Graphic Recording: How to “disintermediate?”

I attended a wonderful webinar this morning with Nancy White and Laurie Webster about Sensemaking and Graphic Facilitation.  The hour flew by, and while there is lots I could write about, one question Nancy raised has been lingering all day:

When doing graphic recording, how can we disintermediate?

In other words, a group’s contributions are necessarily filtered through the graphic recorder (our ears, brains, hands, pens…). We are constantly making decisions about what to record, and how (size, location, colour, etc). Or not.

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Of course,  graphic recorders come at it in the spirit of service and best intentions to support the group and their work. Of course, we consult with facilitators beforehand to better understand the context, and we do prep work. And of course, we listen and look as hard as we can to hear and notice what is said, as well as what is not. We aim to read the energy and cues in the room – from explosive laughter and wild nodding when an “in-joke” comes out (easy) to awkward silences and eyes quickly darting to the floor (difficult).  Still, it all goes through us and our filters, perspectives, and blind spots.

What to do about this? 

Ultimately, get the pens into people’s hands. Paraphrasing Nancy: engage the people so we aren’t trying to be their voice.

How would this work in practice?

I generally find myself doing Graphic Recording in 1 of 3 “types” of situations – here’s a sketch of each and some thoughts on how we might “disintermediate” in each case (good, better, best, as it turns out…)

  1. background player:  providing GR support in more “formal” settings: lectures, structured group conversations/sharing sessions,  meetings, or planning-type processes. GR is usually at the front or off to the side, and has minimal or no input in the “deep design” of the session, and minimal interaction with the group as the process unfolds. There is one or more speakers/facilitators who have designed and lead the session.
    • disintermediating in this case? 
      • when introducing yourself and your role, be sure to invite the group to interact with you any time, particularly to help get it right
      • encourage “gallery walk” at breaks and at the end, and shove pens directly into their hands and invite them to help get it right
      • but…sometimes, the lead facilitator wants a “clean” artifact and would rather the drawing not turn into a free-for-all.  Also, folks are often shy about getting involved with “your drawing” (which it isn’t, it’s their drawing, but you can forgive them thinking that, if you’re the only one who has been drawing on it for hours).
  2. space maker:  creating a space/background for people to draw and write on – e.g., graffiti walls. Usually not facilitated, more likely an unstructured and “optional” activity (i.e., people wander by and add, if they want to)
    • disintermediating in this case?
      • by definition, this is more inviting – the IDEA is to create space for people to make their own marks
      • consider not having too much stuff/structure present – leave white space, consider open-ended questions, and invitations to “draw X”
      • consider activities that allow for private drawing (e.g., sketchnotes, in notebooks or on tablets), as appropriate
      • consider having examples of simple illustrations available of a variety of basic objects/concepts?
  3. co/facilitator and/or session co/designer:
    • disintermediating in this case?
      • well, all we gotta do here is design and offer amazing, active/participatory visual sessions in which people make their own marks and tell their own stories 🙂  Ok, so this is bigger than a bullet point, but it’s the thing to aim for, and experiment with.  The point being, the more input we have into the session design, the more opportunity we have to disintermediate.   And so when working in the other scenarios, consider extending conversations with facilitators to see if they are interested in including activities that invite participants to work visually in some ways
      • teach participants enough to feel confident:  I believe almost everyone wants to pick up a marker and join in, but many feel uncomfortable (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “oh no, I can’t even draw a stickman…!” ) Thing is, they can.  Jason Toal and I recently offered a 40-min workshop on the very basics, and immediately afterward, a few of our participants, who had never done GR before, jumped up and did a large-scale recording of a real session in front of 75 people,  and they did great! If time permits (e.g., early in courses and programs that want to involve participants in working visually), having basic instruction could be a great addition to the curriculum to help people feel more confident, and give them additional tools to support and represent their learning and thinking.

And then…there’s doing all this online!  Lots to think about and play with in the months ahead!

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