Story Circles is a new form of communication training for research scientists and communicators. It teaches narrative structure and fosters “narrative intuition." It is applicable to everything from grant proposals to research papers to oral presentations.

The program consists of two parts:

1) DEMO DAY - a one day event for up to 50 participants which provides an introduction and explanation of what is involved in committing to the full program, and then,

2) STORY CIRCLES - the training itself which consists of 10 one hour sessions spread over three months with the 5 people of the circle (who have all been through a Demo Day) meeting either in person or via teleconferencing.

Story Circles was created by scientist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson, author of three books on science communication including the 2015, “Houston, We Have A Narrative” from University of Chicago Press. It is built around the ABT Framework developed by Olson and to date has involved over 1,000 scientists and communicators from a range of universities and government agencies including USDA, National Park Service, NASA, USGS and US Fish and Wildlife Service.


The standard Demo Day goes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with up to 50 participants. The schedule for the day is:

  • 10:00 Lecture/Discussion of ABT Framework
  • 12:00pm Lunch with panel discussion of Story Circles graduates
  • 1:00 Narrative Analysis
  • 2:30 Narrative Development
  • 4:00 End and sign up for possible Story Circles


To date we've run roughly 50 Demo Days. The morning is the only cerebral/instructional/lecture material of Story Circles training. The afternoon takes the standard one hour Story Circle session and expands it out into three hours for exploration and understanding of what will be involved in the full Story Circles training.


The full Story Circles training consists of 5 people meeting for 10 one hour sessions, ideally once a week over the course of 3-4 months. We oversee the first session, but after that the circles run themselves (and really wouldn’t want us there breathing down their necks).

Each session is guided by a timer which cues the group and makes sure the session never runs more than 60 minutes. The timer also prevents anyone from dominating the group as it keeps things moving along every 2-5 minutes.

The first half hour is NARRATIVE ANALYSIS where we provide samples of text for analysis using the ABT Framework. The second half hour is NARRATIVE DEVELOPMENT where one circle member has provided the group the narrative they are developing.

The circle members apply the ABT Framework tools to help strengthen the structure of the narrative. At the core of the training is not “intellectual pursuit” (the feeding of new information) but rather development of “narrative intuition” through repetition. The analogy we draw on is like going to the gym.

Think of the narrative part of the brain as being like a muscle that has to be worked out over time. That’s what Story Circles provides — a weekly narrative workout. To date we have completed over 30 Story Circles, half of which have been with USDA.

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