Two of my colleagues/friends have written very useful posts reflecting on practices that can enhance any year end reflections and new years planning you may be cooking up. Many of you who know me how much I value what emerges from practice and my learning path is to understand these things from a complexity perspective in various systems. Recently a client pointed me to a FSG blog post which had a link to a quote that has enlivened this path.
For me, the blog posts noted below give us some ideas about shifting those conditions that are holding our problems in place!
First, Mike Parker of Liminal Coaching shares a great set of ideas framing the complexity of todays work world (work in the broadest sense!) What is wonderful is that if you keep reading, you will get to Mike’s gift: the value of daydreaming in helping us navigate our complex worlds. Yes, daydreaming. He riffs on the time management Pomodoro practice and creates Liminal Pomodoro – a practice to relax and let your mind do its work in that daydreaming state of mind. This might be helping conditions in our own minds that are holding our problems in place. Read the post – seriously. Then go take a Liminal Pomodor break and come back and read the rest of this post. Who knows, you may see it in a whole new light!
The second post comes from Michelle Medley-Daniel from the Fire Adapted Network Community. I had the chance to work with Michelle and hear team last year and we played with many complexity informed practices such as Liberating Structure. Michelle informed me that what she learned during that retreat had continued to add value over the year – which of course made my day.
Michelle’s reflections came around the US Thanksgiving holiday and reflected one of my favorite themes, abundance and ditching the scarcity mindset. To me, these are not Pollyanna-ish practices, but survival skills. When you take a different perspective, you have the chances of shifting the conditions that are – yes – holding the problems in place. I’ve snipped the high level essence of 2 pieces of advice below, but let the beautiful pie picture lure you into her full posting.
In late January I helped plan and facilitate the INGENEAS Global Symposium, a gathering of academics, researchers, practitioners, business people and policy makers interested in the role of gender and nutrition in rural agricultural extension services in the developing world. We used Liberating Structures extensively throughout the 3 day event.
Have you ever had the experience in a global meeting where jet lag is an ongoing presence, prompting naps and drooping heads? We saw no napping! People were engaged, occasionally baffled, and exceptionally open to new ways of being together, even those who are most comfortable in traditional academic meetings. The only persistent wish was for more time to “go deeper” in exploring and learning about each other’s work. We hope people will stay connected and build that depth. (More on that in a later blog post about the network mapping project we also did!)
It was fabulous to have a client, Andrea Bohn, who fully embraced both my crazy approaches and Liberating Structures. Her support was so thorough that we used LS to plan the meetings as well. After the meeting she connected participants who expressed interest in Liberating Structures to their local (or nearly local) practice group for further learning, practice/peer support, and sent out this follow up email:
Dear Symposium participants,
Hard to believe that it has already been more than a week since we parted in Lusaka. It was great to have you there!
One of the follow-up actions I committed to is to tell you a bit more about the facilitation techniques used by Nancy.
It was one of our unspoken intentions with the symposium was to expose you to some very effective means of engaging and including all people (in an organization, at a meeting, training, etc.) and for helping bring to light the knowledge and experiences that exists among those gathered. We trust that you will find these techniques useful in your work as extensionists, trainers, team leads, etc. Most of the techniques used (some in modified form) come from the “Liberating Structures” toolbox (see www.liberatingstructures.com). Over the course of the symposium you experienced (and participated in!) these:
Share Fair – this is not part of the Liberating Structures tool box (NW note: it is a lot like Shift and Share… ;-))
Human Spectrogram (e.g., to get a sense of people’s thinking and experience so far about the gathering and the issues) – this is not part of the Liberating Structures tool box (NW note: AND it is used as “punctuation” between LS’s by many practitioners)
There are many more structures/techniques in that toolbox (33 in total, www.liberatingstructures.com/ls-menu). The website describes each in some detail and we encourage you to explore them. However, we also know that it all makes a lot more sense after you have experienced one in action, as you did during the Symposium. I’d love to hear from you how using one or several of these structures in your profession is working out for you.
I’ve been either sending a follow up email, or creating an information visual about LS in meetings I am facilitating with LS because it is a simple capacity building step that is both efficient and effective. People are interested in the moment, and the follow up email is a perfect trigger point to invite them to dig in a little deeper. Here is the summary visual I created for a group last December after one of the participants made the request for the “list” of structures. Why not make it visual?
Debriefing With the Team
Beyond participant interest in Liberating Structures, I’ve found it very useful to debrief with the core event planning and facilitation team to get a sense of their experiences and to encourage further application.
In a more traditional academic conference context, this is always interesting. We tend to gravitate towards that which is familiar and comfortable. Those who have literally grown up and experienced their entire careers through formal academic gatherings may feel a bit like “fish out of water” with LS. Through the debrief at this event and others, three main issues come out.
Control is distributed, not held at the front of the room. For example, in traditional academic conferences people present their papers from the front of the room and then the audience asks questions. With Shift and Share, a greater part of the time was focused on the conversation, rather than presentation. Repeating cycles start to drill down to the most salient issues and points, but that is not always obvious from the start! For those who are used to holding control via presentation and who they choose to call on, this is a power shift as well.
Time feels “too short.” Many of the LS cycle participants rapidly through the work and/or content at hand, and look at it from different perspectives via different structures. There is an instinct to “slow down” but sometimes the rapid cycling can help step past ruts and assumptions allowing greater depth. Over-packing a conference, however, with too much content, can stymie that result. And somehow we always over-pack!
It steps outside of “sanctioned forms.” “I can go to the meeting if I am presenting a paper.” The way legitimacy is viewed in research communities is based on publishing. On presenting. With LS, we focus on meaning making on what is offered, versus exposition. So we need a way to create an invitation that has institutional legitimacy for those coming, but which does not box us into traditional forms if they don’t serve the purpose of the meeting. Across the LS community of practitioners there is deep experience with significant meeting results — without panels and presentations. But it is a leap of faith to go down that road!
Happy, Happy, Happy dance! I get to offer a workshop with the fabulous Tracy Kelley of BC Campus in February on visual practices in higher education. (She made the visual above which I LOVE!) AND PSST, the early bird deadline is NOVEMBER 15th. You can read all about it here. It is one of two workshops we are cooking up. The second is a Liberating Structures immersion workshop and I’ll blog about that separately as I want to share some of the planning process.
I’m particularly excited that we are focusing the practice in all sorts of higher education contexts – teaching and learning, administration, design and… well, ANYWHERE! (Yes, all caps. Yes, EXCITED!)
Here is the blurb:
Have you ever noticed that moment when people are talking about something, then they whip out a pen and start sketching? Or when a conversation breaks open because someone goes to the whiteboard and draws something?
We are beings with many senses, but we often forget how powerful it is to make meaning using words and images. There is something so negotiable about rough little sketches that invites us deeper into understanding, instead of trying to “be right” or “prove my point.” Everything becomes just a little bit more negotiable. This is the power of creating visuals with and for each other.
Join us for a hands-on, full-on day of exploring the opportunities and practices of bringing hand made visuals into our teaching and learning. (P.S. “handmade” can mean electronic too!)
We will warm up with some exercises to banish our inner critics, then explore practices for going visual in our work. Bring your challenges! Bring your ideas! Bring your inner learner, your inner teacher and your inner child as we explore visual practices together.
What you can expect:
Tips and practice for basic drawing skills (Courage! Confidence! Color!)
Examples of visual exercises and activities, and where they might be useful in your work in higher education
Explore templates for collaborative visual meaning making
Experiment with the intersection of group process and visuals
THERE ARE NO “ARTIST” PRE-REQUISITES!
What to bring:
Bring a notebook, your phone (or other camera) to capture visuals that inform and inspire you.
You are unlikely to use a laptop during the workshop, but you might like to bring a tablet (and your favourite stylus if you have one!)
Wear your most comfortable clothes and shoes you can get dirty (ink, chalk, etc.)
Background: This is the third of three posts about some recent visual experiences at the 7th Annual GFRAS Meeting in Limbe, Cameroon, where I was invited as their graphic recorder! As I noted in Part 1, it is a huge investment of resources – theirs and mine – to have me there for the meeting, so I asked if I could also run a short “introduction to graphic recording” the before the event kicked off, and then we could have the participants fan out across the breakouts and field trips to capture sketch notes. The second post in the series shares a few stories and artifacts from the workshop participants about their sketchnoting at the meeting and after they returned home. How are they using their new skills? This third part shares the graphic recordings I did with a little reflection on my own process and the element of role modeling graphic recording skills – particularly the listening and synthesizing skills.
The #GFRAS2016 Annual meeting started on a Monday afternoon, had a full day on Tuesday, field trips on Wednesday and a final day on Thursday. My graphic recording charge was a chart for Monday, Tuesday and what was needed for Thursday was “emergent.” The field trips were “harvested” by our newly-trained sketchnote artists from Monday’s workshop. (You can see the agenda here.)
Day 1 – Opening
As one might expect in Cameroon, there is still a strong sense of formality and meetings being opened by dignitaries. In my experience, they often arrive late. This time they were EARLY and we scrambled to get in the room and set up. There was a very small window for set up, but it was so cool that the Fine Hotel made a recording board for me. You can see how lovely and BIG it was in the photo by Keerthiraj Siddapura at right. (Thanks, Keerthiraj – also one of our newly minted graphic recorders. You can see his full set of photos here.)
The formal opening was in French and the sound was VERY difficult, so the contents of the formal opening were … um… brief. The fact that Limbe is known as a “town of friendship” was the key piece for me. Graphic recording through translation is a tricky proposition at best. The second part of the opening was a conversation between the outcoming and incoming secretaries of GFRAS… the handing of the baton. So overall, it was a pretty light piece for day one. You can visually see I still battle my “right hand downward tilt” as I record.
What was super fun was that for many in the room, this was their first time seeing graphic recording in action… including most of Monday’s workshop participants. So there at the back of the room I got a lot of attention between sessions and during breaks with people asking me “how do you DO this!” When the new GR’s passed by, we did a bit more analysis – what was working for me, for them and more importantly, what was challenging. It was a good place of learning.
Day 2 – Keynote and Conversation on Agripreneurship
I was very luck to share a cottage with Day 2’s keynote, Dr. Merida Roets of South Africa. As we chit chatted over shared chocolate, I learned more about her, her work, and this strange new concept to me, Agripreneurship. (Know that this is a hard word for me to spell. I had to keep practicing.) After her talk, a panel came up to comment and their input is on the left. There is still a bit of jargon in here, like RAS (rural advisory services).
Merida had never had her talks recorded, so this was a fun new experience for her as well. Remember, she also took Monday’s workshop, so I could see the wheels turning in her head when she came by afterwards at my request to see if I missed or got anything wrong. In the end, she took this piece home with her, with a clear idea of where she was going to hang it in her offices. It turns out that while Merida and her team have been promoting and building agripreneurship capacity with rural farmers in South Africa, they had never heard of the term before either! 😉 Language is a funny thing.
By the way, the colors in these images are not very good. The lighting was difficult in the space. They look a little dull here. But as I was doing some coloring with Pan Pastels, it was also a time where our new GRs used the materials and tried shading and coloring on their sketch notes. So in the end, my space ended up as a little graphic recording lab at the back of the room for the full meeting.
In the afternoon I facilitated one of the four break out sessions and as part of my duties, created visuals for the report out on Thursday. I used Paperby53 to create a base image, then built on top of it to break out each of the elements for our presenter to share.
Day 4 – Harvest and Network Assessments
Day three people fanned out across the region to visit agripreneurs, farming cooperatives and other locations to see the work in action. Then on Thursday, the morning was the harvest of the Tuesday breakouts and Wednesday field trip reports. The field trip reports are at the bottom and the four breakout reports at the top. I used the metaphor of weaving basket threads together…sort of.
My intention on this chart was to allow individual parts of the image to be pulled out in close up photos so that they could be woven into the meeting documentation. You can click on the thumbnails below to see some examples. All the images were provided digitally to the GFRAS team.
Next there was a network assessment activity led by Kevan and Alexa Lamm. Most of this session was work in groups, so I briefly captured their introduction on my iPad and then animated the sequence. This was done simply by saving the image as different files along the way. (Let’s see if the animated GIF plays correctly in the blog post. If not, you can find it here. )
I had made a few other iPad images as a way to demonstrate some electronic graphic recording.
There were some other paper sketches I made… nothing really worth sharing… but to empathize with our team that sometimes it can be hard to really pull something of substance out of short and informal presentations.
It was a great experience working with the GFRAS secretariat and all of the participants. I took MANY pictures with people in front of the images… lots of smiles. It has been a while since I did straight up graphic recording and not only was it fun (and sweaty – did I mention the aircon mostly did not work?) but it was a great way to link the workshop on Monday to real practice, to be able to reflect together on our work, and of course, to always remember how much more there is to learn!
Background: This is the second of three posts about some recent visual experiences at the 7th Annual GFRAS Meeting in Limbe, Cameroon, where I was invited as their graphic recorder! As I noted in Part 1, it is a huge investment of resources – theirs and mine – to have me there for the meeting, so I asked if I could also run a short “introduction to graphic recording” the before the event kicked off, and then we could have the participants fan out across the breakouts and field trips to capture sketch notes. This second post in the series shares a few stories and artifacts from the workshop participants about their sketchnoting at the meeting and after they returned home. How are they using their new skills? Part 3 will share the graphic recordings I did with a little reflection on my own process. When I publish #3, I’ll come back and link it here as well!
Unleashed across breakout sessions, field trips and plenaries, many of the participants of our short graphic recording workshop took their pens and notebooks to try and capture the essense of sessions as sketch notes. Remember: these people walked into the workshop with little or no sketchnoting experience. Just a fire in their bellies and a willingness to try.
The first experiments were just with pen, mostly on the small conference spiral note books. You can see the experimentation with how to organize the ideas on the paper and a great deal of courage focusing on the images, not just relying on text.
At one point after a plenary, a few folks stopped by my graphic recording station and we did some mini debriefs and talked about introducing color. The magic was instantaneous… (not that I don’t like black and white, mind you!). Click the images for a larger and fuller view!
By the end of the week, our intrepid team had introduced metaphors and ways to organize space on the page along with some clever extras.
But wait, this is not the end of the story! What happened after everyone has gone home? I have two stories to share already (and hopefully I will glean a few more.
Merida Roets, who was also our day 2 keynote and my wonderful roommate at the hotel, was already planning to offer her staff a brief graphic recording session upon her return to South Africa. (I’ll share the capture of her keynote in post #3). They may have wondered what Merida was up to, but she immediately applied her learning to her work with her project developing some learning materials for the South African Sugar Association. She shared an image with me as an example. (I can recommend Merida for both her intelligence and love of chocolate!)
Finally, one of the workshop participants who was already deeply into visual practices for agricultural development, Luke Smith, who is the AgriEdutainment Officer & ICT Director of WhyFarm that originated the world’s Food Security superhero “AGRIman” as a way to engage younger folks in agriculture , wrote ” I have used the graphic facilitation method with some children in a workshop. I didn’t have all the materials required to execute they way I wanted too. I showed the children the basics as you showed us in the training. I then gave them the problem of how can we increase food production by 2050 and told them to use the icons, arrows, symbols to come up with a solution.
The children drew there ideas on a copybook page, I didn’t get time to take a photo as the session ran out of time . But I was amazing that some kids drew the ideas of doing farming underwater. I want to try this method again but with flip charts and markers etc. I will certainly capture the use of graphic facilitation the next time. ”