and project related documentations provides information, it is often the stories from the grassroots that need to be captured and shared more widely. During the Rajasthan Natural Farming Coalition’s (RNFC) General Body Meeting held in March 2023, this need to harness the power of field coordinators in bringing about change was recognised. In the spirit of collaboration, the SFI team was requested to facilitate capturing their intimate understanding of ground realities and processes of rural transformation.

Field coordinators usually spend several days and months interacting with local communities, understanding their challenges, and witnessing their progress, and carry the many stories of sustainable agricultural transitions. Their first-hand accounts are troves of authentic experiences that outsiders are only able to glimpse at during the occasional field visit. There is thus an unmet need for innovative processes that could effectively document these for communication to a wider audience.



The Write-Shop Concept and Design

Recognizing the potential, the idea of a "write-shop" was conceptualised by the SFI Team and RNFC. The write-shop served as a platform for these coordinators to enhance their communication skills and learn the art of storywriting. Various communication technologies were discussed, including the possibility of video workshops, however, a write-shop was deemed the ideal starting point, fostering collaboration, critical thinking, and active participation.

The write-shop was designed to encourage active engagement. The schedule was intentionally malleable, adaptable to the participants' current understanding and capacity. It struck a balance between group activities and individual work. All sessions were kept participatory to draw out their reflections and structure them into narratives.


Before the write-shop commenced, a virtual session was organized on 10th June 2023. This session aimed to orient participants to the workshop's concept, introduce them to fellow participants, and acquaint them with the facilitators. The participants were asked to prepare a first draft that they would later on develop further during the write-shop. To help them with this process, various themes with basic questions that could add structure to their write-up were provided to them. The orientation call set the tone for the write-shop.

The two-day write-shop unfolded on 14th June 2023 against the backdrop of warm hospitality provided by the host partner organisation, Urmul Seemant Samiti. A total of 20 participants (15 men and 5 women), from 8 organizations (Disha-RCDSS, FES, GRAVIS, Bajaj Foundation , PRADAN, Seva Mandir, Unnati, and Urmul Seemant Samiti), 2 interns, and 2 fellows from Desert Resource Centre (DRC) participated in the event


Learning and Refinement: A Journey Through Iteration

Following an introductory session, participants were divided into four groups, each group was handed a distinct story to analyse. Ideas flowed freely, with participants delving into what resonated with them, what elements were missing, and how the structure could be enhanced. The chosen stories were intentionally diverse - some lengthy, some succinct in their titles, others laden with data, and some teeming with emotion. At the same time, there were common threads that gave structure to each story. This activity elicited a broad set of guidelines like flow between sub-topics, adding relevant titles, emotional connect with the reader, and more, that can be used to write effectively.

Day 2 of the workshop started with a recap of the lessons learned on the previous day. The significance of including these elements was reiterated. This was followed by a ‘peer review’ of the participants’ stories. The feedback FROM participants TO participants served as a tool to develop critical observation, as well as grow their own understanding of what makes a good story.



This iterative process allowed collaborative improvement, where each layer of refinement brought the stories closer to their full potential. Participants experienced firsthand the evolution of their stories, and tangible feedback of their growth as storytellers.


Paving the Path Forward: Stories in Bloom

As the workshop drew to a close, participants engaged in a reflective session. They shared their takeaways, thoughts, and feedback on the transformative two days. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with participants expressing newfound enthusiasm for writing and a deeper understanding of the nuances involved in crafting impactful narratives.

One participant shared, "From this workshop, I learned many things like how to structure the story and the difference between writing a report and a story. My favourite part was the peer-to-peer discussion and gaining feedback." Another noted, "Really liked the session of first reading different stories then writing our own. This gives more perspective to work."


The workshop was a stepping stone toward a larger objective – to uncover stories from those who intimately understand the field. The stories penned by these field coordinators will find their way onto platforms like on our website, www.smallfarmincomes.com/blog and beyond. By nurturing their ability to tell compelling stories, the coordinators are bridging the gap between grassroot realities and the broader narrative of development. Reading their perspectives can help other development professionals, activists and academics understand the essence of their work and the communities they serve.


A detailed report on the workshop is available here.

 

Aneesh Mohan is a Research Associate in the Living Farm Incomes (LFI) project at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA).


Shubha Khadke is a Programme and Outreach Consultant in the LFI Project.


Avisha Jain is the State Facilitator for the Rajasthan chapter of National Coalition of Natural Farming.


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