Data inquiry is really just storytelling

April 21, 2023 at 1:30 PM |
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Storytelling is the approach we chose in performing a mini equity audit for the Ramsey County, MN, Children and Family Services Department leadership team.

To make sense of the system’s impact on families, it is not information that will enable connections but the emergence of imaginative insights that will help us to see one another and empathize.

We all share and participate in storytelling. It is said that the telling of human experience and events, relationships and their meaning helps us to remember information, create unique understanding, and guide future action. As stories are a way of creating emotional connection between us and others, it is markedly different from just presenting data. With stories, both the teller and the listener participate by creating meaning. I believe that is how stories change perspectives. Unlike the presentation of information, stories are not a one-sided endeavor leaving many disengaged. Story is the oldest and best way we know to learn.

ramseyTo this end Alia created a story journey map to promote the search for reason and purpose for those gathered. The family journey map sought to identify people and their experience with the department, not as “reports of abuse and neglect” but as individuals, their ways, relationships, communities, and culture.

The point of the equity story was not to identify disproportionate rates of entry (numbers) but to create an impact story from a multitude of voices. We used imagination to create initial conversations with family members that increased safety in exploration, and we created links in family circumstances and system decision points. We also listened to the teams’ stories and experiences and the impact of the challenges and constraints they face.  

At the end of the 2-day breakthrough session, the culmination of the story gathered and told, the team was able to identify two system challenges to equity they wanted to work on: increasing culturally appropriate supports for Asian families and eliminating the need for removal and short term exits (less than six months) from care. The (data!) story continues as we work on a deep dive into the experience and needs of these families.