Silhouette of digital camera on a tripod in front of setting sun with orange sky.
Silhouette of digital camera on a tripod in front of setting sun.

Ethical storytelling: power, principles and conversation

In a sector that is reflecting on its role in the world, its relationship to communities and the power it holds, it’s no wonder that momentum is building for communications teams to move towards a more ethical model of storytelling.

The term “ethical storytelling” relates to examining biases, story and image choices and decision making to ensure they reflect contributors’ wishes, as expressed by them. It also means constantly learning and improving approaches to ethical communications based on contributors’ diverse experiences and feedback.

With some members wanting to increase their understanding of this issue and others able to share valuable experience of implementing an ethical storytelling approach, the Bond Communications working group hosted a workshop to dig a little deeper and learn from each other.

Important insights were shared from Girls Not Brides and Chance for Childhood, which you can explore below.

Child marriage and ethical communications

Communicating ethically centres on one key question – who has power? Every human interaction is affected by power dynamics, which depend on personal characteristics – like gender, race, ethnicity or age – and how they are valued in the interaction. Anyone sharing their story will always feel these power dynamics, as will the person gathering their story.

The storytelling process can lead to a contributor feeling reduced or silenced, or – if the process responds to and mitigates unequal power dynamics – able to express their autonomy, voice and choice. This is what we want to achieve in our communications processes and portrayals, and what the Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage guidelines are designed to facilitate.

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In December 2021, Girls Not Brides published the first ever set of ethical communications guidelines specifically intended for those working to end child marriage (referring to all forms of child, early and forced marriage and unions where at least one party is under 18) and promote girls’ and adolescents’ rights and agency. The guidelines focus on child marriage among girls and adolescents, whilst acknowledging that boys are also affected by the practice, but to a much lesser degree. The guidelines were compiled with Jess Crombie, and build on the experiences of over 50 Girls Not Brides member organisations and contributors around the world, including those who have direct personal experience of child marriage.

The guidelines – now with an easy-to-use design – cover ethical communications principles and good practice, and include the practical guidance and tools needed to deliver on them. They are a living document, which we will continue to develop with individuals and organisations within and beyond the movement to end child marriage. We hope you will join us on this journey.

Campaigns, commitment and children’s rights

This September, Chance for Childhood (CFC) launched the OverExposed campaign, a call to action to raise standards and reframe thinking on the way the sector uses children’s images and stories. The OverExposed campaign is the culmination of a two-year journey for Chance for Childhood, one in which they had to have difficult conversations and try to find a happy medium that met the needs of safeguarding, programmes, fundraising and communications within the organisation. The aim was to make the process easier for other organisations to replicate.

CFC have created a Resource Hub to help facilitate discussion within your team and with the communities you work with. In the hub you’ll find a short video about each of the pledges above, talking points and a link to other resources on the same theme.

For CFC, this campaign really is all about conversations. It’s about listening to each other and to the children, young people, and communities we work with, giving them space to tell us about the challenges they face when it comes to us sharing their stories. We have had powerful conversations with colleagues in Africa over the past two years including Bokey Achola, founder of Glad’s House Kenya and Grace Gatera, a lived experience advocate in Rwanda. We hope other organisations will join us in these conversations – we know that finding solutions can be difficult and collectively we can seek more lasting impactful solutions.

Get involved

The Bond Communications Working Group is here to help our members achieve their goals through learning, networking and unpacking challenges and solutions together. Members can share their thoughts on this article and help inform what we cover at future workshops over on the communities platform.

If you’re a member of Bond but not part of the Communications working group, we’d love to have you with us. If you’re interested in ethical storytelling then you may also want to join the People in the Pictures working group, which provides leadership on ethical approaches to gathering and using images.

Helpful resources

The workshop provided valuable contributions from members who are leading the way with ethical storytelling and provided lessons for others who are seeking to transform their approach to responsible content gathering and production. You can watch the presentations that were shared here.

Other useful resources shared at the workshop can be found below:

If anyone is interested in understanding more about the OverExposed campaign, they can visit

If you would like to talk to Vicky at Chance for Childhood or Emma at Girls Not Brides about how they made these changes and what was involved, please contact them via: [email protected]
[email protected]

You can also view the guidelines developed by the People in the Pictures working group which provide practical advice to ensure that content gathering is ethical and supports contributors’ rights to participation and protection.