Shining A Light on Paediatric Sepsis – Paediatric Sepsis Project, Queensland Health

Partner: Paediatric Sepsis Project, Queensland Health

What makes this project special 

While it does not get much media attention, sepsis is a life-threatening condition caused by the body’s overwhelming response to infection. Over 8000 people die of sepsis in Australia each year, with 11 million deaths globally. While anyone can develop sepsis, infants and young children are at a higher risk, and statistics show that sepsis is a leading cause of mortality in children. While not an easy task, the opportunity to use story to help create a sustainable future for paediatric sepsis care in Queensland, makes this one of the most important and life-affirming projects we have had the privilege of working on.

“To have the opportunity to work on a project that is quite literally about saving children’s lives is not something that happens everyday for us as story facilitators. It was an absolute honour to be invited to facilitate these sessions, and what moved me most was the passion this group has for the work they do. That, and the unusual insight and understanding of the value and power of story to create their roadmap.  It really is a courageous approach for an organisation like this to achieve their vision. We know the impact of this project will be seen for years to come.” – Julia Lörsch from Digital Storytellers

A bird’s eye view

  • WHAT: Creating a strategic plan for the sector through a series of Story Listening and capacity building workshops.
  • WHY: To grow the awareness, and capture the stories and recommendations, of those impacted by paediatric sepsis in an effort to improve its diagnosis, care and outcomes.
  • WHEN: February – April 2021
  • WHO: In partnership with the stakeholders from the Queensland Paediatric Sepsis Project, clinicians, educators, and families.
  • THE RESULTS: The foundation of a Five Year Sustainability Roadmap and accompanying digital illustration, centred around personal stories, to help them continue their life-changing work.

 “We’ve been tackling paediatric sepsis from a clinical perspective, but this year – with everything going on – we were willing to try something different to get our message heard. I suggested storytelling might be a good way of engaging with our stakeholders, but also staying true to the experiences of clinicians and families impacted. I could not be more thrilled with how the project turned out, and we now have so many rich and heartfelt stories to draw on when talking about our work.”  – Kate Weller, Manager Queensland Paediatric Sepsis Project

The background – for those who want to dive a little deeper

After facilitating stakeholder workshops to tackle the issue of paediatric sepsis several times before, the virtual environment prompted by COVID meant that the team at the Queensland Paediatric Sepsis Project was willing to try something different this time around. 

Having seen the work of our Story Scribe, the wonderful Devon Bunce, through the Australian Sepsis Network’s Stopping Sepsis Action Plan, Project Manager Kate Weller wondered if storytelling might bring diverse stakeholder voices to the fore in a human-centred and memorable way. 

The challenge

Without treatment, paediatric sepsis can quickly lead to tissue damage, multiple organ failure and death. So, how could we hold space for the reality of this illness in a way that also helped to elicit key themes and action areas in order to create a Five Year Sustainability Roadmap?

Together, they wanted to:

  • Create an engaging, story-led consultation process for a wide range of stakeholders, including families, GPs, clinicians, and other health professionals, all done virtually;
  • Increase sustainability, awareness and improve outcomes for paediatric sepsis by putting human stories at the centre;
  • Draw out rich qualitative data insights to help develop actionable recommendations for the sector’s Five Year Sustainability Roadmap;
  • Build facilitation skills and storycraft of staff to hold space for, and draw out, stories and to help stakeholders from all sides to be heard and included in the process.

“As facilitators, we knew we had to design an engaging and sensitive process that could be facilitated virtually, yet was all about connecting with deeply personal lived human experiences and stories, all the while landing with substantial, actionable recommendations and data to generate a strategic roadmap. Both a wonderful challenge and exciting opportunity.” – Julia Lörsch, Digital Storytellers  

The solution

Our experienced team of story facilitators and illustrators, designed a series of Story Listening workshops to give all stakeholders the chance to share their experience of the Queensland paediatric sepsis health system. Also included was graphic facilitation and recording of the process, with our talented Story Scribe, Devon, to present a visual depiction of the workshop and its key themes as it unfolded. 

“Our promise was that, at the end of this process, they would have story-led insights and a vision for paediatric sepsis care that they would not only be proud to share with their stakeholders, but that would help position them for greater sustainability.”  – Sam Hall, Digital Storytellers

The Process

  • DESIGN WORKSHOP: To begin, high-level stakeholders from across Queensland Health gathered to define the core questions that needed to be addressed through this Story Listening process, identify key themes to explore, and to paint a detailed picture of what success would look like through lived experience..
  • SKILL-BUILDING SESSION: Given both the size of the group that needed to be brought together and the sensitivity of the issues being discussed, a core group from the Paediatric Sepsis Project were upskilled in how to hold space and draw out stories so they could support our facilitators in the Story Listening workshop, and into the future.
  • LISTENING WORKSHOP: Hosting a group of 40 clinicians, health educators, families, and staff from the Paediatric Sepsis Project via Zoom, Digital Storytellers guided participants to unpack the realities of paediatric sepsis in the Queensland healthcare system in a safe and supported way.  In breakout rooms organised by predefined themes, and with skilled facilitators holding the space, each group was guided to share their experiences and have their voices heard. The groups then re-joined the main stage where a representative shared insights and common themes, which were consolidated and illustrated live by our team of storytellers and ‘voted up’ by participants using poll.ev.
  • SYNTHESIS WORKSHOP: Following the group Story Listening Workshop, the original group of key stakeholders were brought together again and presented with a Story Illustration distilling the overarching narratives, themes, and recommendations. Discussions also began about how the Project can use storytelling to enhance the sustainability of their work into the future.

What emerged – the key outcomes

To use storytelling and story listening to bring together stakeholders in a fresh and meaningful way, and for participants to feel safe and supported to have their stories heard, created a level of connection and engagement that would not be possible otherwise. 

Not only can the stories shared throughout the series be used to amplify the strategic objectives of the Queensland Paediatric Sepsis Project, but they can be used to complement other awareness activities from clinical education to social media. To have the opportunity and the dedicated space to reflect on their journeys through the paediatric sepsis system also allowed participants to heal from and move through their experiences.

The passion and dedication of participants to share their stories openly showed a commitment to improving the pathways for the diagnosis and treatment of paediatric sepsis. In addition to creating the foundation for the Project’s Five Year Sustainability Roadmap, other notable outcomes were:

  • New skills and increased confidence for staff that will enable them to hold space for stories from across the sector in years to come;
  • A more readable and digestible Roadmap featuring imagery created directly from the workshops;
  • A strong collective sense of working together towards the shared goal.

“Really interesting approach and very productive. Storytelling made it personal and reminded all of us why we want to improve outcomes for sepsis. Digital Storytellers also had skilful facilitators who understood the purpose very well and were able to tease out the best stories.” – Participant

Story artefacts – what was ‘created’

‘Story artefacts’ is what you have in your hands as a result of a storytelling process (e.g. videos, blog posts, animations, illustrations). They are critical to unlocking the power of storytelling because they make stories tangible and give people, both internally and externally, the ability to interact with and share those stories. Through our story listening process, we helped create:

  • A Story Canvas featuring target audiences, key messages and calls to action;
  • A series of data-informed and story-backed recommendations under key themes upon which the Project can now build its Five Year Sustainability Roadmap;
  • A detailed, accessible and highly digestible Story Illustration;
  • Edited and transcribed recordings of each workshop to capture all insights shared by participants.

Three things we learned

  • There is great power in collective narratives – while a single story can be powerful, when you have a group of people coming together to share their stories, and those stories contain similar and persistent themes – they become infinitely more powerful. Using story to approach problems from multiple perspectives allows us to evaluate trends and patterns, and builds that vital piece of the human puzzle: empathy. In a time where so many of us are physically distanced or geographically isolated, stories have become an even more important part of bridging the divide and helping us to come together.
  • Stories are data, and critical to Strategy – not just the ‘fluffy’ or the fairytale, storytelling is critical to unlocking your strategic goals. Why? Because they represent data. Stories are qualitative, narrative-driven, and highly useful points of data that can be coded in the same way that quantitative data can. They are also particularly effective at bringing to life strategic roadmaps and plans, by making them more relatable, tangible and actionable. If you’re yet to use storytelling in your strategic planning processes, you are missing out on a critical slice of the data pie.
  • Even if your work is hard to understand, everyone understands stories – humans have always used stories to convey information, to share our lived experiences, and to build vital connections with other living beings. For those people whose lives have been touched by instances and illnesses as rare and life-threatening as paediatric sepsis, it can be a lonely place to be. However, when we hear the stories of others affected by the same issues – even if their experience is different from ours – we feel less alone. While we have known for a long time that connection and community are great drivers of change, this project was a great reminder why stories make a lasting impact, and we hope to see that positive impact for those who have been or will be impacted by paediatric sepsis in the months and years to come.  

Want to find out more about using story to measure and communicate your impact? Visit our blog on impact storytelling

Could this work for your organisation or sector?

Every single day, there is extraordinary work happening all around us that is not getting the attention it deserves. Whether that’s because an organisation does not have the resources or know-how to craft a story, because they’re too busy ‘doing the work’, or even because their work is not easy to understand and they wouldn’t know where to start in finding their stories. 

The good news is: that’s what we’re here for! We love the challenge of finding a story, even in the unlikeliest of places. So, get in touch to see what’s possible with a series of Story Listening Workshops for your organisation or sector. 

NEXT: How to use story to measure and communicate the impact of your work → 




innovative approaches to consultation, story listening, storytelling, storytelling for health