Ethical Storytelling and Narrative Practice

Ethical Storytelling is an emerging concept in the fields of journalism as well as humanitarian and development work. It challenges long-standing storytelling and story-sharing practices that, even with the best intentions, have a propensity to disrespect, exploit, and/or harm those whose life experiences are being shared in a range of ways. While different organizations and groups have articulated principles and practices of ethical storytelling, no one owns the concept and practices are continuously evolving and being adapted for specific settings. Some of the shared fundamental concepts of ethical storytelling across contexts include:

  • Storytellers are the protagonists in their stories - rather than the helper or organization.
  • Storytellers must give fully informed and ongoing consent - before sharing, the storyteller is given all possible information about how and where their story will be shared, is checked in each time it is going to be shared, is given sufficient time to consider how they feel about each request, are free to refuse a request to share without coercion, guilt, or negative impact on their standing with the organization.
  • Storytellers are respected holistically - organizations avoid editing and sharing stories in ways that reinforce harmful stereotypes or reduce the person to their distressing experiences.
  • The storyteller owns their story, always - regardless of what they may have signed/agreed to, the storyteller has the right to decide where their story/image is shared and to change their mind and have their story/image taken out of circulation if desired. 



Some core principles of Narrative worldview, practiced by but not exclusive to Narrative therapists, include:

  • Our identities are constructed through our stories and the stories told about us.
  • Problems exist separately from people. We look at how these Problems affect people's lives and how people are able to stand up to and sidestep them.
  • No one is passive in the face of difficult circumstances or traumatic events.
  • The storyteller is the expert of their own life - no one else can tell or tell them the ‘truth’ about their experience.
  • Everyone has many stories. No matter how influential or impactful it is, a Problem does not get to define the person.
  • Stories are never neutral or objective. Problems are always defined in a social and cultural context. 
  • Dominant narratives are not “wrong,” but can be limiting. Our social and cultural contexts include dominant narratives which influence how we tell our stories and the stories of others, and can lead us to leave out important and possibly helpful parts. 

When the principles of ethical storytelling and a Narrative worldview are brought together, new  possibilities are created for story crafting and story sharing to inform listeners and challenge assumptions while being deeply grounded in respect and, ultimately, safer and more constructive for storytellers.

These frameworks are particularly relevant during a humanitarian emergency because it supports the agency and protection of people and communities to own and share their stories of resilience and survival on their terms at every stage of the crisis.