Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Convert to Graphic Facilitation

I am a word person. Words are my key to understanding concepts and the world around me. While intellectually I understand that people process information differently, I’m still not sure I believe that approximately 65% are visual learners, who focus on the pictures, graphs and charts that I just skip over. After all, I’m the type of person who has to make a conscious effort to conjure up a visual image of the main character in a book – though if the author revealed it, I can tell you the color of his hair and eyes or what his height and body type are. You can only imagine my shock when I learned that some people actually see a movie unfolding in their head as they read.

A year ago I was introduced to graphic facilitation. This is a process of capturing the ideas that come out of meetings, not as bulleted lists, but pictorially in a way that additionally shows the relationship of the ideas. The concept was intriguing, particularly when I learned that people tend to turn to watch the evolving “picture” whenever they begin to “space out,” as they are wont to do at some point in meetings or planning sessions. The graphic actually keeps their attention focused on the topic, increasing both their involvement in the moment and their take-away learning/understanding. The process won me over, though, when I experienced, as Christine Valenza relates in her article “Understanding Visual Thinking: The History and Future of Graphic Facilitation” (Interactions, July/August 2009), “In a lively meeting, the big paper demands collaboration, correction, controversy. Its value is in the moment it crystallizes and in the connections it makes. It becomes a member of the meeting in its own right.”

So, in a move truly outside my comfort zone, I recently took a class on graphic facilitation. I am so glad that I did. While I am not an artist – I’ve had people laugh at my attempts to draw stick figures – in a mere couple of hours I did learn to draw credible figures and I gained the confidence to take a stab at representing whatever concepts were thrown at me. (I admit I also relaxed a bit more when I read the line in Valenza’s article, “The imperfect nature of my strokes makes the big paper human and touchable.”) Most importantly, I walked out of the class realizing that while I may never go much beyond adding an illustration here or there to my flipchart pages, I have a new arrow in my quiver for generating engagement and helping my clients see their problems and possible solutions in a different way.

If you are interested in learning a little more about using simple drawings in your work, check out Dan Roam’s book, The Back of the Napkin: Solving problems and selling ideas with pictures (2008).

1 comment:

  1. Terrie,

    In the decade or so that I've been facilitating nonprofit planning sessions, the more visual representations I can provide the group or ask the group to create, the more concrete abstract or theoretical information becomes. I know this because many people have told me that once they are able to "see" the concept, they understand how it works or fits together with other concepts. I think this is especially helpful for strategic planning -- which often begins as a theoretical concept.

    From time to time, I've asked groups to make art that embodies their visions of their organization's future. It's another graphic way to make ideas more tangible.

    What I haven't quite been able to do is create much on the fly during a session, but I would like to try and practice that skill, so many thanks for citing those resources.