Support

Installation instructions

If you want to install NarraFirma (locally or on a server), follow these instructions.

For bugs or problems

Visit the GitHub issues list for help with problems and bugs.

Frequently-asked questions

Applications

Can I use NarraFirma for story work that isn’t PNI?

Sure. You might not use a lot of what is in the software, but it’s flexible, and nothing is required.

Does NarraFirma support grounded theory?

Not really. NarraFirma is used for mixed-methods research, in which texts and metadata about texts are given equal importance.

Is PNI a scientifically valid approach?

As a form of action research, PNI does not seek or claim to be scientifically valid. As PNI practitioners, we are more interested in the question of whether PNI is useful. Does it help communities and organizations get to the places they want to go? Does PNI help people get along better, see the world through each others’ eyes, discover new insights they can use? As a whole the approach has that potential, but whether each individual PNI project fulfills the promise of PNI depends on the way the project is carried out.

What if I don’t want to do all of the PNI phases in my project?

Everything in NarraFirma is optional. Just skip any pages you don’t want to use.

Where did PNI come from?

Participatory narrative inquiry has grown and matured through 18 years of research, development, and practice by Cynthia Kurtz and lots of collaborators. You can read the full history of Cynthia’s work on PNI in the “Acknowledgements and Biography” section of her book Working with Stories, which you can find on the book’s web site. This page describes Cynthia’s history building software to support PNI.

Who is NarraFirma for?

NarraFirma is support software for participatory narrative inquiry (PNI). Its primary user is meant to be a person or group who is conducting PNI projects.

Why did you write NarraFirma?

I wrote NarraFirma because readers of Working with Stories kept asking me how they could get started doing projects in participatory narrative inquiry. People seemed to need a bridge between reading about doing PNI projects and actually doing them. My first plan was to write a “workbook” or “field notebook” for PNI projects that people could use to check their progress and record their thoughts. However, I soon realized that (a) everybody writes things on computers now and (b) people work best in groups. So my husband and I decided to build software that would combine guidance, record-keeping, teamwork, and data visualization to support PNI projects.

Capabilities

Can I create a multi-page survey in NarraFirma?

No, you can’t. Not being able to group questions into pages in NarraFirma was a design decision. Asking somebody to tell a story (and then reflect on it) is a different category of interaction than asking somebody to answer factual questions, and this leads to different requirements, thus:

  • Individual questions on a factual form usually stand alone. But with a story form, questions often build on previous questions, and certainly on the story itself. So the story form has a need for coherence, or a continuity of context, that most surveys don’t. For example, when you can’t see your story anymore, it’s hard to answer questions about it; it doesn’t feel “present” to you.
  • Because telling a story is more revealing than answering factual questions, people tend to want to evaluate the entire form before they decide to participate. When they can’t see the whole form up front, they seem to tell more distant stories, to be safe. For example, when I plan to use a story form in a group session, I make sure people have a chance to look over the forms before they start sharing any stories, so they can see what they will be asked to reflect on. People need the same transparency on the web.
  • People filling in a story form tend to look back over their form when they’re finished, and sometimes change their answers, or even the story itself, because the questions make them rethink the experience as they go along.
  • When you ask someone to tell you a story, it’s important to avoid having them feel like they are being tested, judged, interrogated, or asked to perform. A typical web survey with separate pages and a progress bar may be familiar, but it tends to make people feel that they are ticking off tasks, not having a conversation. From what I’ve seen, this leads to “just the facts” stories and “am I doing it right” performance over reflection.

All of these things combine to make me want to give people the freedom to move about the entire story form quickly and easily. I know that most web survey forms have “back” buttons, but I’ve also noticed that a lot of people don’t use them. That’s why I decided to make NarraFirma story forms one-page affairs. I’ve seen people react to them like they do paper forms: they scroll down to the bottom and back up again very quickly, evaluating the situation they are in; they tell their story and answer the questions, and at the end they usually scroll back up and down some before they are ready to submit the form. I think this design gives people an experience that feels closer to the negotiations that go on during a conversation where stories are shared.

Of course, not everybody agrees with me about this. Some people think the one-page form doesn’t look as professional. Some think its length turns people away. I think if your story form looks too long, you’ve got too many questions, and/or you haven’t yet found the questions that people want to answer!

However, if you disagree with me on this point, you can collect stories using other surveying software and import them into NarraFirma through a CSV (spreadsheet) file.

Can I import stories I collected in another way?

Yes, you can import stories from a spreadsheet (CSV) file. To do this, you need to create a story form description (also in CSV), which will tell NarraFirma what to find in your data file. This helps NarraFirma support import from any survey taking system you might be using.

Can I transfer a NarraFirma project from WordPress to node.js?

Yes, and vice versa. NarraFirma’s data structure doesn’t depend on either platform. Just export your project to a file, create a new project in your other NarraFirma installation, and import the project from your saved file.

Can I use NarraFirma as a front end (or back end) for story collection?

Yes. If you want to collect your stories using some other method (like SurveyMonkey or LimeSurvey or some other surveying method), you can import you stories into NarraFirma in CSV files. Check the help system on the “Design story forms” and “Enter stories” pages for many details on importing your data.

If you want to collect your stories using NarraFirma and export them to some other system (Tableau, R, a spreadsheet), you can export your data (on the “Enter stories” page) in CSV format.

How many stories can NarraFirma handle?

Because the stories (and answers to questions) are text only (so far), NarraFirma should be able to handle quite a few. With large numbers of stories you may see some slower performance, but with typical projects of 100-300 stories, and probably even up to several hundred stories, you should not see a problem.

I don’t want guidance. Can I hide all of the hand-holding parts of NarraFirma?

No, sorry. We wrote NarraFirma primarily to help people who are just getting started doing PNI projects and need some help working their way through their projects. If you are an experienced researcher or facilitator, you can ignore the guidance in NarraFirma, but you can’t hide it. But if you are experienced, don’t discount the guidance NarraFirma offers out of hand. Taking the time to work through your plans and reflect on what has happened in a project isn’t just for novices. It can help even an experienced professional get new ideas and keep learning.

What about web security?

We strongly suggest that you set up any web site on which you intend to install NarraFirma (WordPress or Node.js) with SSL (secure sockets). Your hosting provider should be able to help you do that.

What is the current state of NarraFirma?

As of this writing (December 2017), NarraFirma has just left its beta testing phase. The software has been used on several projects and tested on several more. There could still be bugs, of course, but the software is more stable than it was in its beta phase. However, we still suggest that you back up your work every so often by exporting your project to a JSON file (go to Project administration and choose Export). We also strongly suggest that you set up SSL security on any web site that runs NarraFirma (unless you run it locally).

Installation

I’d like to install NarraFirma locally to play with it. How should I do that?

We have written some instructions for setting up NarraFirma on your local computer. If you get confused, search for guides to setting up WordPress or Node.js locally – there are many good resources out there for doing this.

Learning

Do you offer training courses in the use of NarraFirma?

No, but we’re thinking about it. Right now we are just offering one-on-one coaching. If you are interested in coaching or training, send Cynthia an email at cfkurtz@cfkurtz.com.

This is so complicated! How can I get started?

The best way to understand NarraFirma (we think) is to poke around in the example project on the NarraFirma web site. Start with the Planning section (click on the orange box that says “Planning”) and work your way through the links you see there, reading what is on each page. At the end of each page, click the Next button to move on. If you don’t understand a page, click the Help link and read the part that says “What to do here.”

NarraFirma is companion software to the book Working with Stories in Your Community or Organization. Taking a quick look at book excerpts on the workingwithstories.org web site will help you understand the method NarraFirma supports.

What should I do for my first NarraFirma project?

We recommend that you start small, and if possible, do your first project off-line, in a room, with people. There is something about story work that is hard to understand if you start doing it on-line. You need human contact to really understand how the exchange of stories works. You can use NarraFirma to plan the project and reflect on what you learned, even if the project spans only half a day. Using NarraFirma to “get your feet on the ground” in this way will make it easier to use the software for more complicated projects (involving more people and more technology) later on.

Open source

How can I help with NarraFirma?

You can donate, volunteer, and spread the word.

What license is NarraFirma distributed under?

The General Public License, version 2.0 or later.

Have a question we didn’t answer?

You can ask your question on the GitHub issues list, or send an email to cfkurtz at cfkurtz dot com.