Why I Call Myself a Graphic Facilitator
What’s that?, you may wonder. Essentially, I’m an organization development artist. I draw for organizations! I draw what they say and what they don’t say, to help them solve their problems. Some of my colleagues call themselves Visual Practitioners, meaning those who use imagery to communicate. Although art in organizational work has been around for more than 30 years, the visual practice fields are exploding in direct response to the complexities of modern organizations and the need to innovate to solve problems that involve more than just simple processes or procedures. Graphic Facilitation is a process in which a trained consultant using colour, symbols, imagery and metaphor in murals, interprets and documents something as short as a keynote address or as long as an entire conference. The process allows for and takes into account the unspoken and the pieces of organization work that require a bit of psychology and the creativity to break down barriers in the pursuit of effective teams, solutions and ideas.
Traditionally, language and the written word have been used to document organizational and group occurrences—such as the ubiquitous “minutes of the meeting”. But words, no matter how carefully crafted, represent a rather distant abstraction of the real event. Images and metaphor add a depth to the recording of group processes that our complex workplace situations are craving. Metaphor is one of the Graphic Facilitator’s most important tools. It helps transform the musings of a group into something it can grab onto. Transforming a specific metaphor into an image grounds it and enables the group to make changes in the progression of the metaphor, as they might make changes in their organizational life. A mural can be thrilling to group members; it opens to them a world of aesthetic visual meaning typically not “seen” through words alone. The creative artistry of the mural becomes an additional and exceptional group member who is willing to confront with honesty, to explore with directness, to illustrate what is said and what is unspoken. As I mature as a Graphic Facilitator, I get bolder about making interpretations of group dynamics in the murals. I dare to choose metaphors that may be confrontive. I think about how to convey tensions or conflicts. If I am wrong, the group will tell me. I ask them to tell me. If I am right, I push the group to move their conversations into new directions.
In the following example, “Performance Accountability”, I used Graphic Facilitation to teach difficult concepts of data gathering and evaluation. Imagery not only carried the meaning of the ideas to participants, but gave the concepts accessibility which enabled group members to understand and integrate these notions. Conveyed through words only in a “giving of information” format, the ideas would probably have remained distant, confusing and mysterious--even perhaps meaningless. Using the visual depth and expansiveness of Graphic Facilitation, concepts could become interesting and real while they lost their confusion and so could be effectively applied. The facilitator and I worked together to teach the process of evaluation to group participants. But it was the murals which allowed participants to understand and make the ideas their own.
How I choose metaphors
I always try to adopt metaphors that participants will connect with, and that enhance engagement and communication. Whenever possible, I latch on to metaphors that they suggest. The process is much more powerful when they choose metaphors, because they see their images reflected back to them in a way that expands insight and creates shifts.
During this particular discussion, one of the group members suggested the metaphor of the gymnast and gymnastics school for the concept of performance accountability– she said her daughter was taking gymnastics classes, and asked if the metaphor worked for the purposes of our discussion. I looked around the room and saw some nods; I responded by quickly sketching a girl gymnast in pencil on the mural. The group and I tested the metaphor for awhile, and concluded that it worked. In the end, it was the art that freed the group from their fears and enabled them to brainstorm and explore new ideas within the rich environment of a dynamic, newly-formed community. The concept of “Performance Accountability” had become clear to both me and more importantly, to the group members and, in their hands, it had achieved a sense of life.
Excerpted from Graphic Facilitation & Art Therapy: Imagery and Metaphor in Organizational Development by M. Winkel and M.B. Junge. Published by Charles C Thomas.
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