Welcome to #ChangingTheStory

Changing The Story is a four-year international, multi-disciplinary project which supports the building of inclusive civil societies with, and for, young people in twelve post-conflict countries. It is a collaborative project between universities, INGOs, artists, grassroots civil society organisations and young people across the world.

The project has five main phases that include a range of research, practice and dissemination activities:

In Phase 1 (2017-2018) we worked with partners in 5 countries: Colombia, Rwanda, South, Kosovo and Cambodia.

At Changing the Story, we are using a Theory of Change approach to plan, deliver and evaluate our work across all project strands.

We began by developing a cross-country Theory of Change with our 5 original partners that encapsulates the overall project’s aim to support the building of inclusive, youth-led civil societies in areas of post-conflict through the development of a clear, evidence-based understanding of how arts, heritage and human rights education focused Civil Society Organisations might support this work.

From there, because of the differing contexts and focuses of each country project strand, each of our Phase 1 country teams developed their own Theory of Change, building on the one above. This was then followed by a proof-of-concept project in each country to test out some of the ideas that have emerged from these critical reviews.

Several new areas of enquiry emerged during Phase 1 of the project which then shaped and informed the call for applications to Phase 2.

In phase 2 of the project (2018-2019), we awarded 11 Grants of up to £30K to interdisciplinary teams led by Early Career Researchers working across 12 Countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Kenya, Nepal, Malaysia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, in addition to the 5 original project countries.

In the summer of 2019, we awarded 6 grants of up to 100k to interdisciplinary teams led by researchers at any stage in their career working across 7 countries: Kosovo, Rwanda, Cambodia, Malaysia, South Africa, India and Colombia.

Phase Three, which will begin in 2020, is our research phase where projects commissioned in our Early Career Research and Large Grant funding calls will complete the delivery and evaluation of their projects. In 2020-2021, our focus will move squarely to sharing the findings from all of the project partners’ work with wider audiences, in order to reflect on, and further embed, the impact of our work to  effect real change for young people across the world.

To find out more about our current partners, visit the People page.

To find out more about all of our current projects, visit our Project page.

A Change Maker programme workshop led by South Africa Holocaust and Genocide Foundation (SAHGF) in Rwanda.

Research Overview

The legacy of internal conflict, violence, even genocide poses one of the most intractable obstacles to development in post-conflict states. The ongoing lack of resolution of the past is often a very significant factor in the marked fragility of any development gains in such countries. Our project investigates the efficacy of civil society organisations (CSOs, including museums, heritage organizations, community participatory arts and activist groups) in promoting social reconciliation and respect for equality and human rights in the aftermath of conflict.

Our project focuses on 12 countries from across the DAC list of ODA recipients and from the OECD list of ‘fragile states’: Colombia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo,  South Africa, Kenya, Nepal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Venezuela, Malaysia, India and Zimbabwe. Over the last 40 years, these countries have had to confront the material consequences of their violent pasts. Each has a very different relationship to this past, from Colombia, where the processes of reconciliation are only just beginning, to Cambodia where the violence of the Khmer Rouge has passed into history and yet its memory continues to shape contemporary society.

The international development community and donor states have invested heavily in the work of Civil Society Organisations supporting reconciliation initiatives, particularly focussed on children and young people – a disproportionately large part of the population due to the effects of past violence on their parents’ generation. This demographic imbalance is often exacerbated by the long-term impact of a wide range of social issues (e.g. HIV/AIDs in South Africa). Civil Society Organisations are invariably considered ‘an essential component of peace-building work’ (Zelizer 2003). For example, of the role of community theatre in Rwanda which is often cited in efforts to support transitional justice. Such initiatives are often considered to have immediate, therapeutic impact for participants, allowing participants to create new ‘social imaginaries’ (Dancey 2018). At the same time, such work can also be considered to be counterproductive. Indeed, the very notion of civil society can be contested as a potentially ethnocentric, normative, indeed idealistic, paradigm of democratisation and development (Hann 2003). Its transferability into societies elsewhere cannot be automatically assumed. Indeed its well-intentioned ‘export’, along with the projects that seek to support its development can – however inadvertently – even promote illiberal expressions of civil activism, or help further entrench ethnic or political prejudices (Kostovicova 2006). In post-conflict settings, Civil Society Organisations, often funded by international agencies, can proliferate. However, they can also frequently fail to gain local traction due to their lack of engagement with existing, local, civic capacities and actors.

Given the lack of resources generally available in Civil Society Organisations and the focus of colleagues in international development on the frontline delivery of services to the communities they support, there is only a weak research evidence base for the efficacy of these interventions. Building on our previous Global Challenges Research Fund projects, through this project we will deliver the first large-scale comparative study of Civil Society Organisations practice across a range of post-conflict societies, confronting the challenge of building strong institutions for the delivery of social justice for young people.

Adopting quantitative and qualitative, co-production and action-research methodologies, we are working in partnership with researchers at Higher Education Institutions and Independent Research Organisations across the UK and ODA-recipient countries, using our research findings to develop new methods, case studies and practical toolkits, for engaging children and young people with the many ways that violent national pasts continue to impact on their communities and countries. In the process we seek to generate new theory, as well as making a significant intervention both on the ground and at policy level.

Working at the intersection between the Art and Humanities and Social Sciences, and crossing a broad range of disciplines (including languages and cultural studies, arts practice, film, history, post-colonial studies, cultural policy, anthropology, social policy, development studies, education and law), this project will forge new ways of utilizing Arts and Humanities research for practical international development projects with a lasting legacy. In so doing, we will highlight the broad potential of Arts and Humanities within the context International Development.