Have you ever looked and someone else’s doodles and thought, “Wow, how creative…but I have no idea what it represents!” If so you’re not alone. It seems that whilst to a degree we all have the ability to create some kind of visual representation of our thoughts, many of our creations can be very individual.
As a professional facilitator I’m very aware of the importance and value of visually summarising what’s being discussed by groups, but at the recent European International Association of Facilitators’ conference an interesting question arose. It seems to have become best practice to have a graphics expert work alongside groups, someone who creates a visual summary of what the group discusses. However the imagery used in these situations is nearly always created by the artist, not the members of the group (so that the group are free to work on the topic they’re there to explore). The graphic summary then serves to help the group recall what they’ve talked about. But here’s the rub: it seems there’s a percentage of people who, when they look at the graphic summary, have no idea what it represents! Of course it’s possible to explain the summary, but do people then remember one week later when they come to the next meeting and need to refresh on what they discussed in the previous meeting? Again, for a percentage of people it seems the answer’s no. Now just because some people don’t find this kind of visual summary works for them doesn’t mean that it’s not helpful for others, and by writing this post I certainly don’t mean to bash the graphic facilitation profession. I would however like to raise the question of what needs to happen to help make it easy for ALL to recall what’s been covered. And what facilitators and can do to help develop the ability to interpret others’ visualisations. I’m a big fan of having choice. After all, we tend to have different learning preferences and information processing preferences. At the same time though, to help people become even smarter, even more able and ultimately even more alive, there can be huge benefit from encouraging people to work OUTSIDE of their preferences. Howard Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligences shows us that whilst we all tend to have preferences, just like working out at a gym, with some focus and attention we can develop intelligences which aren’t our preference.
So, if you’ve ever experienced working in a group where someone else has created the visual summary, how helpful have you found it? And if you’d like our ideas on how to help everyone to recall what’s been covered in a facilitated session, do get in touch and we’ll forward you our thinking.