Storytelling as Authentic Engagement

PAS Memo 114

By Rowena Alegria


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A story is a narrative — a succession of incidents, true or fictitious — written in prose or verse to entertain, amuse, or instruct a reader. Stories are humankind's primary means of teaching and learning. From our very earliest years, stories help us make sense of a confusing world. They bring order to complicated situations and help us see ourselves and others — maybe even see ourselves in others.

But what does that have to do with planning? In what is an increasingly difficult and confusing world, plenty. Storytelling provides an opportunity to explain and teach but also to listen and learn from residents — to make plans not only for community, but with them.

The process of gathering stories and the sharing of them can inspire a bevy of new ways to engage, inform, and include a surprisingly extensive audience. Storytelling can be a means of engagement and social justice, cultural preservation, and improved policy making — even a form of reparations. It can also be entertaining. As with any tool, the possibilities depend upon the dedication and skill, and the daring and creativity, of the one wielding it.

This PAS Memo is intended to help planners consider how storytelling can be used to authentically engage residents by listening to them and their concerns; how those stories can bring new voices into City Hall to inform and improve policies and projects; and finally, how new relationships and lessons learned can help to evolve both the stories and projects coming out of planning offices.


Page Count
Date Published
Jan. 1, 2023
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Rowena Alegria
Rowena Alegría is Chief Storyteller for the City & County of Denver, director of the new Denver Office of Storytelling and founder of the new citywide storytelling project I Am Denver. She is a 2019 Jack Jones Literary Arts Fellow, a 2019 Vermont Studio Center Fellow and a 2018 Writing by Writers Fellow. She is a Macondista and holds an MFA in Fiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts. A career journalist, communications executive and speech writer, she’s writing a novel that plays with form and the history of the Southwest.