Collaborate, Create, Communicate

A picture is worth a thousand words: My experimentation with graphic facilitation

They say  “a picture is worth a thousand words” and I have always been intrigued by pictures, images and visuals and their production as tools for knowledge sharing and learning. The field of ‘graphic facilitation’-in which the creation of graphics are a key part of the facilitation process- is a growing field.

According to the KS Toolkit: “Graphic recording at its core is visually capturing what is happening in a group or presentation. It is part of a large set of visual practices which use images as part of group processes, which includes graphic facilitation, collaborative graphics work, etc.

I decided that this could be something useful for a few workshops I was asked to facilitate recently, so read up online and tried it out. I developed a few ‘graphic facilitation’ activities for two workshops, which I will highlight below… and learnt some lessons along the way.

Mapping out the road to index-based livestock insurance

The ILRI Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) project held a one day workshop in July 2010 in Addis Ababa on ‘developing index-based livestock insurance to reduce vulnerability due to drought-related livestock deaths’. The aim of the workshop was to present what has been done in this project in Kenya, results of a scoping study, and ideas around how this project could be implemented in Ethiopia. They also invited other stakeholders to present related work.

During the workshop-I developed a graphic to illustrate the ‘implementation pathway’ of this project’s activities in Ethiopia. As information and ideas were presented and discussed, I wrote key words and phrases on cards of different colours (see below) and stuck them on a large sheet of paper with the outline of a bus preparing to move down a road with road signs and road blocks along the way towards a nice sunny field with healthy cows. I asked participants to check that the final, compiled image contained all the information and represented what the project was about. They had the chance to contribute to the graphic as well.

IBLI Pastoralist Conversation

  • You need to have the right people on board–so pink cards were added with key organisation names
  • Those involved need to come with right luggage/equipment/tools–and purple cards were used to note the key things that various partners said they could bring to the project
  • The bus represents project implementation with green cards showing core elements
  • The road traveled along-was lined with blue cards for steps in the implementation
  • Yellow cards were sign posts along the way of opportunities
  • But orange cards were road blocks showing challenges to be overcome
  • All towards achieving our goals (yellow cards) of healthy cattle and vibrant livelihoods

Charting a Pastoralist Learning Community Conversation

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) decided to host a ‘Pastoralist Conversation’ to provide a place and space for discussing the current work on pastoralism in Ethiopia.

To start the conversation we needed to get to know each other. I also felt that it was necessary to be able to see the combined characteristics of this community/conversation, so decided to do a ‘tag cloud’-type exercise. While people introduced themselves I wrote ‘tags’- single words or little phrases reflecting what they said- on three different flip charts sheets: one for organisations, one for positions/roles, and one for pastoralist passions (things that people were really interested in). The results, shown in the photographs below- allowed everyone to see both the spread of organisations/roles/passions but also which ones were more recurring.

Next, I asked the group to contribute to three charting activities which I had prepared.

1. Mapping where the expertise and capacity for working on pastoralist issues in Ethiopia comes from

In this activity people were asked to draw a line from countries on the ‘map’ where their organsiation has expertise and capacity- and write their organisation name at the end of the line. The result can be seen in the photograph.

What people were able to observe from this was that some capacity does exist in Ethiopia but alot of expertise is coming from outside of Ethiopia, mostly from Europe and the US, but little expertise/capacity comes from elsewhere in Africa.

2. Place your organisation on the spider diagram according to which thematic areas your organisation works on

In this exercise participants were asked to write their organisation/department name on a small yellow card and stick it along the line in the spider diagram with a heading of a thematic area which they work on.

This exercise was meant to help illustrate how many organisations work on particular thematic areas, and if certain themes have more or less organisations working on them. What resulted, in fact, was that people realised that “everyone works on everything!”

3.  Creating  a bar chart to show which activities are carried out by which organisations

Finally, the group were asked to again write their organisation name onto cards-blue this time- and place them above headings of different types of activities on the bar chart. The idea was that organisation name cards would be stacked up into columns which could be compared across the different types of activities.

This revealed, for example, that there are a lot of organisations doing research, but not many working on extension or education.

Lessons learnt

In doing this set of graphic exercises I learnt a few things:

  • You need to prepare these exercises well and perhaps even ‘test’ them out first
  • Make sure you can explain what the exercises or tools are and what the purpose is in doing this
  • Make sure you have enough space for people to contribute on the graphic and for the results to be clear (think BIG!)
  • Find a good way to record/document the graphics-so results can be stored and shared
  • Work closely with participants as these techniques are often unknown or foreign to different groups
  • Make sure you show that these are serious tools and outputs–not child-like images and activities
  • Use the graphics to spark discussions, questions and planning–not just an activity which ends
  • Be careful that the graphics are understood for what they offer and possible limitations–e.g they are not  a 100% accurate representation of  the whole pastoral sector, but represents this particular community that is currently meeting

Main photos: Nadia Manning-Thomas (ICT-KM/ILRI)

Thumbnail photo credit: ‘Rough pastels’ Image ID: 1287581 (sxc.hu)