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The Art of Outsider Witnessing and the utilisation in Narrative Practices #BCM313

“We’re all in this together”

– Troy Bolton, High School Musical 

The practice of Outsider Witnessing plays an important role in the field of narrative therapy as an individual or team of informed listeners support a speaker in a therapeutical sense but also in the “elicitation of feedback from a poststructuralist world-view.” (Carey & Russell, 2003; Carr, 1998; Denborough, 2014) Coming from a family of aboriginal Australian heritage, storytelling has been the pillar of many family gatherings and discussions in which my elders share stories of past experiences, along with our families’ traditions, and origins. Sharing stories also acts as a vital tool for honouring the struggles and triumphs of past adversity, which can validate an individual’s commitment to their personal and professional values and beliefs. (Lee, 2017)

I took part in outsider witnessing of Ashley Tanks’ experience as the ‘Deputy Director of Global’ at the University of Wollongong and her responsibilities for dealing with international students, global institutional agreements, and a range of other activities. Ashely also goes into detail about the “qualities and skills” (Bowles, 2022) required when stepping into a new role that involves vulnerable stakeholders and how she positioned herself as a proactive leader in the fallout of COVID-19.

Ashley highlights “my job is to collaborate with everybody, so I think I’m a collaborator, it’s one of my values!” this resonates with my own professional career goals when looking to work in the marketing and communication industries that require constant collaboration across multiple teams and departments to be proactive at problem-solving and achieving mutual company-wide goals. Previous volunteer and university opportunities have showcased the importance of communication and collaboration with a diverse multi-cultural team as a means of providing an effective range of perspectives in response to dilemmas like the COVID-19 outbreak that Ashley was tasked with responding to.

Photo by Thirdman on

Another point that Ashley discussed was the importance of being “strategically positioned” as a means of being capable of seeing the “whole picture”. In fields like Strategic Marketing or Global Relations, it is extremely important to be able to see the wider picture with mention to analytics and SWOT analysis, as being well covered can lead to finding “gaps” that can be exploited and capitalised on, that are often few and far between in these ever-evolving and fast-paced workplaces. Ashley’s commitment to being well-informed of the situation and her professional values, cemented her as the perfect candidate to oversee new “weird and wonderful priorities” as she notes “my director at the time, I think probably saw my potential and that I could achieve those things. (her current projects)”

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Ashley describes the experience of “just popping into a meeting” with her director about an upcoming project and how after the meeting she found out she “was actually managing the whole thing.” Once she was given the position as the leader she mentions that she “looks after the team” which signifies that she attempts to nurture her team to be the most coordinated and productive within the current conditions surrounding COVID-19 and remote work. This highlights the importance of collaboration, communication, and being flexible and responsive in a dynamic working environment.

Kate Bowles (2022) outlines that a community of acknowledgment is “people whose feedback helps them see themselves in action”, and through Ashley’s story, we have seen numerous instances when her director acted as her community of acknowledgment with her stating “he knew that he was asking me more than just to step into that meeting”. Ashley’s Director saw the potential of her skills and values outlined throughout this essay and decided to give her the opportunity to showcase her ambitions!

Nearing the end of our outsider witnessing, Ashley quickly mentions that “Kate is always in my corner” and “has been able to point out when there’s a thing I haven’t considered before”, which highlights another member of her community of acknowledgment but also possibly her “club of life” due to her closer relationship with Kate. The concept of ‘club of life’ refers to those around us who hold a status within our lives that we regard highly and respect their opinions and influence upon us. (Russel & Carey, 2002)

“Lifelong learning leads to innovation” (Malec, M, 2022) this can be done through traditional means of getting additional education at Universities and TAFEs, but this can also be from self-reflection and outsider witnessing to others’ stories. Self-reflection is “about questioning, in a positive way, what you do and why you do it” (OpenUniversity, 2022) and if there are any means of improving your workflows and values. As Kate (2022) mentions “we don’t often reflect”, so the practice of Outsider Witnessing provides us with a prime opportunity to self-reflect on our own values, and work in relation to the experiences being discussed by those around us!

Reference List

Bowles, K (2022) Week 7 workshop recording [moodle] [Accessed 26/10/2022]

Mageary, J., Wixson, J.G., Sivan, V., Roberts, R., Vlahakis, V.L., Rose, M. & Gaffney, D. 2015, “Visual Reflections: Taking Outsider Witnessing Beyond Words”, Journal of Systemic Therapies, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 44-59.

Lee, P.L. 2017, “Narrative conversations alongside Interpreters: A locally-grown outsider-witnessing practice”, The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, , no. 4, pp. 18-27.

Malec, M (2022) Why is Learning Important? A Deep Dive Into the Benefits of Being a Lifelong Learner [online] [Accessed 01/10/2022]

TheOpenUniversity (2022) self reflection [online] [Accessed 01/10/2022]

Russell, S, and Carey, M (2002) Remembering: responding to commonly asked questions [online] [Accessed 02/10/2022]

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