A Collective Story Harvest enables us to deeply connect with and learn from the experience in our community, team or organization. This storytelling process builds our capacity for targeting listening and group learning while offering a gift to the story holders as well as the group as a whole in the form of collective meaning making. Group harvesting is an ideal way to surface the many insights, innovations and aha’s that exist beneath the surface of our stories and to take learning to a deeper level.


In the process a number of stories are shared and we break into small groups work with a set of specific “arcs” to harvest each story. Each of the participants either harvests one of the arcs or is a witness during the storytelling and then shares with the small group. Often we come together to converge our learning in a World Café setting.


Strengths of this process include:

  • It can deal with complex realities and bring simplicity as well as surface understanding and learning from complexity.
  • It is a harvesting of current reality – how we got to where we are now?
  • It creates a rich learning field.
  • It creates a strong connection and shared understanding between those involved in the process.
  • It is a gift to the storytellers and others, with lots of resonant learning happening.
  • It is a simple, but powerful tool that can be used regularly to take stock, capture learning and refocus the field.


What is the Collective Story Harvest good for?

There are many ways to apply collective story harvesting:

  • Systemic story harvest for applied learning: A group focuses on one systemic story to harvest the learnings and apply them to its own work. This works equally well for a practice group coming together or a working team hearing a story from another organisation or system and then applying the learnings to its own practice.
  • Full system team building/strategy session: Harvesting an organisation or group’s own story for learning, teambuilding and strategic enhancement. Working with the story in this way brings the group into a collective field of meaning. Vision or mission statements can be enhanced and integrated, strategic plans can be invigorated.
  • Many stories/collective learning: Harvesting a variety of stories simultaneously in small groups, then converging the learning across the full group. A variety of stories are selected that offer different aspects to the group. Participants attend and harvest the story that most interests them. Collective meta learning is harvested by the full group.
  • Creating a new field of work or practice: Telling the story of the wider context up to now in order to set the scene for the new work or practice field to arise and find its potent focus. The process might also be used for systemic evaluation.
  • Taking stock at regular intervals during a project’s life: Good witnessing enables insights about the key pivotal points in a story to surface, as well as helping other emotions to be heard and released. It can also support a story to rise above the personal to reveal insights about the local context it happened in and even the wider systemic context.


Flow of a Collective Story Harvest

Framing & Introduction… Welcome people to the session. Introduce the storytellers. Explain the arcs and ask for volunteers. Possible story arcs include:

  • Narrative Arc: The thread of the story – people, events, stages. You might also harvest facts, emotions and values that are part of the story, etc.
  • Process Arc: What interventions, processes, applications, discoveries happened?
  • Pivotal Points: When did breakthroughs occur, what did we learn?
  • Application: What can we learn from this story for application in our own or other systems?
  • Questions: What questions arise from this story that we could ask of any system?
  • Specific theme: Harvest the story using a specific theme, like collaborative leadership, the art of participation, etc, and see what it tells you
  • Principles: What principles of working can be gleaned from this story? What did we learn about participatory practices? What principles of complex living systems were reflected in this work?

Storytelling… Ask the storytellers to tell the story and the group to harvest. It is best to have those directly connected to the story on hand to tell it, and it can be more interesting to hear from more than one person involved in the story. More voices add depth and richness, as well as a variety of points of view. The story does not need to be an often-told one, or polished in any form. In fact, this process can be used to help polish a story and give the storytellers input on how to focus and refine the story to be told to different audiences.

Collective harvest… Ask each of the harvesters to report in on what they found. Take at least as long for this as for the storytelling.

Response from the tellers… What were the gifts to you from this group harvest? What are you taking away from this session?

Response from the group… What were the gifts to you from this group harvest? What are you taking away from this session?

Collective harvest… Come back into the full group. Ask like arc harvesters to sit together in small groups (e.g. people who harvested “Pivotal Points” sit together, Witnesses sit together, etc). Focus the group on a meta harvest question, for example: “What are the conditions for participatory leadership to be successfully introduced in our context?” Groups then debrief what they have harvested in the context of the full group question. This collective harvest can be done well using a World Café.

Closing the session… Thank you to the storytellers and the harvesters. Any final remarks about what will happen to the harvest now that it has been heard. Is there enough here to return to it again and see what else surfaces? Do you want to come back as a group and hear the next version of the story?


See here for a quick reference guide to hosting a Collective Story Harvest. Additional resources: Storyteller Support and small story circle Host Guide.


The Art of Hosting – Collective Story Harvest Process from Kevin McKeever on Vimeo.


Page contents adapted from resources in the Art of Hosting community.


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