The iBali (story) Network: Democratising knowledge through creative storytelling with youth who are excluded from learning in urban African Schools

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Wellbg, Educ & Lang Sci(WELS)

Abstract

In a recent forum on reinvigorating arts and humanities in Africa, the African Humanities Programme (AHP) highlighted the important contribution they can make to defining African approaches to building scholarship and meeting social challenges. The social challenge the iBali Network is focussed on is the complex combination of factors which exclude young people from learning in urban schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. Secondary school education underpins global development strategies, and is seen as a minimum entitlement for equipping youth with the knowledge and skills required to secure decent livelihoods in a globalised world. Enrollment in secondary education has increased nine-fold since the 1970s, but youth in urban areas face under-resourced and overcrowded classrooms, unstable home-environments, crime and gendered social pressures, forced employment, poor sanitation and health challenges. It is young people who have opportunities for schooling, but who are excluded from opportunities for learning, who are at the centre of the iBali Network. Learning exclusions are compounded by the little attention given in African public schools to young people's articulation of their perspectives and experiences of the world they inhabit and the world they want.

We propose to create a network of expert and early career researchers (ECRs) and practitioners whose work coalesces around using participatory storytelling to tackle social issues, working at the intersection of GCRF challenges 3 (inclusive and equitable quality education), 8 (sustainable cities and communities) and 11 (poverty, inequality and gender). Storytelling approaches integrate international, scholarly and indigenous narratives and help surface and give value to different forms of knowledge. Through a focus on in-school youth and storytelling, the iBali Network is committed to both the promotion of arts approaches to address development challenges and the democratisation of knowledge about development through the arts.

The AHP also highlighted under-funding of arts and humanities departments in Africa, and the limited opportunities scholars working across the arts/development boundary have for networking, collaboration and dialogue. We know from our own experience that creating a critical mass of scholars working across this boundary is compounded by the research methods training available for ECRs working on critical social issues. This sits firmly outside the arts, and predominant methodological approaches can be problematic in how they frame and investigate exclusions from learning. The iBali Network responds directly to these concerns.

Through a range of activities which include a methodology-sharing summer school in South Africa, a bidding for funding workshop in Kenya, and sustained support for ECRs from across Africa, iBali aims to mobilise academics using participatory storytelling approaches. The network will demonstrate the approaches by working with academics, practitioners, and teachers and learners themselves to challenge the ways in which youth are excluded from learning in urban education systems. The core team is made up of internationally renowned scholars from Nigeria, Kenya, the UK, Sweden and South Africa. The Advisory Group extends the geographical reach to Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Sierra Leone. Further, through the recruitment of ECRs, the iBali Network, the methodologies it promotes, and the resulting impact, will be authentically pan-African.

Fresh attention and more creative work is required to better understand why youth don't learn in urban schools. Through iBali's focus on storytelling, the arts become a mode of knowledge generation as well as a form of expression and engagement. The intention is to create the starting conditions for a sustainable and scalable network through which exclusions can be surfaced, highlighted and addressed by scholars, activists, policy makers, teachers and the youth of Africa themselves.

Planned Impact

This applied arts and humanities project will create an African-based network of scholars working at the arts/education/development interface, in order to address the important social issue of the exclusion of African youth from learning. The network aims to bring together experienced and early career scholars along with NGOs and members of existing networks to share experience, skills, methodologies and materials to build capacity for the application of arts based story-telling approaches to development issues in Africa. Within the initial funded phases of the network, and the planned ongoing activities, it will produce both direct and indirect impact on different stakeholders as follows:

Direct impact

* Direct engagement with youth and schools in Cape Town during the initial summer school phase through live workshops that employ techniques drawn from Theatre for Development and from first-person storytelling through digital arts.

* Opportunities for early career researchers to develop their skills and capacities to apply arts-based approaches to development issues such as improving education.

* Integration and improved co-ordination between existing networks and communities of practice comprising scholars and practitioners whose work coalesces around youth, the arts and education in Africa.

Indirect impact

* African policy makers, teachers and teacher educators will access improved knowledge on the application of arts and humanities approaches to improve learning in schools, as well as new open access teaching resources.

* Over time, we expect to produce media which will increase an appreciation of opportunities to improve the work of urban schools and teachers amongst policy actors and the public.

* Future student teachers, future learners and African publics will benefit from better learning in urban schools, leading to enhanced long term social and economic outcomes.

Finally, a wider impact will be achieved through targeted, strategic communication through events and through web and social media communication using well designed and attractive outputs to underpin the credibility and reach of the findings. In Africa direct contact with network members will be supplemented by work with policy stakeholders, as well as direct interaction with various publics through local and social media and public events such as film showings. At the international level, the centre of the communications strategy will be a blog-driven website which will feature open-access methodological resources around participatory storytelling to address development / social issues, in multiple languages to ensure pan-African impact.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Critical moments in the lives of out-of-school girls in Zimbabwe 
Description Eleven digital stories were created by out-of-school girls in Zimbabwe during a workshop funded by the SAGE programme (see follow-on-funding section). These digital stories showcase moments in the girls' lives that changed the course of their future. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The digital stories have been showcased at a range of events (see engagement section) and are being built into teaching programmes at The Open University. 
 
Title ECR digital stories on educational inclusion 
Description The ECRs participating in the Flagship iBali Network Workshop were supported through an intensive storytelling process in order to introduce them to the methodology and to start an intellectual dialogue about the appropriateness of the approach for their work. Over the workshop each ECR was supported to develop a 3-5 minute digital story about an incident of educational inclusion or exclusion in their life as an early career researcher. Eleven digital stories were produced in total, and screened at the workshop celebration event. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The stories have been used to showcase the personal storytelling methodology at a range of workshops and presentations led by the PI, Co-Is, practitioner partners and ECRs. The process of developing the stories was key to the ECRs developing their skills in storytelling research and the utilisation of these skills in the iBali mini-grants and other initiatives which have grown from the iBali network funding. 
 
Title TESSA Tutors' Storybook 
Description A book of 25 stories written by tutors from Colleges of Education in Uganda. These stories were generated during a series of workshops in Uganda as part of the collaborative research between the iBali Network and the TESSA programme (Allan and Nesta Fergusson funding) exploring tutor professional identity and the use of open educational resources in Ugandan teacher education. This version of the storybook has four main purposes: 1. It has been shared with the tutors so that they have a memento of their participation in the research. 2. It has been designed to facilitate tutor engagement in the (ongoing) analysis stage of the research through a reflective questionnaire which supports critical commentary on the collective professional experience of tutors and the generation of research themes from a tutor-perspective. 3. It offers tutors the opportunity to amend or retract their stories in advance of the online public-release of the storybook (summer/autumn 2019). 4. Tutors found the storytelling activities interesting and saw potential for their use in their own teaching and research work. The activities were written up with tailored user-guides and included in the tutors' version of the storybook to facilitate their utilisation by the tutors. 2020 update: the book has now been published online (see link below). 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact None recorded yet, but we expect tutor engagement with the research analysis and a the introduction of more creative approaches in tutors' teaching as a result of the storybook. 
URL http://www.tessafrica.net/sites/www.tessafrica.net/files/files/TESSA_UgandaResearch_StoryBook_Online...
 
Description This award exceeded its initial objectives of galvanising and strengthening connections between academics and practitioners interested in storytelling research in education, with a particular focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. The network has led to significant follow-on funding from a range of external sources, as well as professional relationships and working friendships which are continuing well-beyond the funded period of the award. This follow-on funding (which would not have been secured without the network funding) has fed into, for example, the development of educational materials which will reach approx 21,000 out of school girls in Zimbabwe. Although the Ibali funding period ended two years ago, activity continues and plans for future activity (including awaiting the outcome of submitted research grant proposals, bid-development, co-authoring, mentoring and collaborations both inside and outside academia) stretch several years into the future.
Exploitation Route A major intention and success of the Ibali Network has been drawing across the expertise surfaced through the network to develop a cross-country, interdisciplinary research proposal for a large-scale empirical research study that will lead to several publications as well as an online, interactive 'Hub' for storytelling research. This will also host newly generated, open access and editable practitioner guides for how to ethically and critically use storytelling research in international education research. We have submitted this proposal to the AHRC (August 2020) and are awaiting the outcome.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description [2022 update] The Zimbabwe research with Plan International was able to re-start due to a reduced number of cases and relaxed guidelines in Zimbabwe. We were able to host a remote storytelling/participatory video workshop with the girls in August 2021 (with the facilitators co-located in person in Zimbabwe, in South Africa (contributing online) and the UK (contributing online)). This led to the creation of a film which is due to be shown at a high-level policy event in Zimbabwe in March 2022. We are also planning the third and final storytelling workshop with the girls in May 2022. While these activities are funded through new grants (not the original AHRC Network grant) the research builds directly on the skills and methods developed through the Network grant, and includes two researchers who were connected to the PI through the original AHRC Network grant. The published paper from the first workshop has also been used to support changes to how girls' literacy skills are evaluated within the learning programme. In addition, while the £1.8m fellowship proposal was unsuccessful, the £610k proposal to the AHRC was awarded funding (total value to funder £503k) and this project - which brings together five members from the Network grant - started in January 2022. This project works with multiple non-academic partners and stakeholders in the UK, Nigeria and South Africa, so we anticipate further non-academic impact to be reported as a result. [2021 update] The Zimbabwe research has been suspended due to the pandemic, but we are trialling different ways of contacting and communicating with the research participants virtually (including through a funded pilot into online storytelling). However, showcasing the findings from phase 1 of the research with our funders (FCDO funding via Plan International) led to a further opportunity for me to lead a storytelling evaluation of another Plan International programme in Sierra Leone (value £15,000). This is under way. The major way the findings have been used however (it is important to remember that this was network funding, not an empirical project), is within the development of two major research grant proposals to the UKRI (£1.8m) and AHRC (£610k). These propsals build directly on the intentions and success of the Ibali Network (the award being reported on here) by bringing together academics from across Sub-Saharan Africa who met through the network. [2020 update] Members of the Ibali Network (who did not know each other before the network was established) successfully applied for funding to lead a storytelling research study which would run alongside a major DFID/Girls Education Challenge funded education programme in Zimbabwe (SAGE: Strengthening Adolescent Girls' Education, lead organisation: Plan International, with The Open University as academic partner). This is ongoing (year 2 of 3), but the findings from the first stage of the research in year 1 have already fed into the materials for the programme. In particular, a module on 'career pathways' was adapted following insights from the storytelling research about the socio-cultural and systemic barriers to girls' employment in Zimbabwe. These materials will reach approximately 21,000 girls in Zimbabwe.
Sector Education
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Advisory panel member - AHRC funded collaboration: "Pas en Avant: Community Integration through Dance-Based Pedagogy in the Lake Chad Region"
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=AH%2FS004068%2F1
 
Description Research feeding into development of education materials in major national education programme in Zimbabwe
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Education Futures Research Activity Grant (catering for story screening reception)
Amount £100 (GBP)
Organisation Open University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 02/2020
 
Description Global Challenge Research Fund (QR - through Open University)
Amount £7,000 (GBP)
Organisation Open University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 07/2021
 
Description Ibali: storying new discourses of educational inclusion/exclusion in the UK, Nigeria and South Africa
Amount £503,327 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/V009117/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2021 
End 05/2023
 
Description Piloting online and digital storytelling
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation Open University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2020 
End 07/2021
 
Description Research Evaluation of Education Programme (Waterloo Foundation / Plan International)
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Open University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2020 
End 11/2021
 
Description SAGE (Strengthening Adolescent Girls' Education) / Research Strand (component of programme grant)
Amount £75,000 (GBP)
Organisation Plan UK 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 07/2021
 
Description TESSA Uganda MOOC Research and Evaluation: Storytelling project
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Allan & Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 12/2019
 
Description Inside/Out (Marie Curie Sklodowska Fellowship) 
Organisation Coventry University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution An iBali Network Co-I (Dr Joanna Wheeler) is leading a European Commission Marie Curie Sklodowska Actions Fellowship: 'Inside/Out: using storytelling to understand the politics of exclusion in Europe and South Africa' As part of the early career researcher (ECR) capacity building and Knowledge Exchange strands of the iBali Network, Dr Wheeler and I conceptualised 'co-facilitation and learning' roles for iBali Network ECRs within the South African Inside/Out storytelling workshops. The purpose was to develop the ECRs' skills in facilitating storytelling research, through training, but also through engagement with a real-life funded research process. Three iBali ECRs were provided with hands-on training and supported to co-facilitate with Dr Wheeler: Nava Derakshani (South Africa); Yusra Price (South Africa); Jennifer Agbaire (Nigeria). They supported Dr Wheeler by co-facilitating two research workshops in Cape Town, South Africa (December 2018 and January 2019). Dr Wheeler and Dr Buckler also supported the ECRs to reflect on the training received and skills developed and how they might be utilised and developed through their own research work. Dr Wheeler also supported development of the PI's skills in the particular approach to storytelling used in the Marie Curie research (transformative storytelling). The South African ECRs are still engaged with the Inside/Out research which is ongoing in Cape Town.
Collaborator Contribution The research workshops were enriched and enhanced by embedding ECR input into activity development, facilitation, data analysis and reflection / learning. This is important to acknowledge in reflection of the intentionally non-hierarchical, horizontal Knowledge Exchange Strand.
Impact Reporting still underway.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Restless Development: Storytelling with DYNAMIC (Driving Youth-Led New Agribusiness and Micro-enterprise) in Northern Uganda 
Organisation Restless Development
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Restless Development was a member of the iBali Network advisory panel. Rachel Proefke, Restless Development's Senior International Research Manager, attended the flagship Early Career Researcher development workshop in Cape Town. She was inspired not only to develop her own digital story during the workshop, but take the storytelling approach into her work in research capacity development for Restless. Rachel submitted a bid for some iBali Small Grant funding (see Other Outputs) and was supported by the PI (Dr Alison Buckler) and Co-I (Dr Joanna Wheeler) to conceptualise, develop and facilitate a 2-day workshop with members of the Restless research team seconded to the DYNAMIC programme. They had expressed to Rachel that they had a hard time capturing stories for programme learning. The workshop (which drew directly on iBali Network's storytelling approaches) was designed to support their development of skills for facilitating storytelling research to strengthen the capacity of Restless researchers and enrich research processes and outputs. The workshop was held in October 2018 in Uganda.
Collaborator Contribution The text in this section has been taken from the iBali Small Grant Report, submitted by Restless Development: Rachel Proefke developed and facilitated the workshop with Restless Development's Uganda-based Global Comms Coordinator. Part of the rationale for co-facilitating was to crowd in additional expertise. Another reason for co-facilitation was a reflection that we use stories in two predominant ways in Restless, led through each function respectively: i) to support our learning and improve programme implementation and ii) to share with our partners and youth network so that they can be aware of the work we are doing. Content was delivered under a training of trainers model so as to embed key skills in the programme team. The intended outcome was that these programme team members could then later use these tools to support their work on a regular basis. In order to support this, we varied the ways that participants learned to use the tools, first teaching them by doing and then teaching them to facilitate the activity. Therefore, the 2-day workshop was delivered differently each day. The first day, we focused on taking teams through the key tools that they would later use with youth groups in the programme communities. What we trained teams on was how to deliver a three-part half-day exercise in communities that would leave them with some draft visual ideas of participants' key moments that they could later work with to see what could feed into programme learning and what could feed in to telling our story externally.
Impact The following outputs were provided by Restless Development in their report of their utilisation of the iBali small grant: • Programme teams expressed that they felt confident using their tools in their work going forward, either to deliver a similar half-day exercise on surface stories or as tools to help other parts of their work. • Team members collected over 35 key moments from participants in the exercise. Of those, about 7 in 10 were not related to the programme. However, those that were related gave rich insights, and facilitators encouraged the team to reflect on whether not getting a lot of key moments related to the programme could also be a form of data as well. • Programme teams expressed that they learned where to start when capturing stories, something they said they didn't know how to do before beyond interviews. They also appreciated that this was not the end of capturing a story but instead the start and appreciated the mapping of what to do next step by step to use the story for either purpose. • Programme teams appreciated the ethics of being responsible about how they used the inputs that young people shared. • Moments from the work were shared on social media of both the facilitators and Restless Development, tagging members of the iBali network, to ensure that the process was shared. The team has since used these techniques to capture key moments but needs more support with the next steps. The Global Communcations Coordinator will be heading back to meet them (March 2019) to provide this support. Next Steps: We are still in the process of packaging up the materials from this workshop and adapting them for future use. Eventually, we intend to take a similar workshop to other programme teams in Restless to improve how we interact with the stories of the young people who participate in our programmes.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Guest Lecturer at University of East Anglia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited by the University of East Anglia to deliver a guest lecture as part of their Education and Development Public Seminar Series. The title of my lecture was: Creative and Digital Storytelling in International Education Research. There were approximately 20 postgraduate students and academic staff in attendance, and a lively discussion of the research continued into lunch.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.uea.ac.uk/education/news-and-events/-/asset_publisher/vC5DkbnqTxiB/blog/edu-dev-seminar-...
 
Description Methods workshops and seminars on The Open University's Post Graduate Research Methods Training Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I am a regular invited speaker on the university's training programme for post graduate students. The title of the workshop/seminar changes slightly each year, but centres around the ideas and approaches generated, shared and practised through the Ibali Storytelling Research Network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020,2021
 
Description Newton Fund blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact I was approached by the Newton Fund to write a blog post about my work with the iBali Network to commemorate International Youth Day. The title was: Creative spaces can give a voice to young people in Africa. See URL for blog.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.newtonfund.ac.uk/news/blog/creative-spaces-can-give-young-people-in-africa-a-voice/
 
Description SAGE Story Screening Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I conceptualised, organised and hosted a story screening event at The Open University, to showcase stories created during one of the activities linked to the Ibali Network (SAGE research, funded by Plan). Two other network members assisted in the coordination of the event (one UK-based and one based in South Africa). We held three back-to-back screenings across an afternoon to maximise participation. Each screening was followed by a discussion, and we held a reception after the final screening. The screenings were held in The Open University's flagship lecture theatre, and broadcast live online. The screenings and discussions are being edited into one video file which we can share with partners and colleagues interested in engaging with storytelling research. We invited external NGO colleagues interested in storytelling research from the UK (who attended in person) and internationally (who watched the event online). The screening has led to some further meetings with colleagues looking to embed storytelling research in their work, and tentatively, to a funded piece of research (see narrative section).

[Update 2021] The tentative funding was awarded (Waterloo Foundation / Plan International) and has been recorded in the funding section of this form.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Storytelling Workshop - 'Development meets...' University of Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The University of Manchester's 'Development Meets... Association' showcases innovative and creative approaches to development research. I worked with the Chair to conceptualise an iBali storytelling and development research workshop for their seminar series. It was aimed at academics and postgraduate students, but deliberately held in the evening to attract members of the general public. In the spirit of the Network's focus on capacity and relationship building, I invited one of the iBali Network early career researchers, Jennifer Agbaire (a Nigerian PhD student at the University of Sussex/University of Benin) to co-develop and co-present the workshop.

We developed a two hour interactive session which explored the history and activities of iBali. We showcased some work from leading African academics working with storytelling and development, and shared some digital and narrative stories generated through different strands of the network. Participants also had the opportunity to engage with and discuss some methods used to support the process of creative storytelling as a research approach.

The session was interactive and encouraged participants to critically consider the use of storytelling as a research method, both generally, and in their own work. Some of the questions (particularly from the general public) were challenging, and we have included a reflection on these in our empirical research proposal.

Two students followed up with us via email to ask for more information and guidance around how they might incorporate storytelling in their research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.facebook.com/events/2331221560224866/
 
Description iBali Workshop Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The flagship event of the iBali Network was a workshop in Cape Town which brought together experienced academics, early career researchers (ECRs) and NGO partners from across Africa to share knowledge about, develop skills in and build capacity and collaborations using storytelling methodologies. The ten ECR places were competitively awarded through a selection process of extremely high quality applications. We set up this blog to give participants the space to reflect on and share their experiences of participating in the workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://ibali-africa.blogspot.com/