The role of narrative in debriefing

Narrative theory suggests that humans respond favourably to messages presented a narrative framework as we organise our experiences and memory in the form of stories. Narrative or storytelling is one of the earliest means of retaining knowledge and distributing it to others (Fiore, Johnston, & McDaniel, 2007).

The macro-narrative of a scenario is the overall storyline or sequence of events in the scenario. The micro-narrative is the story of each participant in the scenario.

Each individual will have a different experience and understanding of scenario events. By forming their own micro-narrative, scenario participants need to organise the sequence, meaning, priority and significance of scenario events, which requires critical and reflective thinking.

In their book chapter from Toward a science of distributed learning, Fiore, Johnston and McDaniel (2007) present an overview of the features of narrative and how to introduce these when debriefing simulation based exercises. They argue that to correctly interpret the simulation story, one must be able to identify and understand critical events and their consequences. The debriefer will require a knowledge of narrative features, and issues to be mindful of, such as participants developing excuses and alibis, to be able to lead a structured debrief.

This is thought-provoking reading for those involved in scenario design or debriefing and offers some valuable suggestions for improving the learning value of simulation-based experiences.

Fiore, S. M., Johnston, J., & McDaniel, R. (2007). Narrative theory and distributed training: Using the narrative form for debriefing distributed simulation-based exercises.