Storytelling as Information Part 2: Future S-DIKW Research

Storytelling as Information

Kate McDowell, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Part 2: Future S-DIKW Research

In Part 1, we presented the S-DIKW framework, based on the idea that story is a fundamental information form and storytelling can help us understand information as collective. In this second part, we explore what else we can know and understand by launching new approaches to storytelling research in the information sciences. As information researchers grapple with the wilderness of dynamic online information sharing, they will need storytelling ways of thinking. They will need a way of seeing how story sharing and shaping happens, with an understanding of what storytellers are doing when they communicate data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in story form. As describe in detail in Part 1, the S-DIKW framework defines a set of storytelling abilities in relation to basic information forms.

S-DIKW framework:

  • S-Data: Ability to identify and interpret data from which information emerges that can be communicated in story.
  • S-Information: Ability to inform audiences by communicating data with context as story, in both form and narrative experience.
  • S-Knowledge: Ability to convey knowledge as complex actionable information through the construction and telling of a story, incorporating cultural and contextual cues. S-knowledge is shared frequently in innovative or experimental contexts.
  • S-Wisdom: Ability to know which story to tell—including when, how, and to whom—in order to convey wisdom.
—Serious consideration of storytelling may be a missing piece in such efforts to build systems—both human and computational—that thwart misinformation—

Storytelling research creates a bridge between different ways of knowing, especially empiricism and social constructionism, that can lead us toward research that engages the collective information realities of today. There are some urgent social concerns that storytelling research is uniquely poised to address. Storytelling research could help us better understand what information means in at least three important areas: (a) researching collective information experiences; (b) analyzing how information and story contribute to belief and belonging; and (c) comparing and contrasting story and misinformation.

Researching collective information experiences requires working through the implications of information as a collective phenomenon, whether passed down through families and cultures or circulated via online platforms. There has been initial IS research on the audience’s experience of story reception as “enchantment” (Sturm, 1999), but there remains a lack of research on narrative experience and the persistence of story. Researching narrative experience calls for parallel approaches to recent embodiment experience in information behavior research and aspirations toward analysis of “moment-to-moment, embodied interaction” (Lueg & Bidwell, 2006) in storytelling and reactions to stories. Since audience reactions influence both how a story is told in the moment and what will be retold in the future, research based on S-DIKW should account for the vital role of the audience in relation to the storyteller’s abilities to communicate information. For example, IS could add understandings of S-Information by focusing on how and why stories connect so effectively with collective audiences and what happens (to stories, audiences, and tellers) with repeated story retellings.

Analyzing how information and story contribute to belief and belonging requires seeing the power of storytelling, because the stories that groups choose to collectively retell signal what they believe and when/where they feel they belong. This dynamic holds true whether the stories are true or not. Storytelling plays a central role in experiences of collective information in public spaces where belief and belonging grow or shrink, which has implications for successes and failures in public trust. These occur at the intersection of logic and aesthetics. Story, storytelling, and the relationship of trust between teller and audience influences how groups choose what information they collectively trust. Future IS research could study when information emerges from data in story (S-Data) and how groups come to knowledge as complex actionable information that includes cultural and contextual cues (S-Knowledge). Current crises in factuality and misinformation only highlight the importance of trying to understand basic information dynamics around belief and belonging, which are made visible in group storytelling practices.

Comparing and contrasting story and misinformation will require both analysis of story structures and of audiences’ experiences of feeling absorbed in a story. Right now, information approaches to understanding misinformation tend to focus on identifying its source. New storytelling research could investigate not only how misinformation is made into compelling stories, but also why large audiences keep sharing and retelling false stories. Comparing informative storytelling with mis/dis-information in storytelling would complement research on dissemination of propaganda and fake news (Cooke, 2017). Deeper focus on the agency of the audience in choosing their information would help to connect ideas about collective information impacts.

Research using the S-DIKW framework should take up current crises in truth—manipulative fake news or nationalist misinformation—that, to date, have challenged AI and human interception efforts. Storytelling provides an important lens for that can address collective, group, crowd, or aggregate data about human opinions, ideas, and ideologies, online or in person. Serious consideration of storytelling may be a missing piece in such efforts to build systems—both human and computational—that thwart misinformation such as COVID-19 infodemic issues, political propaganda, and more.  By examining collective audience interpretations—and metric indicators of those interpretations—S-DIKW research might shed light on why some information is sustained in story while other information is lost.

We need more deliberate efforts to understand story and the dynamics of storytelling not just as a subset of information or of information behavior, but as a fundamental information form. Although much IS research is based on an approach to knowing that centers computational systems, the inspiration of our field is that we do not center computation alone but equally consider humans and real data from human information use and behavior. A theoretical approach informed by a century of storytelling practice should make us reconsider the intersection of computational and humanistic information research. Story, storytelling, and the S-DIKW model reveal a need for a paradigm shift in the information. The powerful dynamics of storytelling should expand research in understanding how data, information, knowledge, and wisdom function in any information society.


Cooke, N. A. (2017). Posttruth, truthiness, and alternative facts: Information behavior and critical information consumption for a new age. Library Quarterly, 87(3), 211–221. https://doi.org/10.1086/692298

Lueg, C. P., & Bidwell, N. J. (2006). Berrypicking in the real world: A wayfinding perspective on information behavior research. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 42(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/meet.14504201241

Sturm, B. W. (1999). The Enchanted Imagination: Storytelling’s Power to Entrance Listeners. School Library Media Research, 2, 1–21. Retrieved from www.ala.org/aasl/slr

Cite this article in APA as: McDowell, K. (2021, October 19). Storytelling as information part 2: Future S-DIKW research. Information Matters. Vol.1, Issue 10. https://r7q.22f.myftpupload.com/2021/10/storytelling-as-information-part-2-future-s-dikw-research/

Kate McDowell

Kate McDowell teaches storytelling and data storytelling courses, and is the 2022 recipient of the ASIS&T Outstanding Information Science Teacher Award. She researches and publishes in the areas of storytelling as information research, social justice storytelling, and what library storytelling can teach the information sciences about data storytelling. Her projects engage contexts such as libraries, non-profit fundraising, health misinformation, social justice in libraries, and others. Dr. McDowell has worked with regional, national, and international nonprofits including the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO, part of WHO), the Public Library Association (PLA), and the Research Institute for Public Libraries (RIPL). Her nationally-funded project Data Storytelling Toolkit for Librarians with co-PI Dr. Matthew Turk is under development (https://imls.gov/grants/awarded/re-250094-ols-21). Her storytelling research has involved training collaborations with advancement with both the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the University of Illinois system (Chicago, Springfield), storytelling consulting work for multiple nonprofits including the 50th anniversary of the statewide Prairie Rivers Network that protects Illinois water, and regular storytelling workshops for the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). She formerly served as Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Interim Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and has led multiple transformative projects for the School.