Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Graphic Facilitation & Recording Skills for Absolute Beginners Part 5

Hello and welcome to the penultimate part of my workshop-blogs covering the basic skills of graphic facilitation and recording. In the first four parts, I have tried to outline each of the basic skills and techniques and I hope you have found them useful enough for you have a go yourself and practice using them. I expect you have already being putting them all together by practising some basic recordings of conversations or talks; some of you may have already attempted some facilitation work or adapted the information into work you already do.

Nevertheless, let's have a look at putting together all that I have covered so far so that you can set out in your new role or career as a graphic facilitator/recorder. I'm going to begin with the equipment you can use as I have already been asked about this. The basic requirements, of course, are something to write and draw with and something to write and draw on. In the early days this was usually a large sheet of white paper taped to a wall or board and any kind of felt-nibbed marker pen. While there is a greater choices of pens now, this is as good a way to start out as any.
Your paper should be about 1.5 metres tall and at least 3 metres in length and fixed at a comfortable height so that you can reach both the top and bottom of the sheet easily. Much will depend on where you are working and what you have to fix it on. Sometimes there is no suitable wall space and you may end up working on a table, perhaps laying it sideways on top of another. Alternatively, these days, many scribes carry lightweight foam board to work on. Eventually, you may invest in one of the portable board system. To fix the paper to a wall use wide decorators masking tape or something similar that will not damage the surface of the wall (always test it before you put up the paper – you do not want a repair bill). The paper itself should be suitable for writing on with your pens, but it must not bleed; that is, the ink from your pens needs to stay stable and not spread out. Medium weight hot pressed copy papers (150gsm) are usually okay. Lighter paper is more likely to bleed. Some papers will bleed through a little to the reverse side so be careful what you fix it to; if necessary, put another layer of paper underneath.

There are many different suitable pens available, some of them specifically developed for this work. As you could be working with the pens all day long, I would advise that you only use water based or non-toxic markers rather than permanent markers, which often give off fumes that could make you ill. Essentially, you need to have pens in a basic range of colours with medium sized nibs (around 4 to 6 mm wide) for general work. There are various shapes of nib that you can use, each useful for different types of lines or shading.
 Wedge-shaped nibs are good all round tools useful for drawing both thick and thin lines and for shading. When you are having to work quickly, having one of these in your hand saves needing to swap pens to make different types of mark. Bullet-shaped nibs make consistent lines and I prefer them for writing. Brush nibs can be useful for filling in and shading. You may also want fine-points for some detailed drawing and wide nibbed pens for larger areas of colour, although some people prefer chalks or crayons for this. There are many different pens on the market. Some are the use and dispose type, while others are refillable. If you read through some of the many GF/GR websites, pages and blogs on the internet you will soon discover which are favourites amongst the community. In the end you have to try a few and see which you prefer.

So, its the beginning of a meeting or event and you are standing in front of a large blank sheet of paper. Where do you start? A lot depends on what sort of meeting or event it is and what your role is. It is important that this is clearly understood by yourself and the organisers when you are contracted to do the job.

Let's start with a basic graphic recording task. This is by far the most flexible type of work in terms of what you can produce on paper. For example, let's say you are watching and listening to a talk; there's no direct involvement between you and the speaker, You are there to interpret graphically what the speaker says and to give other people listening something more to remember it by. You will probably start with a headline title and then record in straightforward, more or less linear fashion the information delivered. Or will you?

Well, again, it depends.... If you have little or no idea what the speaker is going to say, beforehand, then a linear approach makes sense. You can do this in various ways; across the sheet in lines, left to right, down the sheet, top to bottom or as a continuous path. Or any combination of these that works for you.
Linear recordings can range from simple line and text to creative works employing icons, images and graphic metaphors.

However, it can be really helpful to know a little more about the content of the talk or discussion beforehand. For example, some topics lend themselves to more of a mind mapping approach where links and connections are required. One way to record this might be to start in the centre or top centre of the sheet. Here you can have the flexibility of working outwards from the main topic(s) and recording connections graphically as they arise. It also gives you the opportunity to do a bit of facilitation by identifying and recording other connections.
Eventually you will find that you can use a combination of the mind-mapping and linear approaches to produce creative, easily readable recordings. However, whatever approach you use, always make sure that you regularly step back and look at what you are doing. You will be working close to your chart and it can all too easily become unbalanced and misrepresent the discussion or talk. You need to see it from the participants' perspective as often as possible so that you deliver as accurate a recording as you can.

Graphic facilitation may employ all the same approaches as graphic recording, but the difference is in the purpose and level of control. Whereas graphic recording can be simply that - recording, facilitation involves enhancing and giving meaning to the discussion and enabling the participants to find new meanings and insights. The role of a graphic facilitator is to help a group do its work and achieve its aims by creating a large chart detailing their discussions as they happen. The chart and the work of the facilitator allows the participants to see the conversation take shape, to go back and remember how it developed, to gain a deeper understanding of the topics discussed, to find new connections, identify goals, plan strategies and to work together more productively. It means having a greater level of responsibility to the group and being able to direct the conversation. There are also a number of additional tools and approaches that the graphic facilitator may use.
The graphic facilitator interacts directly with the group he/she is working with, actively listening to their discussions, drawing images and writing notes, and directly involving them in the the development of the chart without distracting them from their topic. It's a delicate balance, achieved by intervening, only when it's appropriate, to check that the recorded information is correct and the imagery is suitable and, sometimes, to ask for suggestions for images and visual metaphors. These activities help to build trust with the participants, particularly if they have never experienced graphic facilitation before. Where the facilitator has been engaged to have direct control of the conversation with specific goals for the meeting in mind, it may be to ask questions relating to the topic itself. Sometimes the graphic facilitator works in conjunction with a group facilitator who will ask those types of questions and direct the conversation.

There is a range of additional skills and techniques that the graphic facilitator can and eventually, must use. They are widely used by professional facilitators and experienced managers in the context of enabling meetings to work and be productive. Graphic facilitators need to become familiar with these tools and approaches and be able to interpret them in a graphic form. Fortunately, much of the work in this area has already been done with the design of some common visual templates, although there is always room for some creative re-interpretation. Most of these were created for use with 'process tools' such as visioning, goal setting, etc. Some process tools were originally devised with a graphic element to them; for example, those that employ matrix recording. A few well known graphic facilitation companies sell printed or digital file versions of many of these templates for use by managers and facilitators. However, I feel that an original, drawn in the meeting version will always have more impact. There are various arguments for and against using templates. In the next part we'll have a look at a number of different templates and some of the arguments about using them.

Another technique that graphic facilitators can use, both for interpreting processes or simply enhancing the content of a discussion, is the use of visual metaphors. This involves basing the whole or a significant part of the graphic around a single visual idea that represents and interprets the content of the meeting. The idea may be something that you prepare prior to the meeting or it may spring from something contributed in the discussion. Again, in the next part we'll have a look at some examples of how these visual metaphors may be used. I will also include a number of exercises that you can have a go at.

In the meantime, I want to finish this part with a group exercise. If you are working alone on learning the skills of scribing, you will need to find some friends or colleagues to help you out. If there are several of you learning, you can rotate the facilitator role as you do the exercise. This exercise is about planning a party and it involves the use of a template. In reality you wouldn't go to the lengths in this exercise in order to simply plan a party, but you might use this same process for planning something much more complex. The process of this exercise was borrowed from work with people who have disabilities and in that context the precise steps to be used is important.

Planning a Party
This is a group exercise (4 or more) with one person acting as graphic facilitator; one person chairing/leading and others participating in the planning meeting.
Stage 1
As a group decide what ….

Stage 2
Based on above, suggest and record 20 party games or activities to do.

Stage 3

Identify the group’s 3 favourite ideas from above and complete the following:
Stage 4
Do an action plan:

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