CreativeConnection visits Carlo Pepoli school in Bologna to speak about graphic facilitation
As part of our partnership with Archilabò to support and develop the project Social Books, I visited the school Carlo Pepoli in Bologna for the first time in October 2015. I was invited to present what we do at CreativeConnection to an audience of students, families and teachers, curious about a profession not so common in Italy.
This has been a great opportunity for me to think about my practice from another perspective, as an object of study, as something I needed to reflect upon and research in order to describe it and explain it to others. As a group of colleagues and friends, we often asked ourselves at CreativeConnection, how to define what we do and if the term graphic facilitation is the most appropriate.
In my search for a satisfactory answer, the conversations I had with my colleagues and my mentors Tim Casswell and Beatrice Baumgartner, have been very important. I also came across a few books, written by established professionals, which proved very useful. (1)
Graphic Facilitation originally spread in the 70s within the Anglo-Saxon world, as a method to help people in a business and industry environment at working more effectively together, especially when meeting to discuss a certain topic, issue, project or idea. The graphic facilitator is established as a professional using imagery to map conversations in real time, drawing and writing on a large scale, combining words and pictures to lead groups of people toward a goal. Graphic Facilitation is developed as a way of capturing the flow of a conversation in a visual tangible form, to provide an additional perspective, a visual dimension for further thinking, understanding, reflection and brainstorming.
The profession has nowadays assumed many different facets and the term “graphic facilitator” is used alongside others like “live illustrator”, “scriber”, “visual minuter”, “visual recorder”. They all refer to the use of imagery to represent contents which are not originally produced in a visual mode, but rather in an oral or written one. These different roles all require some sort of “visual interpretation” as main skill and they all entail the creation of visual narratives based on the association between pictures and key words, aimed at facilitating the understanding and memorisation of the contents. This is why Graphic Facilitation can be considered in a wider sense, as an umbrella term encompassing all these roles.
Along with my introduction about graphic facilitation and how it developed until now, I showed to the group in Bologna some example of what we do at CreativeConnection, explaining how we got to that result. Regardless of the label you can put on each of them (“visual minutes”, “rich picture”, “animation”) they all entail the same kind of practise, a common process which is about listening, understanding and trying to simplify the information through a combined use of pictures and words and a relevant use of the coulours (Graphic = related to imagery, Facilitation = to make easier).
From this wider perspective, Graphic facilitation can be considered as a relevant process for education and as a valuable method than can be applied in a non commercial environment, like in schools. This is very much linked to the power of visuals and its potential in teaching and learning – for student as a way to re-elaborate contents in a more personal and creative way, for teachers as a way to work together across disciplines. Using more appropriate association between pictures and words would help reducing the cognitive workload, not only for the benefit of children with learning disabilities, but for the whole classroom, especially where children are coming from different backgrounds and the prominent role of linear written text can represent a barrier rather than an element of integration.
The best way to learn what graphic facilitation is about is to see it in action and eventually be involved in that action as a key player of the narrative entailed, thinking visually and creating its own piece. It’s not about making a beautiful drawing, but about drawing and writing as a combined gesture and form of expression, as a powerful communication tool, a common language which is personal and also so ancestral. We all learn to draw as children, but we often lose practise when growing up.
This is why my introduction was followed by the workshop “Powerful learning : writing with pictures and drawing with words”.
I provided each attendees with a piece of foam board and coloured pencils and ask them to visualise the most important experience they had in education, not necessarily related to school. Why was it important ? What did they learn ? The group worked individually for 40 minutes.
We then hung all the boards on the wall and each person presented its own piece to the group explaining why it was meaningful. In the meantime I captured on a separate piece of paper the outcomes that emerged from the conversation and which represented the key thoughts and messages describing what meaningful education look like for the group.
(1) The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide. Brandy Agerbeck (2012)
The Doodle Revolution. Sunni Brown (2014)