Story Circles is a structured yet flexible methodology for developing intercultural competencies in a variety of contexts, both formal and informal, presented in the Manual for Developing Intercultural Competencies, published in 2019. Piloted in 5 countries by UNESCO (Thailand, Costa Rica, Zimbabwe, Austria and Tunisia), the methodology has proven to be effective on a variety of different issues - from the social inclusion of migrants to the dialogue among indigenous peoples - with participants acquiring strong skills for tolerance, empathy, critical thinking and listening for understanding. In order to be sustainable and have a deep impact at local and regional level, the methodology must rely on a network of solid trainers.
The “Building Resilience through the Development of Intercultural Competencies” project proposes to implement regional training of this innovative methodology to consolidate this network and build resilience of women and men in contexts where intercultural dialogue is especially needed.
The regional training sessions – that will bring together governments and civil society representatives, religious leaders and educators - will also be an opportunity to share good practices on intercultural dialogue and conflict resolution, fostering local ownership and contributing to the monitoring and overall final evaluation of the methodology.
Response to COVID-19
Resorting to intercultural competences in the context of the COVID-19 is of critical relevance. It is essential to examine the different cultural practices faced by health professionals and to equip them with the skills and capacities to cope with social norms which can hinder the effective fight against the pandemic. Developing the capacity to deal with cultural diversity not only helps to create resilience among social and healthcare workers but also enables an environment where mutual understanding has a positive impact on healthcare treatments. It is in this spirit that UNESCO is organizing online training sessions on intercultural competencies with United Nations staff working with health professionals.
Manual for Developing Intercultural Competencies: Story Circles
UNESCO is the lead agency for the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022) within the UN system, born from UN General Assembly Resolution 67/104, adopted in December 2012. In line with UNESCO’s mandate to build peace in the mind of men and women, it constitutes a follow-up to both the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) and the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010).
The global challenges that have dominated recent years have underlined the strategic significance of the Decade: the growth of violent extremism, the mounting migration and displacement crisis, and the rise of divisive political populism have underscored the imperative of expanding, consolidating and intensifying dialogue among peoples with different cultural backgrounds and beliefs.
In 2013, recognizing the importance of enhancing the skills, attitudes and behaviors of individuals for reaching the ambitions of the Decade, UNESCO developed a Conceptual and Operational Framework on Intercultural Competencies, providing a comprehensive overview of the importance of developing the capacities to manage growing cultural diversity, and clarifying key related concepts and their operational interlinkages. The Manual for Developing Intercultural Competencies was therefore designed to translate this framework into tangible action, and to propose a global, accessible methodology to help sensitize diverse audiences to intercultural competencies, including respect for difference, cultural curiosity, empathy and reflexivity.
The Manual is available in English, French, Arabic and Spanish.
Darla K. Deardorff is a research scholar at Duke University, author of 8 books and over 50 articles and book chapters, founder of ICC Global, affiliated faculty at numerous institutions around the world, and frequently invited speaker and consultant.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is unique about this methodology?
- What is the difference between Story Circles and storytelling?
- Who can be a facilitator of Story Circles?
- How many participants are in a small group and what’s the minimum and maximum number of participants?
- What ages is this for?
- How long does it take to run Story Circles?
- Can we skip the debriefing/discussion time at the end?
- Why are there strict time parameters to the sharing of personal stories?
- Can there be mandatory participation?
- Can there be observers?
- What if there’s not much diversity in the group?
- Can participants take notes to help remember the flashbacks?
- What does “listening for understanding” mean?
- Why can’t we just have a discussion?
- Is this just a one-time experience or can it be repeated?
- Can someone “pass” in a small group and not share a personal story?
- What if someone doesn’t want to be vulnerable enough to share?
- What if someone seems to dominate or lead in the small group?
- Is there potential for (emotional) harm?
How can the outcomes be assessed from the Story Circles experience?
How can participants use the skills they practice in Story Circles?
How this project contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals
The project contributes to the Sustainable Development Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda, that covers the pillars of peace, justice and responsive institutions as participation in the social, economic, political and cultural life of the community is essential to enabling changes in social structures, institutions and relations - including patterns of inequalities related to income, gender, ethnicity, religion or geography that may lock people into positions of disadvantage.
One of the recommendations of the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies - a multi-stakeholder platform mobilizing evidence-based action to accelerate progress on SDG 16+ through to 2030 and beyond - is that international organizations provide technical support that is grounded in local realities coordinated with domestic programmes, as well as foster cross-country learning and exchange, accompanying countries in piloting approaches and taking these to scale.
The project aims in turn to advance the aspirations of other SDGs, in particular SDG 4, target 7, on the promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. Developing intercultural competencies is indeed lifelong learning, going beyond the walls of classrooms, in non-formal and informal situations.
Moreover, SDG 5 on gender equality is addressed by the project (through promoting gender balance in the selection process of the participants of the trainings), and in the impact of the project where the storylines represent gender struggles in order to raise awareness of gender inequality. Therefore, special attention is paid to embracing gender perspective in training —including by engaging women’s organizations.