The Power of Empowering Stories

Informed Consent – What Is It? Why Does It Matter?

Written by: Lindsay Wu, Community Engagement Coordinator

People in our community are inspiring. Despite facing intense challenges like homelessness, poverty and addiction, our neighbours live out remarkable stories of resilience, transformation and hope every day. These stories must be told. But how can we at UGM tell them in ways that are sure to honour, respect and benefit those who are sharing such intimate details of their lives?

At UGM, we believe storytelling is a powerful way to catalyze change and share an honest reflection of our community. We also believe that members of the community should be able to share their personal histories on their terms, and one of our roles is to hold space for and appropriately amplify those stories. They help plant seeds of empathy as our readers connect on common ground with those who are sharing. It is a joy and an enormous privilege to speak with people from the community, learn about their unique journeys and hopes for the future, and work together to put their story out into the world.

Additionally, stories have the power to break down preconceived, and oftentimes negative, stereotypes around homelessness, poverty, and addiction. Therefore it is extremely important that we represent each individual’s story accuratelyand that the person sharing their experiences with the world has a say in how they’re told. At UGM, we are committed to ensuring that we amplify and post stories that are dignifying and respectfulboth to the greater community as a whole, and the individuals to whom they belong. To carry out our commitment, we have developed an Informed Consent Policy to ensure our community members are honoured in every step of the story-telling process.

What Is UGM’s Informed Consent Process?

UGM’s Informed Consent Process is a collaboration between the individual(s) sharing their story and our storytellers. We have several specific steps throughout the story gathering and sharing process, outlined briefly below:

  1. Consultation & Consent

       We meet with the individual to discuss:

  • How and where their testimony and photography may be used
  • Who will be able to view it and what it may look like
  • What our consent form includes
  • What they’re signing up for—We emphatically share that consent to share their story publicly is not a one-time event. It is ongoing, and it can be withdrawn at any time. This means that if they change their mind in the future and decide they no longer want their story to appear on our social media channel, or on our website, we will remove them. We also highlight that in the internet era, we may not be able to scrub all information that they’ve approved to be online, though we will do our best. Disclosure about the longevity of their content is really key to ensuring our valued community member has a solid understanding of what they are consenting to.
  • After everything is reviewed and approved by the community member, a consent form is signed and we begin the very exciting steps of building out their story!
  1. (Empowered) Content Creation & Approval Process

This is one of the most collaborative stages of informed and empowered consent. Our cherished community member is interviewed, perhaps alongside a photo or video shoot, and then  we walk through each piece of content with them to ensure that 1) they are comfortable and happy with how they’re being portrayed 2) that nothing important about their story has been missed, 3) that they feel accurately represented. We again reiterate that consent is not a one-time deal. The person being featured is in the driver’s seat and can edit or approve the content as they wish.

  1. Content is published, ongoing consent

There are many different ways that a person’s story may be shared through UGM’s channels: social media, advertisements, our publication Gratitude, videos, or even on the news! When a person’s story is available this way, we share links (where available) to the content. If at any time the individual asks for us to remove their story from UGM’s channels, we will do our best to honour their request.

  1. Compensation (where appropriate)

For community members who dedicate longer hours of their valuable time to share a large part of their life story publicly, we provide compensation in exchange for their valuable time to ensure dignity and respect.

Union Gospel Mission recognizes the deep responsibility we hold in acting as gatekeepers, opening up the broader public to an individual’s unique and valuable life story. Over the last several years we have been developing this process and consent policy, and are pleased to be at a place where it is now being implemented regularly. We aim to continuously improve the ways in which we serve our community, and maintain a commitment to dignified and empowered collaboration.

Written By: Lindsay Wu, Community Engagement Coordinator