Monthly Archives: April 2012

John Wayne and Graphic Facilitation

One of the things that’s convincing me about the power of graphic facilitation is the responses from men.   Where I come from, they used to call the old farm “Bonanza” and John Wayne was everyone’s ultimate hero.  As my friend’s father used to say, whenever we started talking about anything, “There’s altogether too much talking in the world.”   Not a place where men spent a lot of time talking about their feelings.   And there’s some really good research in the field of disability studies around Dads (and brothers) who often feel really challenged by having to talk about what’s going on for them and their families around their family member with a disability.  The kinds of situations they find themselves in – great rooms of Social Workery types wanting to process around a table end up making them feel left out.  One of my favourite dads used to show up for meetings with his toolbox.   Everyone else had a file folder, and a date book, but he was ready to fix things.   Yet if I followed him outside to help paint the steps or nail down a patio floorboard, he had the best ideas of anyone.

So I’ve been really interested in how graphic facilitation lends itself to these folks being able to relate to pictures, when words are difficult.   Often they start to talk, to shape what the picture looks like, and clarify what they think and feel as it becomes more concrete on the page.   I’ve noticed their wives and children stop and stare in amazement.   In one of our recent sessions with families it led to a great conversation and afterwards the wife told me that in more than a decade he’d never been able to say the things that he’d said.   Even more telling, the fellow, who’d walked in and told me he was just there to observe and then spent the first hour looking at his watch, came up as he left to say he was looking forward to the next meeting.  “I thought this was just going to be another one of those endless meetings – talk talk talk – but I feel like I know what I have to do now.”

So many of our new methods of communication together are about having what’s been nicely called “conversations that matter” – in small groups, with lots of opportunities for interaction, with an assumption that “the answer is in the room” rather than about to be delivered from the podium.   Graphic facilitation adds to this possibility so that folks who haven’t talked much before can speak more easily about that they can now see in more concrete ways.   These are a few not very good photos (must remember to bring good camera) of a PATH that Shelley Nessman and I did recently where the focal person spoke more than I’ve ever heard him speak, about what matters to him.   I went into it thinking that it wasn’t going to be a method that worked for him at all, and came out having learned lots!  I’ve edited out all the names for privacy.

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To learn more about our research, training and development projects check out or or  or leave a comment below.   PATH is a person centred planning process created by the folks at and Shelley and I will be doing a week long training, tentatively in August, that will be announced in the 101 friends newsletter.

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graphic facilitation

I started thinking I’d make a slideshow of some of the new graphics I’ve been having fun with, and then started adding more… so this was going to be a kind of overview of the last few months, but then i decided to put in some older things as well.   I got introduced to the idea of graphic facilitation years ago when I first was introduced to People First and used to travel with Arnold Bennington to the National Meetings.   David Hasbury did these amazing drawings of their conversations, and covered the walls of the hotel board-rooms – I’d never seen anything like it.   Arnold and I decided that we should try something like that at the next BC People First Conference, so I drew while people talked, for 10 hours.  It was so much fun.

Later, when I worked for a bit with the Vela Microboard Association, Linda Perry introduced me to PATHs and then I went on to study with some other people.   My background, prior to supports for folks with disabilities, was in fine arts and I loved the idea of combining my two avocations.   I happily did PATHs for years, and then started illustrating books.   But I’ve always admired the work of people like David, and more recently Avril Orloff, who has been the graphic facilitator for meetings I’ve been part of leading, and wondered how they do this meta-listening thing…

So as a Christmas gift to myself, I signed up for Avril’s course, The Artful Visual Facilitator – and decided to actually give myself a couple of days of learning around what I’ve been doing by the seat of my pants.   It was an amazing couple of days.   Sam Bradd, one of our co-students, blogged about it brilliantly here and now Sam is available as a graphic facilitator.  If you are interested and can spare a couple of days for Arvil’s course and wonder if it will be worth it, sign up 🙂  the next one is in December 2012…  Actually I’d jump at taking any of courses with the Masterful Facilitation people and will when I’m done the studies I’m involved in now.  Graphic facilitation has a few different meanings, but the one that I took away from Avril’s class was that it is the use of graphics to make things easier, to “facilitate” – from “facile,” french for “to render easy.”

There is some great information on how graphic facilitation is being used, but the ways I’ve been liking to use it are to involve people in kinds of democratic / leaderly processes.   Essentially, graphics engage another part of our brains and allow us to think and rethink, but also to clarify what we aspire to.   I was particularly delighted by how much difference it made when I did a recent weekend planning retreat for B.C. People First – when we started up the next day people had spent the evening before and the morning going over the drawings from the day before and had a whole different sense of where they wanted to go.   The next day was facilitated by Fred Forde, talking about the history of people with disabilities, a fascinating topic in a room full of leaders with disabilities…

So I thought I’d post some of the things I’ve been working on.   I’m not quite sure where it’s all going yet, but last year’s objective was to look at at least one art work a day, which was lovely, and so far this year I’ve made art every day – which has been great too.   I’m doing about eight days of graphic facilitation over the next months.   Eek 🙂

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