Core Principles for Ethical Practice in Digital Storytelling
Digital stories can do many things, including celebrate triumphs, preserve memories, and help storytellers unearth and integrate painful experiences. At the Center for Digital Storytelling, we are strongly committed to high ethical standards for our own work and within the larger global community of digital storytelling practitioners. The following principles are intended as an evolving set of recommendations for ethical practice in digital storytelling. We recognize that the ethical considerations arising within each project and storytelling workshop are unique. As with all such statements of principle, this one is shaped to protect those who are at greatest risk. It grows out of the practices of countless allied professionals working across sectors of health, human services, and human rights. We hope that you will engage in a dialogue with us about how best to ensure the safety and dignity of digital storytellers worldwide
Well-Being. Storytellers’ physical, emotional, social, and spiritual wellbeing should be at the center of all phases of a project. The process of creating stories within a workshop is as important as the end products (media pieces) resulting from the workshop. Strategies to ensure the wellbeing of vulnerable participants are particularly important; the digital storytelling process is not appropriate for individuals currently experiencing strong symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those storytellers who are sharing stories about especially painful life experiences should be supported in approaching their narratives from a position of strength rather than from a vantage point that reinforces victimization. Facilitators should maintain appropriate boundaries at all times while remaining open to processes of listening and understanding.
Informed Choices. Storytellers must have the ability to make informed choices about the content, production, and use of their work. Storytellers should be provided with the information they need to make these choices and should have the right to withdraw their stories from public circulation at any time, recognizing the constraints of withdrawal from Internet forms of distribution. Facilitators must strive to offer guidance in these decision-making processes in a way that protects the dignity and safety of storytellers.
Ownership. Storytellers have the right to freedom of expression in representing themselves, in their stories. They should be provided with the space and flexibility to describe what they have experienced, within the parameters or thematic concerns of a given project, and without being coerced or censored. If they so desire, storytellers should be engaged in outlining context and messages for their stories and in determining where, why, and how their stories will be distributed. Storytellers have the right to determine whether or not their names are attached to their stories and whether images of themselves / others are blurred to protect privacy. Storytellers and facilitators must agree to maintain confidentiality about information and materials that are shared in a workshop but that may not make it into publicly circulated stories.
Local Relevance. The digital storytelling process should be sensitive and appropriate to the local context of a given project. Facilitators should work with local partners – and, where possible, engage the assistance of local teaching assistants. Workshop facilitators should follow the principles of cultural humility and, to the extent possible, workshops should be conducted in local languages with assistance from facilitators who are “cultural insiders.” Methods should be adapted to fit local technological resources and capacities, emphasizing always the importance of first-person voice, group process, and participatory production.
Ethics as Process. Facilitators should view ethics as a process, rather than as a one-off occasion of “gaining consent.” Ongoing dialogue between storytellers, staff members, and partner organizations/institutions about how best to design and implement an ethically responsible project is key to ethical practice. Discussion and decision-making about the responsible distribution of stories should be a key aspect of this dialogue.
Digital Storyteller’s Bill of Rights
In relation to a workshop, you have …
- The right to know from the outset why a workshop is being carried out.
- The right to assistance in deciding whether you are ready to produce a digital story.
- The right to understand what is involved in the process of producing a digital story.
- The right to know who might view your finished story, after the digital storytelling workshop.
- The right to decide for yourself whether or not to participate in a workshop.
- The right to ask questions at any stage of the workshop, before, during, or after.
- The right to ask for teaching instructions to be repeated or made clearer.
- The right to skilled emotional support, if your experience of making a story is emotionally challenging.
- The right to tell your story in the way you want, within the limits of the workshop.
- The right to decide whether or not to reveal private or personal information to fellow participants and instructors, at the workshop.
- The right to advice about whether revealing your identity or other personal details about your life, in your story, may place you at risk of harm.
- The right to leave information and/or photographs that identify you or others, out of your final story.
- The right to reject story feedback (about words and images) if it is not useful or offered in a spirit of respect/support.
- The right to decide what language to use in telling/creating your story.
- The right to be respected and supported by capable workshop facilitators.
- The right to a written consent form, if your story will be shared publicly, including a signed copy for your records.
- The right to know what contact and support you can expect after the workshop
In relation to sharing your digital story after a workshop, you have …
- The right to decide with project partners how your story will be shared.
- The right to view and retain a copy of your story before it is shared publicly in any way.
- The right to know who is likely to screen your story and for what purposes.
- The right to know who is likely to watch or read your story and when (e.g. rough timeframe).
- The right to advice about how the process of publically sharing your story may be difficult.
- The right to emotional support if you are present when your story is shown in public.
- The right to demand that no one should be able to sell your story for profit.
- The right to know if any money will be made from your story being shared (e.g. to support not-for-profit human rights work).
- The right to withdraw your consent for the use of your story at any time.
- The right to information about the limits of withdrawing consent for your story to be shared, if it has already been circulated online or on CD, DVD, etc.
Special thanks to Aline Gubrium, Lucy Harding, Amy Hill, Photovoice UK, and WITNESS for their important contributions to these principles.