I’ve been quoted in the news a few times over the last couple of weeks, which is always exciting.  The graphic novel Scottish Book Trust produced to tackle sectarianism has made the news here in Scotland, garnering coverage on the BBC, in the Scotsman Newspaper and in the National.  Beyond the graphic novel, which is brilliant on its own, the evaluation of its production and use, which I was lead on, and which Franziska Schmidt provided essential research support for, seems to have captured their attention.  Particularly the part where we wrote that the graphic novel helped some of the literacy learners who used it consider other people’s points of view.

Stories have been used for millennia to expand audience’s circles of empathy.  The ability of a listener (or reader) to put themselves in a character’s shoes is what makes stories work.  So on one level, anyone who works with stories would expect this sort of result.  Still, research into how stories work is still surprisingly sparse, so it was gratifying that we found evidence of this in the focus groups, session transcripts and notes we analysed for the evaluation.

The other thing our evaluation found was that it wasn’t just the graphic novel, but the whole process of developing it that made a difference to the lives of those involved.  Walk the Walk is the third graphic novel Scottish Book Trust has created through the involvement of the audience, in a process developed by staff member, Koren Calder.  SBT works over three sessions with groups that fit the target audience demographic, collecting their stories and experiences related to the topic, then bringing in an author and illustrator to work with the groups and their material and finally getting their feedback on drafts before finalising the book.

I’m the right age to remember when the first “choose your own adventure” books came out.  They were fun.  As an individual reader, I got to choose different paths as I read through the book.  But they were never truly satisfying.  Even as a child they felt limited.  In retrospect, i can see now that those books reinforced individualism and reduced choice to options someone outside of myself presented to me.  I bring this up, because I think the SBT process of working with communities is a significant development on the “choose your OWN adventure” approach. Their process returns storytelling to a community art-form.  It is a collective project of crafting stories on topics that matter to the communities involved, and thereby unearths experiences and choices that writers might not think of on their own and gives voice to people, for whom being listened too may be an unusual experience.

You can download your own copy of Walk the Walk for free at the Scottish Book Trust site.

The full report for this evaluation can be found on my research page at the University of Edinburgh: Research Explorer