Cross Talk is an innovative method that provides the framework for public events which facilitate cross-cultural encounters between migrants, citizens, and stakeholders, i.e. people with and without personal experience of migration. Cross Talk events are challenging experiences for all participants; they require participants to be willing to engage in dialogue, to listen and to be open to change.

The Cross Talk methodology introduces a set of rules and procedures that seeks to ensure a fair dialogue between all conversation partners, by establishing a level telling field on a local level. A “level telling field”, the key metaphor of the OPPORTUNITIES project (link to glossary), is a set of principles like vertical multiperspectivity, an ethics of listening, and perspective taking. These principles pave the way for a fair conversation on migration and a new narrative on integration.

Cross Talk procedures include all practical aspects of planning, preparing, and organizing public events, from narrative interviews with migrants to art-based forms of mediation and ways of involving stakeholders.

The Cross Talk method makes use of stories, created in narrative interviews, about how the participants experience living together and how they would like to live together.

These stories are read out loud in Cross Talk events; not by the migrants themselves but by stakeholders and vice versa. On the one hand, such public readings put level telling field principles into practice, paying attention to experiences and perspectives that might otherwise go unheard. On the other hand, the public reading of someone else’s story creates a confrontation between one's own experience and that of the other person. This change of perspective can lead to recognition and acknowledgement which are needed to focus on what we all have in common. 

Exchanging stories creates the right atmosphere to develop the conditions for a fair dialogue on migration which meets three conditions: a commitment to a democratic worldview grounded in human rights and a human development paradigm; adhering to commonly accepted standards for evaluating claims, opinions, and arguments; and sincerity, i.e. a serious commitment to debate as a democratic means of opinion-building and decision-making. 

The methodology of Cross Talk is highly indebted to previous experiences gained in other projects: the RE-InVEST project where a broad and useful critical methodology is designed; the REGAL project where the successful use of narratives is demonstrated; and especially the inspiring work of Fiona Whelan who developed a socially engaged and public participatory art-project in Dublin.

 This online manual helps NGOs to understand the Cross Talk method and how to implement it.

The online manual consists of three parts

  • a description of the method (four steps)
  • a set of extras about privacy, gender, voluntary fee and storytelling method
  • a third level is a set of examples. The partners of Opportunities have a lot experiences in working with participative methods. These examples show how the method can be applied in practice.

This online manual is work in progress, building on the experiences of all partners. It is the result of collaboration in an experimental community of NGOs, universities and, in various countries, migrants and stakeholders.

Cross Talk methodology

The Cross Talk method aims to create a 'fair dialogue' between people with a migration history and 'others', the so-called 'stakeholders'. This method requires participants to be willing to engage in dialogue, to listen and to be open to change.

The Cross Talk method makes use of stories. Not just any stories. They are stories about how the participants experience living together and how they would like to live together.

These stories are read out loud. In a Cross Talk event, we put the stories of all on an equal footing. They are of equal value. This is the start of a 'Level Telling Field'.

The reading aloud of another's story creates a confrontation between one's own and another's experiences. This can lead to recognition and acknowledgement. Recognition is necessary to find what we have in common. 

Exchanging stories creates the right atmosphere to develop the conditions for a 'fair dialogue'. A fair dialogue requires the realisation of three conditions: a commitment to a democratic worldview grounded in human rights and a human development paradigm; adhering to commonly accepted standards for evaluating claims, opinions, and arguments; and sincerity, i.e. a serious commitment to debate as a democratic means of opinion-building and decision-making. 

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The Cross Talk method consists of four steps: (1) confidential storytelling – migrants tell their life stories  (either in oral or written form); (2) non-public re-enactment – the migrants re-tell their stories, thus ‘re-living’ what has been told; (3) public re-enactment – migrants and stakeholders tell each other’s stories in front of a public audience; (4) public re-enactment leads to a fair conversation on migration.

Each step consists of a number of stages (see below); while steps 1-3 are part of the method, step 4 describes the goal beyond the cross talk events.


Step 1: storytelling

The aim of the first step is to come up with stories. It consists of four parts. 

  • We cooperate with an NGO where we find a safe place for the participants.
  • People with a migration history do not just tell their story to researchers. Building trust is necessary.
  • Only when trust is established, stories can be told. To do this, we use an interview technique.
  • The interview is then reworked into a story. This reworking is done together and results into their story. 


Building trust with the NGO

We cooperate with an NGO where we find a safe place for the participants of the Cross Talk.

The NGO can bring in participants or help in recruiting participants.

Working with an NGO has a number of advantages:

  • NGOs are used to work with vulnerable people.
  • NGOs are a safe place for vulnerable people. 
  • NGOs  can host the Cross Talk event.
  • NGOs can support vulnerable people. 
  • And NGOs have a network we can call on.

However, NGOs are more than purveyors of (research) benefits. They are considered by OPPORTUNITIES as active participants who can enrich the Cross Talk.

This means that the NGO should have an active role in the earliest possible stage of the research. It requires that the researchers should scope out with the NGO the full range of possible input they can make. You need honest discussions about research ethics, resources, culture and capacity. This will take time, this will require a process of trust building and is necessary to ensure a full understanding of the project, the scale of ambition and respective roles. It is useful at this stage to develop a ‘partnership agreement’ that can be used at various stages of the project including evaluation. You find here the Welcome Manual Portugal REAPN as an example of a 'partnership agreement'.

Partnership in practice could include explicit agreements on the data collection, analysis, drafting and action dissemination where the academics, the NGO and the participants have clear roles. The NGO could be an active partner in the dissemination and communication of the project.


Building trust with the participants

An important step in the process is to gain the trust of the participants. After all, the project stands or falls with them. 

The participants are invited to work together for several months. They are asked to tell about their lives and their expectations. They are asked to participate in a dialogue with those involved, usually civil servants, social workers and others. We invite them into an adventure with no immediate benefit.

Building trust with the participants is therefore a crucial first step.

  • Therefore, together we must create a safe place, a sense of welcome and mutual understanding and respect.
  • The project must be clear to the participants. All steps must be clearly explained. They must understand and support the goal of the project. 

Some points to consider: 

  • Here we suggest the use of (visual) group work methods that focus on building mutual trust. Make sure the meeting is very open:  people should like it, feel safe, have the feeling that they are being listened to and are part of the research process. 
  • Be aware of overcoming language/cultural barriers, especially if the participants are from different countries.
  • Discuss rules of conduct about confidentiality, respect and recognition of boundaries, avoiding discouraging stories, punctuality, reliability and honesty, etc.
  • Gender issues: after all, gender determines the content of the stories. The target group must therefore be balanced, without having to be mixed.​ (see extras)
  • Ensuring privacy is important. It determines the sense of security.​ (see extras)
  • The long duration of the project may cause participants to drop out. A sufficient number of participants from the start, keeping the project interesting, building in a break, using a voluntary fee etc. are possible solutions. (see extras)



Telling stories: the interviews

Here we create stories, stories of how the participants see their lives in this city, this country. 

What should the stories be about?
We are looking for stories how migrants want to live in our countries. What expectations do they have? How do they want to make it happen? These are the expectations that we want to hear, that we want to bring into the Cross Talk moments.

Their story is circumscribed for the sake of the purpose of the Cross Talk, but at the same time there is a lot of room to fill in. The 'details' can be about the obstacles, the difficulties, the power relations, the opportunities and the successes. It is about their work, their neighbourhood, their friends and family. These 'details' make the stories more concrete and clarify the framework.

  • This framework should be discussed with the participants beforehand. It should be a topic of the first conversations. It makes the participants real owners of the project.


The writing of these stories is done together: the participant is the storyteller and the editor of the story, the interviewer is the listener of the storyteller and the transcriber of the story.

The interviewer is first and foremost the narrator's witness. The interviewer must: “practise presence, to place your fullest attention on someone. It means slowing down and taking the time to pay attention. When we witness another, we are building a safe and trustworthy space in which whatever needs to be spoken can be reviewed without judgement. When you bear witness you become part of a field of listening and sometimes this creates an environment where a locked door can open. Bearing witness means being vulnerable. Bearing witness means opening to the world with full sensitivity.” (Based on Malcolm Stern, Slay your Dragons with Compassion, 2020, Watkins Publishers)

The stories are created from transcribed interviews. The interview is a tool for writing a story. The interviewer intervenes as little as possible, only when the story has not yet reached its full potential. Silence is therefore a way of respecting the narrator.

In this link you will find more information on how to conduct a good interview : GERM_-_Presentation_Meeting_14-15_Sept_2021.pdf 

 Some points to consider:

  • The interviews are conducted in a safe place, a comfortable place, a place with something to eat and drink.

  • The interviewer begins with a few words about the interview process: the audio recording and subsequent transcribing, the privacy rules, the many edits until they are satisfied with their typed reports.

  • The interviewer opens by sharing food: he asks the participant about their memories of food. After this initial conversation, the interviewer invites the participant to talk about how they live today, their expectations and what it takes to make it happen.

  • An interview, telling about their past life, the journey, and the problems here, can be a difficult moment for the narrator and for the listener. Ensure that the NGO can be a support to the participant at these moments.


Telling stories: the transcribing process

The interview forms the basis of the story. It is rough, unfinished, but important material.

The interviewer transcribes the interviews. It is a literary transcription: you leave out all unnecessary elements (hesitations, repetitions, your questions, etc.). The result of the transcription process must resemble a story.

With this draft story you go back to the interviewee. They must give their approval. Several edits of the story may be necessary until everyone is satisfied.

Their explicit approval is necessary. They must also give their permission to use (some parts of) their story in the Cross Talk moment.

The final step in this phase is the anomization of the stories.

In order to protect the identity of the narrators, we have to omit all elements that could lead to the identification of the narrator (places, names, dates, plants and animals, etc.).

The danger of leaving out too many elements is that the story loses its importance, its character, its necessity. To avoid this possibility, you can choose to create vignettes.

Vignettes are based on the story, but split up into smaller parts that can stand on their own. By splitting the story you also anomize the story.

Step 2: non-public re-enactment

The second step prepares the Cross Talk moment.

During this step we practice the re-enactment. 

The re-enactment is a performance with a selected public. A public that must listen to the storyteller.  Through listening, we recognise the storyteller. The performers tell their story in a specific context (a place, a time, a historical moment), and in relation with the other performers, and with the public. The interaction between the performer and the audience results in an "enhanced" performance that changes the story, the meaning of the story, the tone of the story.

The re-enactment is now a re-telling of the story in (a selected) public. (see extras)


During this second step we bring the stakeholders together. They also need to prepare themselves. We bring them together to tell their story. They also practice the re-enactment.

Preparing the re-enactment

Once we have the stories we can now really prepare the Cross Talk.

The preparation consists of two phases:  a choice of the stories and a first re-enactment of the stories.

  • Choosing the stories. The result of the work should be amazing/impressive. 15 long stories and several vignettes more. During the Cross Talk it is not possible to listen to all the stories/vignettes. So, we have to choose. Which stories are most useful: which story best captures the framework we discussed in the first phase of the project?
  • How do we choose? We therefore use the method of re-enactment. We ask the participants to re-enact, to read aloud, a story chosen from a pile. They take a story that is not their story. After the reading, we discuss in a group which story needs to be used during the Cross Talk.

Non-public re-enactment takes the story step by step from the private to the public realm.

Coming together with the stakeholders

The stakeholders are “any group or individual that can affect, or is affected by, the achievement of the organisation’s objectives” of the Cross Talk. The stakeholder could be a neighbour, a supermarket manager, a servant of social services, a politician, etc. Each one of them can affect or is affected by the Cross Talk, by living together with people who have a story of migration. (Based on Freeman, R.E. 1984. Strategic management: A stakeholder approach, Boston: Pitman. Page 46)

The stakeholders follow a similar, but much shorter trajectory. Their trajectory consists of

  • Introduction to the project
  • Building trust
  • Discussing the rules of conduct on confidentiality, respect and recognition of boundaries, punctuality, reliability, honesty, etc.
  • Telling stories: writing short stories about how they experience their lives and how they want to build a community.
  • Choosing stories by a first re-enactment.

Step 3: public re-enactment

The Cross Talk method brings together stories of migrants and stakeholders. The dominant and other stories are put on equal footing. In Cross Talk, we create an equal storytelling field, a Level Telling Field.

Participants have to read aloud a story of another person. In doing so, they step into the other person's shoes. This confrontation prepares them for a dialogue with the other (step 4).

Cross Talk moment

Cross Talk begins with the re-enactment and ends in a dialogue about the experience of reading aloud.

  • Cross Talk is a public moment. The public moment can be open or closed. The choice for openness is determined by the local context and the (weakest) participants.
  • Cross Talk takes place in a neutral space where the groups sit in a triangle: one side of the triangle is reserved for the migrants, a second for those involved, and the third side is for the (selected) audience.
  • The audience is vital. The audience "plays" the "chorus" as in ancient Greek theater. The audience makes the protagonists accountable. Thanks to the audience, the Cross Talk becomes relevant, a political moment.

How does the Cross Talk work?

  • A facilitator introduces the participants, the purpose, the process and the methodology.
  • The migrants and stakeholders take one story after another from two random piles, one pile of stories written by the migrants, another pile of stories written by the stakeholders. Then they read the story aloud.
  • After the reading, the experience round begins. How did the readers experience their story?
  • The audience is invited to share their experiences as well.
  • After this, we look for what is common within the experiences.

Finding common points is the basis for a more in-depth dialogue (step 4)

Step 4: towards a fair dialogue

The purpose of Cross Talk is clear: to arrive at a fair dialogue.
A fair dialogue occurs where, in a community, all participants are on an equal footing, determine together the conditions for coexistence, and make political recommendations from there.

The challenge is not to cover up the differences in power, but to indicate and make them explicit. Accentuating the differences opens the way for an understanding of inequality and the consequences of inequality.

This final step seeks the conditions for coexistence and then for concrete solutions.

The dialogue: overcoming the distance

The fourth step starts with an overview of the common points.

  • The facilitator asks for participants' reactions: what does it mean to them that there are common points? Responses are noted (projected). 
    The audience is then invited to respond not only about the common points but also about the process conducted so far.
  • Based on the common points, participants are asked to seek to broaden or extend these points. Can the common serve as a lever for other points of coexistence? Responses are noted (projected)
  • Then the question can be asked how this broadening can be carried out? What is needed to make the broadening possible?
    Here the public can play an inspiring role by giving indications.

This exercise results in concrete conditions for a possible coexistence.

  • The facilitator then asks the participants to translate these conditions into political recommendations. The public is given the task of helping the migrants and stakeholders to formulate these proposals.
  • Each group, as well as the audience, is now asked to think about these proposals and to rank them. They are asked to explain the ranking.
    Again, responses are solicited.
  • Each group, as well as the audience, is now asked to think about these proposals and to rank them. They are asked to explain the ranking.
    Again, responses are solicited.

At the end, we arrive at a list of proposals around which everyone can rally.

The riskiness of Cross Talk stems partly from the possibility that what we hear will require change from us

The representative storytelling-method

The re-enactment is based on the concept of representative storytelling.

Here the storyteller is not the person who has created the story. They are only the performer of other (wo)man’s story. But this performing is an act of storytelling: they have to integrate the performance into their own web of stories.

Representative storytelling challenges the performer:

  • first, they are performing the other. So they have to listen to their own performance and the content of the story. All kind of emotions and intellectual reactions are then possible. This creates a kind of (positive or negative) embarrassment; the performance makes them vulnerable;
  • secondly, they have to perform the story and recon with the reactions of the audience. The performing is thus a form of dialogue with the public. The performance can then be adapted to the public’s reactions. The performer thus becomes the owner of the story;
  • thirdly, this listening to their performance challenges their own thoughts. They have to evaluate their own ideas, incorporate into their mind the experience of the other.

Representative storytelling challenges also the owner of the story. They are confronted with another person who acts their story. They undergo a kind of schizophrenic feeling. They are obliged to listen to the performance, but also to the reactions of the audience. Their story is not their story anymore. The result is that they must revise their own thoughts, ideas about their own story.

Representative storytelling challenges also the public. They see and hear the embarrassment of the performers, they react to the performances, they must adapt their thoughts to their emotions.

The representative storytelling-method obliges the performers, the listeners and the public to incorporate the performed stories and the reactions on the performances into their view and thus to revise their own ideas and thoughts. This revision allows for a mutual understanding.

Gender during Cross-Talks
Fatemeh Rezaee and Mona Röhm

Gender as well as other aspects, as for example education, language, and shared experiences,  shape our position within a social relationship. Everyone brings a different package of characteristics (age, gender, appearance) experiences, life stories into the interview setting. As researchers in social settings we never can be entirely objective.

Thinking about gender aspects, specifically in the area of „Migration and Integration“, we are confronted with presumptions but also different norms and values considering gender relations as we have encounters with people from all over the world.

From our experience within this research area there are several points to be aware of

  • gender relations and different attitudes towards gender can make field access easier or more difficult
  • power relations regarding gender may influence an interview setting
  • presumption regarding gender related differences should not pre-shape our selection of research participants/interlocutors
  • our gender positionality within an interview setting might influence the way our interlocutor talks about specific experiences
  • gender relations can also have an impact on where to meet for an interview and how many people are around; for example if you are a male researcher meeting a female interlocutor it might not be the best idea to meet in a setting that is too private to build trust first
  • most importantly all involved parts, interviewer and interviewee must feel comfortable within the meeting 
  • having a kind of an outsider role as a researcher might also lead to a unique role of somebody who provides a safe space, and talking to this person is not associated with danger or harm concerning social consequences or gossip
  • applying narrative methods, as we do in the Opportunities Project always leaves room for the individual stories of our interlocutors and therefore they are in control of how much they want to share and in what way

Practical Suggestions

The experiences we make with interlocutors in different situations shape our point of view when looking at the life stories, talking to the interviewee or research participant and building relationships:

  • try to set gender-related presumption aside and be sensible towards different norms and values at the same time
  • write an interview protocol/field diary to capture the experience/impressions you made within research participants
  • talk about it with your colleagues and if it is doable also with research participants/interlocutors at a later time

Nevertheless, we think it is not only important to think about gender-related challenges within research settings, but to think about the experiences and characteristics we as researcher but also our interlocutors bring into the interview setting (e.g. education, migration stories, being a mother, etc.) 

Privacy during Cross-Talks
Fatemeh Rezaee and Mona Röhm

As we know, due to uncertain legal status, unequal power relations, extensive anti-terror laws, and the criminalization of migration, the risks for forced migrants are high. In response, we aim to apply ethical principles with specific ethical reflections for research with forced migrants. The first step is to be sure that their participation is voluntary; the next step is informed consent (see also Clark-Kazak, 2017)

Informed Consent

Informed consent shares all relevant research details so that the participant can make an informed decision about whether to participate in the study. Subsequently, the participant is given the chance to stop participating in the research at any stage and for any (or no) reason. Nevertheless, especially when working with migrants and/or people speaking different languages, an oral explanation of the research project is unavoidable.

Informed consent also addresses information regarding anonymization and the use of the audio recording (e.g. only for my and if team based research our colleagues' ears to transcribe it)

Consent Form

  • If consent forms are used, they should be written in easy language and including the first language of the research participant
  • This is necessary to avoid the feeling of signing something you don't understand which wouldn't be helpful for a trustful relationship.
  • Sometimes research participants don´t want to sign any official forms, consequently the use of oral consent on the audio recording working with non-native speakers and vulnerable groups is an alternative.

Protecting Research Participants

Researchers are responsible not to endanger anonymity, especially when the sample size is small. Six major key anonymization areas are: names of individuals, locations, religious or cultural background, occupation, family relationships, and other potentially identifying information (Surmiak 2018)

  • balance must be struck between protecting the identity of participants and maintaining data integrity
  • therefore, we should discuss with our colleagues and with respondents what should be anonymized. There is no "one" way to do it in all research settings
  • In emancipatory and participatory research the idea of collaboration with research participants is crucial, therefore confidentiality should not be "imposed but negotiated" with participants
  • For example disclosing participants' identities can have an empowering effect in specific situations, particularly in the case of people who are marginalized or vulnerable and whose voices have not yet been heard (Aldrige, 2015).

Researchers additionally use different methods than deleting characteristics such as age etc. to ensure that the reader does not recognize the research participant, e.g.:

  • using only short quotes of statements (to avoid absorbing too much information)
  • assembling narratives told by research participants (especially in biographical studies) in vignettes
  • sometimes these strategies include some fictionalization
  • generalizations: generalize some sensitive, intimate, or highly identifiable narratives of participants. Give an approximate age of the participants or provide only general data about the place of work or research 

We believe that the researcher is in charge of keeping the information safe both while the research is in progress and after it is finished. To ensure that participant privacy is protected, it is essential to answer these questions: What may be revealed and to whom? Who should be kept safe? And why? What are the strategies that should be used to protect information during research? 

Further Readings

Aldridge, Jo. 2015. Participatory Research: Working with Vulnerable Groups in Research and Practice. Bristol: Policy Press.

Clark-Kazak, Christina. 2017. “Ethical Considerations: Research with People in Situations of Forced Migration.” Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees / Refuge : Revue Canadienne Sur Les Réfugiés 33(2):11–17. doi: 10.7202/1043059ar.

Surmiak, Adrianna. „Confidentiality in Qualitative Research Involving Vulnerable Participants: Researchers’ Perspectives“. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research 19, Nr. 3 (o. J.): Art. 12.

Voluntary fee 

The voluntary fee is a topic of discussion in many projects. This discussion is about the question of the role of participants in a project. A participative project depends on the work of the participants: without these participants, there’s no project.

This question becomes even more difficult when the participants are vulnerable people.

The voluntary fee is one answer to the question, but maybe not the best one. A voluntary fee is used in a discourse about work: people are working in a project and for that work they are paid, they receive a remuneration. We then enter in a relation between an employee and an employer. The question becomes then: what are the rights of the employee? Can the participant request a higher fee?

This is not only a problem of rights. This discourse can change the engagement of the participant. The participant becomes an employee with all its consequences. In former projects some participants joined the sessions only for receiving the fee and didn’t actively participate; we even got false information and false interviews to obtain higher fees.

If we stick to the discourse of work, we are trapped. So, we need another discourse, and a discourse where the voluntary fee is conceived in a different manner. I think, learning from the other projects, that we must start from the discourse of recognition. When we recognise someone, we recognise them as a holder of rights, human rights. As someone who’s capable to act, to judge. 

The participant is then someone who co-constructs the project. Their rights are embedded in the project. A voluntary fee is then just one of the instruments to recognise them; not as a salary, but as a compensation for the expenses they make.

We thus need more instruments to recognise the participants: (in our project we recognise the participants) by giving them a voice, by giving them the opportunity to create a cultural translation, by providing a voluntary fee.

A voluntary fee is concretely a compensation for using public transport, childcare, to cover what they need for the cultural translation and so on. We’re each time talking about small amounts. 

To conclude, in our project, we must stress the co-construction of the ross Talk, the cultural translation and their rights to have a voice.