Graphic Facilitation can be a great tool for consultations and focus groups where discovering people’s views is the reason you are bringing people together. When people come into the room there is usually some feelings about the subject about to be explored and sometimes a not unhealthy scepticism about the process you are about to take them through. People are brought together for consultations and focus groups for anything from restructuring within organisations, changing community resources, to researching peoples experience of any number of services. When approaching the task using Graphic Facilitation a whole new set of potentials can be added. The session can be interactive with facilitation post it’s, graffiti walls, idea walls and other ways to get people involved and exploring the topic together. Sessions may also use discussion as the key tool whereby the roles would be to facilitate the discussion and capture a graphic record live of the words people are actually saying and not an interpretation of what they are saying. This live visual recording is incredibly empowering where relationships may have unequal power or at least perceived unequal power.
The graphic record (part of if) displayed here was from a three hour session with around twelve people. The subject was a very difficult one; people who had themselves experienced being physically restrained under the Mental Health Act. Here the subject was a very personal experience and unfortunately a largely negative experience too. Once I had described the purpose of the session, how it would be run (with a strong focus on ‘On your own terms’ and ensuring support was available should anyone feel distressed by the experience) and we had all introduced ourselves the discussion got under way. Within a few minutes people were seeing their words recording in a way they recognised, there was no researcher mystery, no notebook just the wall and the words. It should be noted people had also given consent for an audio record alongside the visual notes to enable cross checking should it be needed in the write up.
At the end of the focus group the whole group reflected how transparent it had felt, how their guards were relaxed and how included it had made them feel. Now whilst this was a delicate subject I have had the same or similar reactions when it is theoretically about less emotionally evoking content, about organisational and community changes for example. I think many of us possible have a little anxiety and suspicion about what the person is recording in the notebook we cannot see, so by creating notes in a way that can be seen and is accessible is a strong positive.
You’ll notice that unlike graphic recording at conferences and events that often have a lot of imagery within them this graphic record is almost entirely words. This is intentional, the time was short and the time available was given to capturing the many fragments of experience and insight from the people in the room and so this was the priority on this occasion. Each occasion is different; who the people are, the topic being explored, how long you have together and the purpose of being there. But one thing appears to remain constant, it is not just or always a pretty picture, in fact sometimes it is not even a picture. there may be no or few images but the graphic record is created live in a visually accessible way in front of the people whose views and words are needed.
The work of a graphic facilitator is not always easy to explain because there are so many potential ways of working. The landscape is populated with almost endless possibilities, many of which are waiting for the next conundrum that needs solving.
A recent piece of work shows one of these potentials, a graphic record was developed live over a number of different events, a section at a time and then compiled creating a 7.5m graphic record that colourfully captured many conversations centred on a pivotal consultation.
The Education and Training Foundation (The Foundation) were entering an important consultation because they had recently been gifted The Professional Membership Service for those working in the Further Education Sector. In receiving this gift and legacy they needed to look forward, talk and listen to existing and potential members and shape the future of the Membership Service they would be offering and supporting. At Engage Visually we went to a number of sector based events with The Foundation to host conversations and to work on the consultation about the service. As we listened we captured key concepts, ideas and issues and added these to the graphic recordings. At each event a fresh picture emerged and as the picture emerged it would create a focus point of interest. The graphic records would draw people in and they would come across to ‘see’ what was happening; in turn they would often become involved in the discussions themselves. A number of the The Foundation’s staff were involved alongside the graphic facilitator, talking, listening and shaping the graphic recording. The lead for the consultation work at The Foundation, Claire Mitchell, Head of New Business-Programmes and Services, shaped the visual metaphor of the process of a river running through landscape with different tributaries flowing in and out.
Graphic facilitation was one method The Foundation used in the overall consultation, with the aim of engaging people in a dynamic conversation and at the same time creating material that would support further engagement as the process unfolded.
This work with The Foundation was a customised service and whilst there a number of ‘off the peg’ services that will fit many people’s needs we also know that some organisations’ needs will start with a conversation. The conversation will then create and build solutions, solutions that will always be doable, exciting and most importantly, useful.
A short update to the post below to say the graphic is now complete 🙂 The graphic record is designed to describe the Equalities Consultation, Pop up tour and live debates which explored equality and diversity in continuing adult education.
What a different and creative way to use Graphic Recording. Not so long ago I was approached by the driving force behind an innovative consultation about equalities in adult education, Catina Barrett, Programme Manager, National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). She described how they had talked to people the length and breadth of England, popping up literally in a camper van to meet and talk to people! They also held debates that were streamed live for wider audiences. The request was to have the methods and findings of their work translated and distilled down into an engaging Graphic Recording. The process was very interactive with the researchers working with the facilitator and the the content placing, shaping, replacing information until the picture emerged that reflected the work. The image is almost complete and they plan to use it to convey the work and the findings. They hope to use it to create and hold attention to the areas people have highlighted and the actions that are recommended as a result.