Storytelling and peace building in Bosnia to build trust

This is part 2 of our blog series – stories of story-centered learning. The next story comes from the Center for Peacebuilding in Bosnia.

Our programmes involve storytelling as a means of dealing with the past in Bosnia and Herzegovina, yet we never documented it. We joined storytelling because we needed to save this data.

The trade-off between spontaneous storytelling and pre-arranged testimony

The beginning of the project was not without challenges. One challenge was collecting two stories from one person. People seem to find it ok to think of a story, but for two they need more time. Some volunteers have been told they would get interviews from various people, though they would need to wait for them to have two stories ready.

When we went to Fenix (a local organisation that provides social services for people), we also faced challenges. One thing we learnt from this experience is that trying to be more spontaneous did not give as good results as when we would schedule interviews with one person at a time. From a quantitative point of view it was better, but the quality of the research was not as great as in the past. The stories were very heavy, and seeing how much people rushed to us to tell us what had happened to them was very sad and exhausting. We were literally drained of all energy after just two hours. I also noticed that the amount of information decreased. The stories, as important as they all were in content, got shorter the more we stayed there and the more people we interviewed.

The fact that we started collecting stories during Ramadan meant that it was harder to meet up collectively to follow the progress.

From skeptic to advocate

In the beginning a lot of people seemed to think it would be impossible to collect 100 stories. In the end, it was probably the more skeptical people that helped us reach out to their connections, and always tried to help us find more people to interview. They became a part of the project. What resulted from this, was that there is now a large group of people in Sanski Most, not affiliated to CIM, who know exactly what the project is about and they now believe it is something more people should take part in. That is great considering it was through networking and people recommending the interviews that we managed to collect a lot of the stories.

Incentives and building trust

People involved in the project, directly or indirectly, don’t do this because they have an incentive, but because they now believe the GlobalGiving storytelling project is very interesting.  Some people specifically think it is a great idea to gather data and are impressed by the method used.  The secret ingredient to gathering these stories was trust, and people buying into it. It wasn’t necessarily about locals or foreigners doing it, but about people getting used to the project itself.

In a way I do believe there is not one specific way to collect stories in our case, and after reflecting on challenges we’ve encountered and feedback from people, we will in the future focus on two methods. One is the relaxed method, which a lot of the people prefer and it’s more organic: collecting stories by just living here. That means, whenever volunteers hear a story they believe needs to be documented to kindly ask if they could do it. If the people trusted you to tell you that story in the first place, they will most likely trust you to write it down as well. I also believe that this could potentially lead to the sustainability of the project, and documenting stories and data collection becoming part of our organisational culture.

The second method is the approach GlobalGiving recommends: giving people good incentives to collect stories. I do believe though that for the future we have to consider greater incentives, whether that is something material, or not. Or perhaps reach out to those people for whom the same incentives we offered at the beginning of the summer would make a much greater difference.

Finally, the storytelling project motivated us to use a more story-centred approach in our programmes, be it though social media, our newsletters, or grant writing. We have already used some of the data we’ve gathered for reporting purposes, and we will continue to make the best use of it in future relevant contexts.


When all our stories were analyzed as one collection, two separate maps emerged. One had language about projects about the government, local government, and the Red Cross flood relief. The other map had the bulk of stories, mentioned many local issues, but did not mention government. Deeper analysis with BigML revealed that the “What is needed to address this problem” question was the most divisive one.

Strategic planning

This year we are revising our programmes, and developing a new strategic plan for the next five years. Therefore, storytelling will help inform us not just about the needs of the community, but also how they perceive problems, and why people are inspired to contribute to grassroots change. In this way, we can consider the results of the analysis when deciding what projects we will keep, and what projects we will focus on developing. By the end of the year, we also hope to share the results of the storytelling collection with the local community.

See for yourself

Read more:

Adelina, the project leader for this organization, has shared her stories of change in a series of posts.


Marc Maxmeister is part of GlobalGiving's impact team.

1 Comment

about 6 years ago

This is my first time viswit at here and i am really pleassant to read all at one place.

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