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The Culture Hack Curriculum

Deep Dive: Listening to the Narrative Space

As the second step in the CHL methodology, listening to the narrative space means taking a broad look at the shape of the narrative(s) we chose to engage with in Step 1 of the CHL methodology (Module 4), where we created our point of view statement. Listening explores the relationship of the interlocked parts of a narrative, such as the spaces, actors, actions, momentum, and sentiment of a conversation. Listening is essentially a data collection and coding process where we aim to find out how the narratives (at whatever scale) we are engaging with come alive in the world. We construct a listening model to set the parameters for our inquiry which is an entry point for the narrative we want to analyze. 

Once we identify the conversation by collecting the data outlined in the parameters of the listening model, we codify the data to analyze the relationship between the actors and the narratives. 

There are two listening methods available to us, depending on your capacity and the nature of the conversations tracked:

Small listening

This method includes a range of research techniques such as interviews and surveys, manual collection on websites and social media platforms, etc. Small listening allows us to identify nuances and texture in narratives, especially if we want to investigate the broader patterns we find in the big listening

Big listening

This method is sometimes known as “social listening” and involves using software to observe and collect data online, in the communities and outlets that propagate a narrative. The tools focus on making relationships in online networks visible and usable for our work. Big listening identifies the broader patterns in the narrative allowing us to identify themes and points of intervention. 

Both approaches allow us to see and analyze the landscape of a narrative including the main actors involved, the spaces (physical and digital) where it takes place, and the shared messages that are being exchanged. As social movements become increasingly plugged into technologies, both for organizing and communication, there is a need to understand the ways in which this involvement shapes social movements and in turn how they are hacked and reinterpreted for the purposes of mobilization.

A listening model is a theoretical and practical tool developed to research and make sense of narratives. A listening model should be unique to an inquiry and include specific parameters which will be described below. This tool should be oriented to the analysis of complex systems, which is defined as the analysis of “how relationships between parts give rise to collective behaviors of a system and how said system interacts and forms relationships with its environment”.  

What this essentially means is that the tool aims to help understand the relations of narratives, actors, dynamics, themes, and actions that work within a narrative frame. When we do social listening to analyze narratives for narrative change and social movements, we are able to locate

  • Nodes, which are the basic units of narrative communities, which can be people, publications, groups or businesses
  • Narrative communities, which are social networks that are involved in an active discussion about a specific topic or issue.
  • Echo chambers, which describe narrative communities which primarily talk amongst themselves and are insular.
  • The power dynamics and structures between/within narrative communities, that show which narrative forms are dominant and which ones are emergent.

Further reading


  1. Y. Bar-Yam, General Features of Complex Systems, Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS UNESCO Publishers, Oxford, UK, 2002)