Storytelling for sustainable development in rural communities: An alternative approach

Authors: Brennan Lowery*,  John Dagevos, Ratana Chuenpagdee, Kelly Vodden

* TBTI student; **TBTI Director

Mainstream conceptualizations of sustainable development (SD) tend to focus on urban areas or the national or global scale—most recently through the Sustainable Development Goals. This focus often overlooks rural and natural resource‐based communities, particularly those dependent on renewable resources like fisheries or forestry. Drawing from a comprehensive review, we propose an alternative approach for interpreting and measuring SD in these contexts.

The authors integrate two seemingly contradictory approaches: sustainability indicators (SIs), whose evolution reflects competing views of the nature of knowledge and action in pursuit of SD, and the use of storytelling in policy and planning, highlighting how actors tell stories to garner support for proposed developments, influence public understanding, and mobilize stakeholders. Examining the opposing epistemologies often underlying these two approaches, they posit that they can be brought together through a transdisciplinary lens for sustainable rural development.

They illustrate these potentials in Newfoundland and Labrador, a highly resource‐based region in which rural communities are often characterized by deficiencies based narratives. In such contexts, storytelling can allow rural stakeholders to interpret SD while potentially enlisting SIs in telling their own sustainability stories.