The 10 Dignified Storytelling Principles work together to describe, or define, “dignified storytelling.” The Principles have been developed through consultations with storytellers and communication experts as well as the existing literature around ethical storytelling and communications in development. They serve as the framework for action and the definition of the term.
Dignified storytelling upholds human dignity, a quality that every person is born with. We all matter equally. Because everyone is equal in their humanity, we all deserve and have the right to be treated well and respectfully. In turn, we all have a responsibility to uphold everyone else’s dignity through words and action. Our sense of whether our dignity is honored or violated is influenced by many factors, including culture, circumstances, and the ways we are treated. Words and actions can have an enormous impact on a person’s sense of dignity – which is one of the reasons it is so important to gather, tell, and share stories in ways that uphold and do not violate a person’s humanity throughout the process.
The Dignified Storytelling Principles can help guide us towards storytelling that is grounded in deep respect, full transparency, and social responsibility. The Principles are interconnected and each of the principles serves as a part of the whole.
Amplifies contributors’ voices and experiences, honouring their wishes on what story is told and how it is told.
Respecting the inherent dignity and full humanity of contributors is at the heart of dignified storytelling. Contributors should be treated as equal partners and co-creators throughout the storytelling process with the goal of elevating their voices and perspectives. They are the experts in their own stories.
Applies a “do no harm”
ethic to all actions.
Dignified storytelling maintains that the best interest and safety of the contributor and their community must always be placed over any other consideration in storytelling. Dignified storytelling avoids behaviour or information-sharing that could cause risk, harm, or mistreatment of any individual or group. Assessing whether a story could result in a risk of harm, retribution, or loss to the person, family, or community is essential throughout the storytelling process, in collaboration with all stakeholders.
Treats each individual as a whole and every community as dynamic and multi-dimensional.
Dignified storytelling embraces complexity and nuance. It requires that contributors are presented as fully dimensional and capable of serving in multiple roles. Rather than only focusing on one aspect, circumstance or incident, dignified storytelling presents well-rounded depictions of contributors and the contexts in which they live. Dignified storytelling ensures authentic and diverse representation of groups or communities. It is committed to longer-term processes that recognize that communities are complex and always evolving.
Obtains informed, full, and freely given consent from contributors.
As the bedrock of dignified storytelling, consent from contributors must be freely given, fully informed, and obtained prior to any story gathering. Time must be allotted for dialogue with potential contributors that allows them to fully consider and meaningfully contribute to the story-gathering request. It is imperative that all involved stakeholders clearly understand the implications of their agreement to have their story, whether visual or written, collected, documented and shared in line with any privacy or confidentiality wishes. Contributors must be fully aware of the duration of their consent and understand their right and the process to withdraw consent at any time.
Acknowledges and mitigates biases, stereotypes, social stigmas, and power differences.
Dignified storytelling recognizes that biases, stereotypes, social stigmas and power differences exist and avoids perpetuating them through thoughtful and inclusive planning and communication. It encourages continuous open reflection and dialogue amongst all stakeholders and holds local expertise and perspectives in high regard.
Values local social, moral, and cultural norms.
Dignified storytelling pursues a deep understanding of historical and cultural contexts to guide the storytelling process and to mitigate risks of sensationalism and stereotyping. A commitment to communicating the background and context of all stories can help audiences better appreciate the social, economic, cultural, and political factors that shape the story.
Considers the impact of stories on individuals, communities, and the natural environment.
Dignified storytelling prioritizes thoughtful reflection on the short and longer-term implications behind each story choice – for individuals, the wider community, and the environment. This reflection should underpin both story planning and development, with an openness to adjusting plans, processes, and narratives to ensure positive impact. Dignified storytelling encourages storytellers to employ an ‘empathy check’ throughout the storytelling process, especially prior to publication, considering whether they would be comfortable sharing the visual or written story if it were a depiction of themselves or someone within their community.
Processes and manages content responsibly in line with existing data protection guidance and laws.
Dignified storytelling respects and abides by existing national or regional laws and regulations on storing and publishing stories. Evidence of consent and other personal information must be stored securely, and information about people should not be kept for longer than is necessary for the purpose it was collected.
Depicts realities and change prospects with accuracy and authenticity.
Dignified Storytelling offers honest and accurate portrayals of individuals and communities in a manner that produces a deeper understanding of the context, clearly outlining the change prospects. Dignified storytelling does not allow for digital manipulation or edits to be made to a visual or written story that would change the meaning or the connotations of the original content.
Empowers and inspires both contributors and audiences to work towards positive change.
Dignified storytelling empowers contributors, cultivates empathy, and inspires action through the power of storytelling. It promotes collective effort towards the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals and affirms that each of us has the power to meaningfully contribute to positive change within our families, communities, and the wider world.