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How can Story Completion be Used in Culturally Safe Ways?

Caroline Lenette, Priya Vaughan, Katherine Boydell

2022 Australia

Story completion is a narrative inquiry method where participants complete a story from an opening hypothetical scenario or ‘stem’ that researchers create. While interest in this method is growing across disciplines due to its emancipatory potential, the literature fails to address how story completion can be used in culturally safe ways. Cultural safety in research means that it is the participants who determine whether the process values and privileges their unique standpoints and perspectives. Culturally safe research approaches and methods are crucial to decolonisation efforts in the academy. To illustrate this topic, we draw from our experience using a digital version of story completion in May 2020 to prompt thoughts on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We received 52 responses from Australian residents using a stem relating to a pandemic-related scenario. When we noted the lack of diversity in ethnic backgrounds in participant demographic information, we wondered whether story completion was reinforcing rather than disrupting norms about narrative inquiry and what constitutes a story, and we questioned our recruitment strategy. In this paper, we highlight the importance of decolonising research methodologies rather than merely adapting or validating methods by using them across different cultural contexts. We explain how our story completion project led to reflections on western constructions of storytelling, how to create the stem, and how to improve our recruitment approach. In response, we propose a rhizomatic perspective, which values multiple entry and exit points in research, to frame practical strategies that can improve the potential of using story completion in culturally safe ways. These include: embracing messy stories; exploring diverse notions of storytelling; favouring story fragments (rather than stems) and story assemblage (rather than completion); co-designing story fragments with target groups; and collaborating with local communities to co-design culturally appropriate and sensitive recruitment strategies and projects.

ethical inquiry, decolonial research, rhizomes, meaning-making, narrative data collection