Communication workshop: storytelling as a tool to democratize knowledge


A few weeks ago, several Scholars from the 2020 and 2021 cohorts gathered in Ottawa for a three-day workshop on storytelling techniques. The aim was to familiarize participants with the potential use of these techniques to help them make complex subjects more accessible — their own research, for example!

This unusual and highly instructive workshop had been carefully prepared by award-winning filmmaker Patrice Sauvé (Mentor 2020) and theologian and storyteller Bob Haverluck (Mentor 2020). Our facilitators contributed two very different, but complementary, visions of what storytelling should be.

The workshop began at the National Gallery of Canada, with a visit led by Mr. Sauvé and Mr. Haverluck, who had selected a number of symbolic works, all of which tell a story. Some illustrated historical events - or at least the artist's interpretation of them – others attempted to draw attention to issues affecting Indigenous peoples, while others provided a better understanding of personal tragedies or human stories in all their complexity. This training session shed light on the art at the service of storytelling.

At the end of the day, the President of the Council of Canadian Academies, Eric Meslin (Mentor 2020) and Vardit Ravitsky (Fellow 2020), professor in the bioethics program at the Université de Montréal, led a discussion on the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in scientific communication.

Over the next two days, at the Global Center for Pluralism, just a stone's throw from the Museum, our participants had the opportunity to explore various forms and engaging narrative techniques and how to use them in a context of democratizing knowledge. Through practical exercises, participants also had the opportunity to share and discuss pivotal moments in which their own research, approach, or even personal life took a new direction and thus contributed to the creation of a new narrative.

The workshop concluded with a special guest: Yale Divinity School Islam specialist and journalist, Abdul-Rehman Malik. Drawing on his diverse international experience, Mr. Malik explained to the Scholars how to encourage and facilitate the sharing of personal stories, a way, he believes, of contributing to the fight against intercultural divisions, violence, and discrimination. 

Beyond the practical educational aspects, the Ottawa workshop took on a special symbolic value, as it was the first (and last!) face-to-face event for the 2020 cohort, whose journey at the Foundation has been primarily virtual, an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic.