Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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Ethical Storytelling: Lessons from the Border Lives Project

Author, Copyright Holder: 
Conor Mc Gale

Border Lives is a storytelling project that successfully utilized ethical storytelling principles to capture the experiences of people living along the border region of Northern Ireland, home to one of the most deeply entrenched conflicts in western European history. In this blog Border Lives’ Project Manager Conor Mc Gale shares the project’s process for ethical storytelling.

What is Border Lives?

Border Lives is a storytelling/oral history project that is being managed by the Tyrone Donegal Partnership and funded by the European Union's PEACE III Programme, managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Pobal. It has produced six short films capturing people's lives and experiences along the border region of Northern Ireland, from the Troubles to the present day.

The project aims to ensure that the stories and experiences of those living in the Border Region during the Northern Ireland Conflict are captured, replicated, and shared in innovative ways that are accessible to both new and wider audiences locally, regionally, and internationally.

Border Lives tells the everyday stories of how people adapted their daily lives and routines amidst the violence, fear, isolation, and uncertainty of the conflict, but also shows the humour, friendships, and community spirit that existed. In short, it shows ordinary people telling stories of extraordinary times, capturing life away from the headlines and the TV news bulletins. 

What was the project’s process for ethical storytelling?

90 people took part in the six films. The project used ethical storytelling principles including,

  • Ethical storytelling is inclusive: The storytelling process was open to anybody within Northern Ireland society that felt they had a story to tell. Advertisements in local press and radio encouraged people to come forward and the project held 18 public information events that were open to people to come forward to talk about their experiences during “The Troubles”;
  • Interactions with interviewees have clear boundaries: Participants were all given a project “Code of Practice” explaining what the project’s staff conduct and the project’s approach would be whilst working with them;
  • Relationship and trust building are key: All participants had a minimum of 3 meetings with our staff and filmmakers to explain the documentary process, to record their interview and for follow-up work. In reality the project met with many participants up to 5 times;
  • The process and final portrayal of a story must respect the wishes of the interviewee: All of the participants had the final say of what their interview looked like and what it contained, so that they were happy with its contents before it was included within each of the films. This involved showing each participant their recorded interview in full;
  • Work with communities: The project worked “with and in” communities, meaning that it partnered with a number of key not-for-profit gatekeeper organizations that worked with specific sections of society to ensure inclusiveness of the initiative.  
  • "Duty of care” to participants: The project had a “duty of care” for each person. To ensure that the project did not re-traumatize the participants, it developed a signposting and referral service to counselling services in Northern Ireland that specialize in post-traumatic stress disorder and the Troubles. The project also had a budget to pay for participants’ initial consultation and some subsequent appointments if necessary.

The project’s ethical storytelling process enabled the project to collect remarkable stories from participants, including: a woman who spoke of watching a British Soldier dying outside her home, a retired RUC (the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the former British state police force in Northern Ireland) officer who spoke of never wanting to have to use his gun, an IRA (the Provisional Irish Republican Army, an Irish republican paramilitary organization) member who shared memories of growing up amidst the turmoil of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and a part-time UDR (the Ulster Defense Regiment, a unit of the British military) member explaining how he and his family were constantly under threat. Out of 90 participants, 80 people chose this project as their first time of talking about their experiences of The Troubles.

What has the project delivered?

In total, the project has developed:

  • Six 30 minute documentaries of how the Northern Ireland Troubles impacted on border communities;
  • 20 extended Interviews with participants explaining life in the area during this conflict;
  • A purpose built website,, which contains films and interviews, maps detailing the local area, and an interactive timeline about the development of the Northern Ireland Border;
  • A social media presence that includes apps, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

The project has also devised an e-learning course, based on the footage gathered from 90 participants. The course,, is free and features four modules: Restart, Remembering, Renewal and Reconstruction. The modules feature video clips, external links, questions and key learning points throughout the course and covers topics such as the role of narrative in conflict and moving forwards, the role of a border in conflict, identities in conflict, the Iceberg model of conflict, and Border Impact Stories.



For more information on Border Lives, contact Conor Mc Gale, Project Manager, or visit their blog detailing the various stages of the project as it developed as well as sharing the thoughts of the project’s Research Officer.



Further Resources:

If you are interested in storytelling and peacebuilding, the DME for Peace team recommends,

The Evaluation of Storytelling as a Peace-building Methodology, authored by the International Conflict Research Institute and the University of Ulster.

Lessons Learned from Four Years of Story Based Monitoring, authored by staff of the Storytelling project for GlobalGiving