Graphic Facilitation vs Graphic Recording - a potted, personal perspective
I am often asked what the difference is between graphic facilitation and graphic recording. In truth, there is no definitive answer to this question. Visual practice has developed over the past forty or so years and individual practitioners have honed their craft separately, taking it down various routes with no set methodology. Likewise, my own journey in visual practice has been varied and not necessarily linear.
My journey in graphic facilitation began with person centred planning with people with a variety of labels given to them by the health care system. Whilst working with Scottish Human Services in the mid 1990s, I was inspired by pioneers in the inclusion movement (John O’Brien, Jack Pearpoint, Marsha Forrest, Judith Snow et al) who were using large-scale visual tools (MAP and PATH mainly) to support individuals and families to move away from institutional care towards full lives in community. This became a huge part of my work for over the next fifteen years. I too used these powerful planning tools to assist families to plan for positive alternative futures. Walking with families through times of enormous change was a profound privilege.
The graphic element of MAP and PATH is incredibly powerful. It enables people to visualise what they do and do not want in their future. It helps people to articulate and discuss knotty issues, navigating tricky and often uncharted territory. It allows for collective action planning, which is inclusive, inspiring and urgent. The explicit golden rule for person centred planning facilitation was ‘Don’t dive alone’. There must always be two facilitators: one to hold and guide the process and one to produce the graphic. This is graphic facilitation, where the facilitator holding the pens and drawing is actively involved with the group - questioning, clarifying, expanding, connecting - whilst creating a comprehensive and accurate record of everythingthat is said.
In the late 70s and early 80s when these planning tools were first devised, graphic facilitation in other fields was in its infancy. Jack Pearpoint always gave credit to David Sibbet of Grove Consultants for many of his initial ideas around visual facilitation. Sibbet and his team were innovating the use of graphics in the corporate sector in the US for team building, staff development and strategic planning. They were discovering the power of visuals to engage people, inspire creative out-of-the-box thinking and foster a spirit of commonality and teamwork. In fusing the practice of graphic facilitation to the MAP and PATH tools, Pearpoint, Forrest et al created a set of tools that would be powerful and robust enough to carry massive change for individuals, which would in turn lead to fundamental systems-change that would have a significant lasting impact.
Simultaneous to working on individual person centred plans, I worked with provider organisations to build capacity for more person centred support, training hundreds of people in how to use these and other tools. I came to realise how transformative these tools were when used with teams and organisations, in similar and different ways to their application with individuals and families. The visual element was fundamental to the success of a team process, providing a focal point for discussion of knotty issues, a safe space to address areas of conflict, an affirmation of creativity, a call to action, as well as a reminder of the process which was dynamic and engaging.
Along the way and over the years, I have added many tools to my facilitation kit. Gaining qualifications in counselling and mediation gave me greater insights into what constitutes active listening, which is surely the cornerstone of any work with people. Studying with the Craighead Institute for my Diploma in Organisational Facilitation and Consultancy gave me a range of models and approaches for working with diverse organisations and teams. Latterly, my roles as a teacher in schools and a university lecturer gave me a wealth of transferable knowledge and applicable experiences for working with individuals and groups.
So over the years, graphic facilitation has become part and parcel of what I do. If asked to facilitate a team event or planning day, I will most often create a large graphic as part of the process. It’s always helpful to have two facilitators for large group processes but for groups of up to 12 or so participants, I have often worked as both process and graphic facilitator at the same time. I find it possible to listen attentively and record accurately at the same time. However, I would always strictly adhere to the not diving alone rule for work with families.
Graphic recording, on the other hand, is where the person holding the pens and doing the visual scribing is not actively involved with the group. One example would be when I am asked to visually record a conference. I will be stationed somewhere in the room (at the back or the front or to the side) and I will record everything that happens - keynote presentations, questions etc. Delegates will come and look at the graphic, make comments, take photographs and talk to me about what I have recorded.
Of course, in practice, as with so many things, often there is a bit of a a blurred line between graphic facilitation and graphic recording. Sometimes it’s mostly recording with an element of facilitation in there. All live graphic work (whether facilitation or recording) belongs to the people who have created it: the people in the room. It is created for and with those people and should make sense to them, not necessarily to anyone who was not present. Graphic records won’t always look neat and orderly - they are dynamic and responsive. They cannot be pre-ordained. They might sometimes be messy. The main questions I ask myself are:
Does it make sense to the people who created it? Is it legible and coherent?
Have I included everything?
Have I recorded accurately, using people’s actual words?
Have I been able to highlight patterns, trends, connections or themes?
Have I been able to feed it back clearly to the group?
Are any next steps obviously visible on the record?
If, on top of this, the graphic is visually engaging, colourful and has some pertinent doodles, then I am satisfied that I have done my job well.
Twenty-five years on, I am still as excited about visual practice and its potential to enhance and elevate group processes of any kind. I love to see graphic facilitation (and recording) being helpful in such wide-ranging contexts. In the past year alone, I have worked in the fields of the arts, construction, renewable energy, health, housing and education and with statutory organisations, NGO’s, community groups and private companies. The benefits of graphic facilitation apply across the spectrum. What excites me is wondering where it will take me next...
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