Special notice! If you installed NarraFirma 1.2.0, please upgrade to version 1.2.3. There is a bug in versions 1.2.0, 1.2.1, and 1.2.2 that could cause you to lose data (if you export, reset, and re-import a project). Upgrading to version 1.2.3 will fix the problem.
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.
Sure. You might not use a lot of what is in the software, but it’s flexible, and nothing is required.
Not really. NarraFirma is used for mixed-methods research, in which texts and metadata about texts are given equal importance.
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.
Everything in NarraFirma is optional. Just skip any pages you don’t want to use.
Participatory narrative inquiry has grown and matured through twenty 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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, you can import stories from a spreadsheet (CSV) file. To do this, you need to create a story form description (using NarraFirma or with a CSV story form file), 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.
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.
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. Look in NarraFirma’s help system for its “Guide to importing 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 “Export stories or story forms” page) in CSV format.
Because the stories (and answers to questions) are text only (so far), NarraFirma is able to handle quite a few. We have stress tested it with more than 10,000 stories, and it worked fine, though slowly. With larger numbers of stories you will see slower performance (depending on what sort of computer it is running on). But with typical projects of 100-300 stories, and even several hundred stories, you should not see a problem.
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.
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.
We have tested NarraFirma primarily with Firefox and (somewhat less) with Chrome and Safari. We have not tested it with Internet Explorer, mainly because so few people are still using it (according to Wikipedia, the percentage of browser users using Internet Explorer as of November 2018 is less than three percent).
If you are using NarraFirma with IE and something doesn’t seem to be working, we suggest you try using NarraFirma with either Firefox or Chrome.
As of this writing (January 2019), NarraFirma has been in use for a few good years – not by a million people, but enough to have grown a little.
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).
If you go to save your catalysis report (or any other HTML page NarraFirma generates) in Chrome, and the “Save Page As” menu item is disabled, click on any link in the page, then look at the menu option again; it should be enabled. For some reason, Chrome doesn’t see the page as an HTML document at first.
$ node –max-old-space-size=4096 NarraFirmaServer.js
This will increase the amount of memory available above the default of 512 megabytes.
If you install a new version of NarraFirma and it doesn’t seem like anything has happened, it might be because your browser has cached the earlier version and is not replacing it. You can delete your browser cache, but you can also do a “hard reload” on just the NarraFirma page. The way to do this is different for every browser, but it’s easy to look up. Just search for “hard reload” or “force reload” and your browser and operating system.
A 500 error in WordPress can be caused by several things (it’s a general error message). The most likely culprit is not having enough memory allocated to WordPress – search for “how to increase the WordPress PHP memory limit.” If that doesn’t help, search for “how to enable WordPress debugging” so you can see more information about what is happening.
If you do see more information about what is happening, and it seems to be a problem specifically with NarraFirma, please let us know by posting an issue on the NarraFirma Github site.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
You can donate, volunteer, pay us a commission to improve the software to suit your needs, and spread the word.
The General Public License, version 2.0 or later.
NarraFirma uses a triple-store journaling data storage system called “pointrel” (points and relationships), which was developed by my husband Paul Fernhout. It’s similar to RDF. We chose this type of datastore because it’s robust and hard to corrupt. Triples are stored in files (in the node.js version of NarraFirma) or in a MySQL database (in the WordPress version).
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.