Monday, May 1, 2023

New course and book developments

I have updates for you. 

Working with Stories is changing

I spent most of 2022 writing materials for my new PNI Practicum courses (about which more below). 

  • I wrote a "picture book" version of Working with Stories, one that says the same thing but with far fewer words and a lot more diagrams and photographs. 
  • I wrote a "story form library" of 36 question sets to suit a variety of PNI project goals.

Both of these resources have been appreciated by my students. However, I don't want to keep them behind a paywall. It's not how I do things. So this year, while running the courses, I have been working on getting the new materials out into the world. 

I've been thinking about what people need when they are learning how to do PNI. And I've been thinking about what people have said to me about Working with Stories over the past eight years. Based on what I have learned, I think WWS wants to be four books: 

  • the original book (trimmed and updated)
  • a shorter, simpler version (the picture book)
  • a resource library (story forms and case studies)
  • a book with abundant details (for the nerds who want everything)

So that's what I'm working on - when I'm not working on the courses that are going on right now, that is.

I think it's going to take me at least several months to get all of these books ready to publish. So I decided to put them up in draft form now while I work on finishing them. You can find the new books on the More page of the WWS web site. 

These are the new book cover designs (so far). Coincidentally, the original book has four pictures on the cover. It's almost like WWS knew it wanted to be four books before I did.

Four new WWS books

So: have at the new stuff, and please send feedback.

The PNI Practicum courses are changing

The PNI Practicum courses are going very well. People are doing lots of wonderful projects, and we are all learning and making useful mistakes together. For myself, I have learned a lot about how to give online courses (well, how not to give online courses; but that works too). So my next set of courses (starting in July) will incorporate many changes.

Some changes have to do with what will happen in the course.

  • Calls will be recorded. I wasn't sure if people would want to be recorded in our course meetings. Turns out they do. So, all Zoom calls are now being recorded and are available to all students for review as long as the course goes on. So if you miss a call, you can see and hear what happened in your absence.
  • We will use Miro. I had wanted to show people that you can use a variety of online tools to facilitate interactive sessions. But Miro is so much better than every other option that I'm switching to it entirely.
  • Students will make presentations. To give people better opportunities to practice selling PNI to their participants and funders, in the next set of courses, each student will be asked to make two brief presentations to the class. 
    • Early on, each student will pitch their chosen project as if they were soliciting approval for it and participation in it.
    • At the end of the course, each student will make a brief presentation on what happened in their project: its goals, plans, challenges, surprises, and outcomes.
 Some changes will be structural.
  • There will be a mid-course break. From now on, there will be a one-week break between parts 4 and 5 (weeks 8 and 9) of each course. This will help people catch up if they have fallen behind, and it will give us all a spring or fall break.
  • One meeting time will be different. In the next courses, our Zoom calls will happen at 1700 and 2100 (was 2300) UTC. This should help when people in farther-apart time zones want to be on the same calls.

Some changes will be to the course requirements.

  • NarraFirma will be required in the II-level course. I had been making a special effort not to require the use of NarraFirma, in case people wanted to use other things. However, all of my students thought I should require everyone to use NF, so everyone can learn how to use it together. So now, if you want to take the PNI Practicum II course, you will need to use NarraFirma. (The I-level course still requires no particular software.)
  • Course fees will need to be paid two weeks ahead. To avoid last-minute scheduling difficulties, anyone who wants to take either course must pay the full course fee two weeks before the course starts.

And finally, I have made some changes to how I will promote and manage the courses.

  • The course syllabi will be available to review before you sign up. I have posted the syllabi for the two courses on the PNI Practicum web site, so you can see what is going to happen in each part of each course.
  • Refunds will be pro-rated. If you need to drop out of a course for any reason, I will refund your course fee on a pro-rated basis, counting how many weeks you have attended (and not counting the first week, which is covered by the nonrefundable deposit). However, I ask people not to take the course (or dropping out) lightly, since dropping out will affect the peer learning experiences of everyone else in the course.
  • There will be a new 6-student minimum. If either course does not have at least six people signed up (and paid in full) by the time the course fee is due, the course will not run, and I will send out refunds (including of deposits) to those who have signed up.
  • There might be an extra course. If either course fills up completely and people still want to take it (if that happens to you, tell me), I will open up one more course of that type. If at least 6 people want to take that course, I will give it.
If you have any questions about the PNI Practicum courses, or if you have any suggestions about Working with Stories, reach out via email (

Monday, April 10, 2023

Here I am talking to Madelyn Blair about stories

Hey everybody. Recently I had a wonderful conversation with Madelyn Blair, one of my role models in getting out there and doing things in the world. It was about stories and working with them, and it was part of an episode of her Unlocked TV show.

(Watch out, the music starts suddenly. Made me jump.)

For those who are new to story work, you might find our conversation informative. For those who know me and my spiel well, the conversation will probably be pretty familiar - it's the same stories I always tell. Though of course I keep polishing them, don't I, and that can be interesting in and of itself. 

That's one of the things I find most interesting about stories: they have stories. I try to remember this when somebody starts telling me a story I've already heard ten times. When I catch myself thinking, "Ugh, there they go again," I (try to) challenge myself to think, "Ah, it's that story. I remember it well. I wonder what it's been up to since I last heard it." I don't always succeed in meeting this challenge, but when I do, I always find out something new.

It's like being in the woods. Even though I have spent time in my particular bit of forest a thousand times, I find that if I can be quiet and pay attention to it for at least fifteen minutes, something new always happens. Sometimes it is something as dramatic as an owl teaching its baby how to fly, a squirrel rushing up and reading me the riot act, or a woodpecker poking its way up and down a tree. Sometimes it's something as simple as a conversation between birds, an operatically creaking tree, or a busy insect going about its workday next to my boot. And sometimes the thing that happens is in my own mind. I hear or see something, and it brings up something new and different. That's an event too. 

Things are always happening, fascinating things, even in the things I know very well. The trick, I find, is to stop not noticing them. I don't know if that's helpful to you - maybe it's just more sighing of my branches - but here I am writing it anyway, because I'm here, because you're here.

Thank you, Madelyn, for inviting me onto your program. I enjoyed the experience very much.


Wednesday, February 1, 2023

I Made a Story Journal

I like to watch YouTube videos in which people do things I like to do - woodworking, photography, crochet - so I can learn. Lately I've noticed an interesting trend. People keep giving their videos titles that are condensed stories, like "I Built a Cabin" or "That Rescue Turned Out Differently than I Expected" or "I Created a Wildlife Pond." Interesting, huh? Says something about society and stories.

So anyway, one morning several months ago I was starting on my usual morning yoga, and one part of me said to another part of me, "I don't wanna do yoga." The second part said, "You know we always do yoga. It's self-care." And the first part said, "Self-care means not doing things I don't wanna do." "No it doesn't," said the second part, "it means doing things we need to do to take care of ourselves."

That got me thinking. What is self-care? Is it self-discipline? Is it self-indulgence? These thoughts continued (usually during yoga) until I had created a 24-part fill-in-the-blank daily journal that could help a person (like myself) explore aspects of self-care in their everyday life. I tried using it for a while, and it was fun - a sort of game to play at the end of the day - and then other end-of-day things crowded it out, as they do.

At some point I showed part of this journal to a work colleague, and they said, um, that looks like a personal thing. And I thought, well, yes, yes it is, but with a few tweaks it could be a community thing or an organization thing. In fact, in fact! it could be a ritualistic device that helps a group of people keep their fingers on the pulse of their collective social health by sharing stories on a regular basis.

So the idea rattled around in my brain for a few more months, and then I thought, how about I do what I always do with little ideas: release it into the world and let it swim away. 

journal clip art
Yeah, it's clip art, and it's trite, but it's true.
So here it is. This could be a self-help journal for individuals, groups, families, communities, or organizations. You could use it as a check-in game during a weekly or monthly meeting (pick a question and answer it). You could use it as a something-just-happened story collection device that powers a years-long community-wide sensemaking effort. Or you could just have it around as an aid to discussion in a place where people meet.

Here's the group version. To get to the individual version, change the plural pronouns to singular ones. The questions are in three sets of four, each with a less-intense pair surrounded by a more-intense pair. Each of the 12 questions has an optional embedded counter-question that expands its exploration.

  • Joy - What happened lately that was happy for us? What lifted us up? (And what small sadnesses were hidden inside our times of joy?)
    • Satisfaction - What did we do lately that was easy for us? What was effortless? (And what small difficulties were hidden inside our ease?)
    • Frustration - What did we do lately that was hard for us? What was a struggle? (And what small moments of ease were hidden inside our struggles?)
  • Sorrow - What happened lately that was sad for us? What brought us down? (And what small happinesses were hidden inside our sorrows?)
  •  Control - What happened that was in our hands lately? What were we able to do, make happen, or make stop? (And in what small ways was our control incomplete?)
    • Certainty - In what moments lately were we sure of what was going on? What was rock solid for us? (And in what small ways was our certainty incomplete?)
    • Uncertainty - In what moments lately were we unsure of what was going on? What was unknown or unclear to us? (And within our uncertainty, in what small ways did we have some certainty?)
  • Powerlessness - What happened to us lately that was out of our hands? What were we unable to do, make happen, or make stop? (And within our powerlessness, in what small ways did we have some power?)

  • Self-discipline - In what moments lately did we set out goals we hoped to achieve? What plans did we attempt to carry out? (And in what small ways did we give ourselves the permission to partially achieve our goals and the freedom to partially depart from our plans?)
    • Self-care - What did we do lately to take care of our future selves? When and how did we attempt to support the people we will become? (And within our support, in what small ways did we leave some things for our future selves to handle?)
    • Self-indulgence - In what moments lately did we give ourselves gifts? When and how did we indulge ourselves? (And in what small ways did we deny ourselves gifts in order to support our future selves?)
  •  Self-compassion - In what moments lately did we forgive ourselves for our limitations, failures, or mistakes? When and how did we let ourselves off the hook? (And in what small ways did we place limits on our forgiveness?)


So that's the little idea. I tried drawing these questions in a variety of graphical shapes, but I didn't arrive at anything that seemed more useful than just the words themselves.

If anybody wants to pick up this little idea and use it or improve it, go ahead. Also, if anybody would like to talk about the idea, send me a note.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Getting ready for the first PNI Practicum courses

Hello people of the world.

PNI Practicum logo
So I have these two online courses coming up in January, project-based courses in participatory narrative inquiry. I'm pretty excited about them. If you don't know about them already, you can read about them here.

To my surprise, seven people have signed up (or just about) for the PNI Practicum II course, the one that covers larger-scale PNI. Only one person has (so far) indicated an interest in the smaller-scale course. (I'm surprised because I thought it would be the other way around.)

That one person is willing to take the larger-scale course, but I would be happier if I could find at least two other people to take the smaller-scale course with them. If I can get at least three people in that course, I am willing to run it.

As many know, I am not fond of self-promotion. I prefer to do my work quietly and hope that people will find me, evaluate what I have created, and make their own decisions about it. But this time I have a deadline to meet, so I am forcing myself to be a little proactive for once. 

So: Rah! Rah! Join us! It'll be amazing! (It actually will.)

EDIT: Guess what, one more person has signed up for the PNI Practicum I course! So I'm definitely going to run it. It would be great to get at least one more person in the cohort, though.

SECOND EDIT: A third person has signed up! Hooray!

If you have any questions about the PNI Practicum courses, you can send them to me at

A little history

My previous post about the PNI Practicum courses was short and to the point. It was so much not my usual long rambling thing that it might have surprised some of my long-time readers. I did write a long rambling thing, of course. But I deleted it in the service of, well, you know, the rah-rah stuff.

However, I never really delete anything. In the same way that every book has its unbook, every blog post has its unpost. So, when I went to write this "there are seats still left!" post, I thought: 

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there are people who would like to read my long rambling explanation of where the PNI Practicum courses came from. Maybe it couldn't hurt to say "read this or don't, as you like." So, for those who are interested, here is a bit of the history behind the PNI Practicum courses. Read this or don't, as you like.

I started thinking about an online course soon after finishing Working with Stories in 2014. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do or what sort of course people would want to take. But I did know one thing: it would have to be a practical, project-based course. I spent six years of my life figuring out how to explain PNI in WWS, and I didn't want to follow it up with a lecture course. I wanted to help people do PNI.

I first tested the waters in 2015 with a blog post about a potential project-based course. I got some positive response to it, but not a lot. So I kept the idea in the back of my mind and moved on.

Not long after that, I was contacted by Jen Mason, a PhD student who wanted to do a "practicum" academic course with me as an outside advisor. (I hadn't thought of using the word "practicum" before that.) I was happy to coach Jen through her first PNI project, on which she did a great job. Her university paid me the grand sum of $250 for it. But Jen herself gave me lots of helpful feedback. After that course was over, I thought a lot more about what a real PNI course might look like.

I wrote about that experience in a second blog post. Again there was mild interest, but I was not sure if it was worth putting more time into. I have a tendency to fall into projects that take a huge amount of time and pay next to nothing. So I continued to coach people one-on-one as they did their first PNI projects. As I did this, an online course was never far from my mind; but I was wary of plunging into yet another losing business venture.

Speaking of projects that take a huge amount of time and pay next to nothing, I spent about two years (from 2019 to 2021) writing Confluence. I am so glad I got that book out of my brain. It had been banging on the doors for ages. Now it's out in the world walking in the sunshine and making new friends. I couldn't be prouder of it. I hope it has a wonderful life.

After Confluence was done, though, I needed to get back to doing things that made money. So I started coaching and consulting again. And ... it wasn't long before I had to admit to myself that it wasn't working, never really had worked. Not well.

I love doing consulting work. I hate getting consulting work to do. It seems like about ten percent of the potential projects I talk to people about actually happen, and it seems like I spend several times more time getting work to do than doing work. That's par for the course in consulting. Also, I know lots of successful consultants who manage to improve on these ratios. I'm just not one of them. 

After twenty years of wildly fluctuating income, I had to confront the fact that I am not very good at consulting, and I don't like it either. The truth is, I need to find more stable work in my field, or I need to leave my field - my 23-year investment in PNI - and get a "real job." There are no real jobs doing PNI, not yet. So if I stop consulting, I'll have to get a job doing some unrelated thing, research or programming or writing. Which is fine work, and I'd be happy to get it, but...

I don't want to abandon PNI. Not while it still needs me. I want to keep helping it grow, both as a field and as a community of practitioners. I want to keep helping people help people get along with each other and find better solutions together.

So, about a year ago, I decided that it was finally time to build that online course. 

I started full-time work on two courses in January. I had already thought a lot about what I wanted to do. But I didn't feel ready to just give a course. Not just like that. I wanted to practice giving a course before I was ready to offer it to the public. Yes, I needed a practicum course in doing a practicum course.

So I cast around among my friends and colleagues for people who might be willing to take a pilot PNI course in exchange for feedback. My old friend Rob Peagler, who I've known since IBM days, was interested. He found two friends who were also interested: Lucy Duncan and Susannah Laramee Kidd. All three of these people are experienced facilitators, and Lucy has given online courses. So after some discussion, we started the first pilot PNI Practicum course in March.

I thought I would be able to write the course materials in the several weeks that remained after we agreed to work together and before we started the course. Ha! It took much longer than I thought it would. In fact, I could barely keep ahead of my students as the weeks went by. 

Most of my time was spent building the course's "Short readings," which turned into a 200-page version of Working with Stories in condensed slide-set format, with many images and diagrams, ready to be quickly skimmed before each course meeting. Of course, many of my newer-than-WWS ideas worked their way into the slide sets. I have a feeling that they are going to turn into a book. I keep calling them "The Nutshell," as in, PNI in a nutshell. I don't think they are ready to be a book yet - they need more time to mature - but I think they may turn into a book next year. 

It is important to me that any courses I give not involve access to exclusive information or materials. I am a strong believer in the maxim that information wants to be free. I am happy to charge people for my time, attention, and expertise, the last of which I have worked hard to develop and improve. But I do not want to be in the business of selling secrets. I believe that at least one book will come out of these courses. Possibly two. When they are ready, I will let them go out and make their own way in the world.

Anyway, back to the pilot course. We four had a wonderful time going through the first PNI Practicum course together. I started out dreading our weekly calls - afraid I had not prepared well enough - but I soon came to look forward to them as the projects started ramping up. Rob and Lucy did a project together about living and thriving in their local community. Susannah did a paid evaluation project for a community arts organization. Both of their projects succeeded, and we all learned a lot from the experience. Feedback and advice flowed back and forth through all of our meetings. My "students" helped me to shape the course into something much better than I could have come up with on my own. For that I will always be grateful.

The PNI Practicum II course has not technically been piloted yet. However, after doing the pilot course I described here, I am confident that I will be ready to give both courses in January. I say this for two reasons. First, the course structure (calls, materials, activities) will be the same in both courses. Second, I have coached plenty of people through the graphs-and-patterns style of larger-scale PNI projects in the past. So I'm ready.

Looking toward the future

My dream is to give two courses of each type per year. If I can get 12 people signed up for each course, I will be helping 48 people get their start in PNI per year, and I will finally have a stable income. This could be my "real job" for the next several years - until it's time to retire, or at least slow down a little.

I have waffled back and forth (for years) over what might be a reasonable lower limit of enrolled students to run each course. There is a structural lower limit of three people per course. Below that, the peer learning experience will be so weak that it might just as well be individual coaching. 

Twelve students a year (instead of 48) would be a much smaller income, that's for sure. But if I could fit in some bespoke consulting on the side, it could still work. So - at the moment - I am tentatively planning to take the structural lower limit (of 3 students per course) as my functional lower limit (as in, I will give the courses), with the hope that the question will become moot in time. I intend to set up ticket sales venues so that people can begin to sign up for the July courses ... soon.

If you have any questions or advice, I am eager to hear from you.


Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Announcing the PNI Practicum

Hello everyone. People have been asking me to give a course in Participatory Narrative Inquiry for ages. Well: I'm finally doing it. 

Some may remember that I started playing with the idea of giving PNI courses way back in 2015. I've been encouraged by many of the people I've talked to about it, so I decided to take the plunge.

Since January 2022 I have been spending most of my time developing plans and materials for two online project-based PNI Practicum courses. In August I finished the first iteration of the first course, with plenty of feedback from three friends and colleagues (who took the course in exchange for said feedback). Today, after much discussion and reflection, I am finally ready to start taking reservations.

The first full-cohort set of PNI Practicum courses will begin in January 2023. You can reserve your spot now. There is plenty of information available on the new PNI Practicum web site. If you have any questions I haven't answered there, you can send them to me at

Here's an introductory video.

I am excited about the prospect of helping lots of people get their start in PNI in a supportive learning community. My dream is to give four PNI Practicum courses per year. Wish me luck!

If you have any questions or suggestions about the PNI Practicum courses, send them to me.