Monday, 4 November 2013

The Future is Here

Last year I wrote a post here about the Future of Graphic Facilitation. I compared the different styles of graphic recording/scribing to Brandy Agerbeck's thoughts on how to use the techniques in her 'Graphic Facilitator's Handbook'. I went on to wonder how graphic facilitation will develop and how it may become 'professionalised' with accredited training and qualifications being awarded. At the time I had joined several related groups on LinkedIn as well as some concerned with training. I commented then about the developments in technologies that were starting to be adapted to the work, but I could not have foreseen the explosion, in so short a time, of discussions and posts bringing together a variety of disciplines and techniques (including the use of new technologies) under the one banner of 'Visual Practice'. Since then a range of new online groups covering different aspects of visual practice have formed.

Looking back, it was inevitable I suppose; from early days companies like The Grove had provided clients with fully finished printouts of their originally hand-drawn charts/maps. Graphic design processes were always employed to enhance the products of meetings. Today, graphic facilitation organisations don't just facilitate meeting or events, they use and produce sketch notes, graphic designs, info-graphics, mind maps, interactive online murals and more. The production of graphic facilitation charts or maps has moved on from simply large pieces of paper and felt pens to include direct digital recording via interactive whiteboards, ipads, tablet PCs and drawing tablets. Presentations in meetings are moving from PowerPoint (although its potential is rarely fully exploited) to Prezi (love it or loathe it), Powtoon and other new presentation programmes. Also, animation in a range of styles has become very popular as a way of presenting information and ideas. As the client base of graphic facilitation practitioners has widened, so have the techniques shared and employed to meet customers needs. Many people and companies, working on the proven premise that learning and productivity are enhanced by visual techniques, are now actively encouraging the use of visual practices across all areas of business.

It would be easy to feel that the application of graphic facilitation and recording has become subsumed as just one of the many different approaches of visual practice. However, it seems to me that hands-on approaches, where direct personal interaction is employed, in meetings, etc., are at the forefront of visual practice. A lot of use is made of info-graphics for sharing information, in the press and on-line, but good though they can be, they can only be fully effective if used interactively with an audience. Truly effective visual practice is a conversation where ideas expressed are interpreted directly into imagery, fully involving and enhancing the experience of the participants. That's not to say that all the other approaches included in visual practice are not also effective and important, but that they usually develop from initial hands-on practices.

The benefits for graphic facilitators/recorders (or scribes) of the wider label of 'visual practitioner' are immense. It opens up the range of approaches and techniques they can employ and offer to clients. Where the need arises for techniques they are not familiar with they can network with and learn from trained professionals, e.g. graphic designers. But what of those for whom graphic facilitation or recording is a skill used to improve their own business or profession, but is not their main activity? They may still benefit from the 'visual practitioner' label, but it's likely that they will not have either the time or even the resources to explore and use more than the basic techniques.

I originally learned about and started using graphic facilitation through my work with people who have learning/intellectual disabilities. Graphic facilitation is one of the key techniques used in person-centred planning with such people. It is a benefit for all personnel, friends and relatives supporting them to have some experience of using the technique. Later, as a trainer I developed and ran a basic course in graphic facilitation and recording, underpinning training, provided by other people, in person-centred planning and person-centred working. I am sure I am not alone in developing an interest in graphic facilitation and recording through another profession. In fact, in almost any profession there is the potential not only to benefit from the services of professional graphic facilitators and recorders, but also for their own staff to learn and use the techniques successfully themselves.

Enterprising organisations already send interested staff on one of the many workshops available and some of these people are becoming the visual practitioners of the future. However, I think there is a whole other layer of people who may be interested, but lack the opportunity to learn or the confidence to have a go. More than this, anyone and everyone can benefit from learning some visual language, whether from being involved in a scribed event, experiencing some training or just finding out for themselves. The ultimate benefit will be when using visual language and techniques becomes common in the workplace. To that end, even as the various professions of visual practice become more developed and sophisticated, it is important that we continue to focus some of our attention on the uninitiated; the inexperienced; the beginners.

As I indicated in my previous post, I am very much an aspiring graphic recorder and facilitator, but I have been busy doing other things. Nevertheless, I have some relevant experience. When I thought again about Brandy Agerbeck's 'rousing call to arms', I asked myself what can I do; what can I offer? My answer is to go back to my experiences of working with people and delivering training and use that to benefit, if I can, people looking for some very basic knowledge and skills. My intention is to publish, via this blog, a free guide to doing graphic facilitation and recording; a basic training course combining the contents of the handout I used to give participants and the information I delivered verbally and practically, along with a few things I've learned since. I think I will call it simply "Graphic Facilitation and Recording for Beginners". So please look out for it and direct anyone who might benefit to it.

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