Archive for the 'harvesting' Category

Nov 27 2015

Unleashing Joy Through Visual Facilitation – Part 4 of ISS Fellowship

This is the fourth in a series of posts about my ISS/Chisholm Fellowship in Victoria State, Australia. You can find the previous posts here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. While I intended to write these WHILE in Australia, it has, er, ahem, taken a bit longer.

When Brad Beach (of Chisholm) and I were noodling on what I might share through my fellowship, I was exceedingly happy that he was willing to step out of the more traditional practices and dive into visual or graphic facilitation. We scheduled two rounds of a 3 hour “Doodle, Draw, Learn” workshops to introduce teachers to the power of visuals for engagement and learning. I think we accomplished this well in the workshops. They also reminded me of something else that happens when we allow ourselves to freely draw. Joy fills the room.

IMG_20151117_084544759As before, I’ll share the content points first as reference, then reflect on my experience and share a few words from the participants. Finally, there is a visual artifact at the end with resources, support materials and a deck compiling all the images from the day.

The structure of the workshop is designed around modeling an interactive initial engagement visual activity, unleashing of drawing joy (“I CAN DRAW”), development of icon skills and wrapped up with another visual activity, this time focused on reflection and evaluation. The agenda is communicated using a visual agenda (of course, and from the photo, you can see this works even on wrinkled flip chart paper) and the feedback is captured with video – another visual medium. In the middle I share example visual artifacts and offer a few thoughts so people can get off their feet and rest for a few minutes. This is where we begin the conversation about where to apply visual practices in the classroom – online or offline.

All in all, this is a very ACTIVE experience. But people generally report being energized, rather than exhausted. Interesting, eh?


Here are brief descriptions of the exercises, in case you want to try them:

  • IMG_20151117_090853483_HDRPaired Drawing:  I learned this from Johnnie Moore and have blogged about it. One pen, one paper, two people taking turns drawing a face, one pen stroke at a time with NO TALKING. There are so many ways to relate this activity to your teaching or meeting goals. It is great not only to “break the ice” but to show patterns of communication and collaboration and the interesting effect of assumptions! More photos here.
  • IMG_20151117_100534192I CAN DRAW: This is again a common and fabulous activity that is used in MANY introductory graphic facilitation workshops. I learned mine from the folks at the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP) and have seen it done many times with amazing variation. The essence is getting up at a wall and using our bodies to draw circles and lines, play with color using chalk pastels and finally getting a sense of the basics of lettering, including size and proportion.Pastels are messy, but they are MAGIC. Something always happens in the room when we use the pastels. I think this is where the joy really becomes visible.
  • IMG_20151112_152422185Visual Vocabulary: This exercise builds off of the circle, lines and lettering of “I CAN DRAW” and introduces basic human forms (stick person, bean or shapes, springs, etc.) I reference heavily the work of people like Dave Gray,  Austin Kleon and others who have generously shared exercises, videos and how-to’s online. You see examples of the resources in the slide deck at the end of this post. OH, and I role model imperfection, believe me!
  • Icon Jam: We follow the vocabulary exercise with a quick round of icon jamming, an activity I learned at an IFVP gathering. I start by calling out a word and asking people to do a quick “telegraph sketch” of the word. Then after a while they call out the words. In one workshop I had them label their icons as a future resource. In the second one, I had people move from paper to paper to both see other’s work, to experience what it is like to “draw on someone else’s paper, and to guess the meaning of the icons. I liked this variation a lot. You can find examples of past workshops here, where we often do this on 3×5 cards
  • IMG_20151111_162410511River of Life: This exercise uses the visual metaphor of a river or a road to stimulate reflection of the past, present and future. In the workshop, the prompt for the past was “what did you expect coming into the workshop.” The present prompt was “what did you learn and experience today.” The future prompt was “what is your next step using what you learned? What more do you want to learn?” Read more at and more visual examples here.


In the two Chisholm workshops the educators talked about a variety of ways to apply this. There were the expected elements of using visuals to be welcoming and break up text. They spoke of not only the power of visuals, but the power of beauty, as they surveyed the beauty that came out of the “I CAN DRAW” exercise. A few mentioned the utility for working with their more challenging, younger students. Some had to let it sink in, as thinking about visuals in online learning where text has been the dominant form, may take a while.

One of our “non Chisholm” participants, Joyce Seitzinger talked about how she will incorporate more visual activities in the “Learner Experience” workshops she is designing.


My key learnings from these workshops affirmed or developed the following ideas:

  • I can get over my attachment that the “I CAN DRAW” exercise MUST be done on large scale paper. We basically had paper that was flip chart sized and I think it still worked. You can’t quite get the full body experience, but it works. This is important because it is hard to find rooms where there is space and permission to do large scale drawing on paper on the walls.
  • Don’t underestimate joy. Make space for joy. Liberate joy!
  • I still would like to find a way to show and practice some of the online options even in a short workshop. I have struggled with this because I feel the foundational experience of working on paper is a must.

Video Harvest/Feedback:

Finally, I decided to try some video feedback vignettes. After I made this video, I realize it missed half the content of the workshop, so I’ll need to do a second try. I’d love any feedback to help me improve on the next iteration!


Slides with Resources: Visual Facilitation in Learning – Resource Slides

Rachel Smith on Drawing in the Classroom

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Sep 16 2015

Sharing Practices from Project Community 15

flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I’m hip deep into this year’s Project Community course with the Hague University of Applied Sciences. Again, one of my fabulous partners is Alan Levine, aka Cogdog. I love working with Alan because we together we identify a need, throw ideas back and forth, then experiment and iterate. Alan is, among MANY things,  a tech steward, so not only can he experiment with present external tools, but he can tinker with our core technology, WordPress, and hack even more functionality out of it. (Want to learn more about Alan and his tech stewardship? Watch this.)

I’m a great resource finder/sharer. We have tried a variety of ways to share these resources with our students and to encourage their own resource sharing. We’ve tried curating a library of links in a Google doc, putting them on a WordPress page, dumping them in the program’s Facebook page, Tagboard (for resources shared via Twitter)  and Storify. But we have not been satisfied. So here is this year’s hack from Alan:

Nancy and I are exploring ways for the #ProjComm15 to generate a community built resource. There are many ways to group curate content yet most involve asking you to Sign Up For Another Tool And Go There All The Time. We want to try something easier that works into the flow we are already asking you to do– use your team blog.

When you find a resource really worth sharing, most typically people push it to a social media stream, our facebook group, maybe even twitter with our hashtag more or less saying “here is something neat”. That works if you happen to see it, but it just rushes on by.  We still encourage you to do this as a stream of raw information resource just include a #projcomm15 tag in it; it will flow into our tagboard.

But go one step farther. If the resource is really useful, write a short blog post on your blog. Make sure you add a tag (a box for tags is on the side of your composer and add the tag coolstuff (one word, no space), and any othe useful descriptor tags. When published, all of these post will show up on our site via . Automatically. Without using another new tool.

Posts on Projcomm Faculty blog  written by Nancy White

ProjComm always stimulates me to pay attention to the flow of ideas and resources that come across my screen, so I’m enjoying blogging them. Sometimes I tweet or Facebook the posts right after I put them up to do a little more amplification/cross pollination. If you have anything cool to share, let me know!

Source: coolstuff | From the Project Community Faculty

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Feb 09 2015

Continuing My Ecocycle Experimentation

GenderinAgResearchIn January I was working with the CGIAR Gender in Agricultural Research Network during their meeting. My wonderful client, Jacqui Ashby trusted me to use many of the Liberating Structures with the group. We used the Ecocycle Planning structure early on to help think about the network member’s work in a slightly different ways.

This is the third time I’ve used the Ecocycle Planning “full on,” in other words, I hung a meaningful part of an agenda on to it. I am getting more confident in how I launch the process and appreciate the value of practicing and observing others (like Keith McCandless) running the process and learning from them.

ciattweetSimone Staiger, of CIAT, wrote about the experience on her Knowledge Management blog during the meeting. The tweet was apparently provocative. A few days after Simone tweeted the blog link, she received the most retweets and links than any other post she has tweeted out. Is it the phrase “destructive process” that caught people’s eyes and imaginations?

As it turns out, the conversations around the creative destruction phase of the ecocyle were very interesting to me, and it appears that they were of interest to the participants. Here are the combined notes Simone and I wrote up:

Participants struggled a bit with “Creative destruction.” At first, there was some reluctance to place things in the “creative destruction” area, thinking that this was a negative activity. After some discussion, many groups identified this as a rich area of potential and possibility, the space of innovation and renewal. One participant gave as an example the need to deploy our listening skills to some of their diverse co-workers in order to be able to change mindsets and create and work together.  It was also mentioned that it is important that we involve a larger group of “next users” and partners in the creative destruction and renewal phase. This increases the chances for them to support the birth and implementation of ideas and activities.

Are we both excited and afraid of destruction? Is that the power of this area?

Conversations about the Poverty Traps and Rigidity Traps are always useful. It’s like we put a name on something familiar, but often unspoken. Being able to frame and discuss these issues is critical.

The other area that held some useful insights was the area of maturity. Not so surprisingly, what one categorizes as a “mature” practice can vary wildly between individuals depending on their experience, what activities they prioritize in their work and other contextual factors. What is often enlightening is the realization that there may not be a shared understanding of those mature practices and therefore a high potential for misalignment.

From a facilitation standpoint, I was worried that the groupings we created for the maps would not work. We had to group people working on different projects together, and in the past, I’d seen better results when an intact team or group maps their project. But I was surprised how much cross project relevance and resonance emerged. I’m not sure we really mined that as much as we might have.  There was more to harvest and we left it on the table!  Going forward I need to think more deeply about this opportunity.Resonance and dissonance are always rich spaces.



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Feb 01 2015

Slowing Down to Pay ATTENTION – the #365 Photo Practice

January30For a number of years, some of my good buddies have taken part in the #365 photo project.  Alan Levine and Stephen Downes have been most prominent on my radar. I never seriously considered doing it until January 2, 2015. I can’t quite put my finger on why. There are lots of logical reasons – I try and include the visual in my work on a regular basis. But that wasn’t the reason. I’m beginning to think it was because I wanted to pay attention to things differently. So I did not consider it more than that and just started. Just fricken do it.  Forget the logical.

I did not think about themes. I did not think about “getting better at taking pictures.” I did not think about narrative. Just take a picture or pictures, and pick one to post. Voila.

About the same time I noticed that my friend and “inspiring being” Eugene Eric Kim posted Ten Days Into my 365 Photos Project. I had noticed his pictures and thought, “cool, Eugene is doing this too!” And of course, Eugene being someone who I perceive as taking his photographic craft as seriously as he takes his process arts work, I got a bit intimidated by his comments about taking better pictures. (Update: He posted about the project again today in a don’t-miss post.)

I was using my phone and my very cracked and battered Nexus 7 tablet. Oh dear. Then I stopped myself. Remember, I said, I am not doing this as a photographic practice, but as one of paying attention. At the same time, I LOVED Eugene’s reflections and a little thread of light conversation started pinging and pattering between our posts of our pictures on Facebook.  I liked that. I enjoyed when other friends hit the “like” button, or even better, left comments. Last week I was working very hard and the only picture I could muster one night was taking a picture of my feet while I was collapsed on the couch. And the comment was on the energetic nature of my sock color. This little bit of attention  energized me (Thanks, Joy!). My friends were being part of my paying attention. The attention became a network, or a tiny little force-field.

I like that. A lot!

On January 29th, Eugene posted a picture and comments that again twinged me to observe my own practice by observing his. The conversation was so useful to me. Eugene gave me permission to share it and it is captured here. #365Photo Conversation With Eugene. Eugene some interesting things, so if you are interested, click in!

Eugene wrote “My primary criteria is that the photo tell some story about my day.”

I responded, “That was really helpful for me to read, as I’m still very unclear about my own aims and criteria with the project. I think right now my baseline is low – get it done. I also have a tiny tablet and a cell phone as my camera, so I have to discover what makes a “good” picture on those devices. I do get intimidated by beautiful pictures by others (like you) and I have to shut off that voice. I have enjoyed a) trying to be observant of images/moments and b) giving a tiny bit of context when I post. But it is still very emergent.”

Later in the conversation Eugene wrote: “Nancy, even though we didn’t plan it, knowing that you’re doing this too has helped me _tremendously_. Several of your images have already inspired me..” and “I’ve also loved the emergent aspects of this project, which includes this exchange with you! I also love that you’re taking photos with your phone and tablet…” and “to embrace the spirit of the project and all of the unexpected things that are happening as a result.”

liquidnetworkI was nodding affirmatively as I read. My own random experiment has already morphed and changed because of posting pictures on Facebook and engaging with people like Eugene. The social learning aspect is a wonderful and welcome surprise. That network.

So here is my recap so far.

Attention: Attention turns out to feel more like observation. As I take my daily walks, I am starting to “look with new eyes” at what passes around me. Big picture. Detail. Pattern. Getting out of my “to do list” mode and let my mind calm by using my eyes, instead of “thinking, thinking, thinking.”  The unexpected is now paying attention differently to my friends’ #365photos. (And slightly annoyed that I have to go multiple places, but not so annoyed that I find a technological solution to this!)

Identity: I had not at all thought about how my pictures would give a wee window into my worlds to those who see them on Facebook. I always underestimate how much time and attention people give to Facebook. That is both a wonderful and scary thought. Now that I have noticed this, I am resisting taking/curating my photos as an expression of identity. I want to stay with “attention” for now.

Practice: When I was traveling and in a time zone 19 hours away, I got confused about which “day” I was posting for. Ah, the international time line. But travel provides fertile opportunities for pictures. I was worried that I would not be able to post. I can’t always post from my phone while overseas, so I did more with my tablet and wifi. Thanks to Eugene’s positive support, I have let go of worrying about pictures that are literally just snap shots.

I’m liking this!




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Nov 17 2014

Beyond the Webinar

The earthLet me confess right up front: I really don’t like webinars. Too often they feel “done unto me.” I am powerless, at the mercy of the organizers. I may have access to a chat room (Thank Goodness!) But more often than not, these are content delivery mechanisms with token participant interaction in the form of crowded Q&A segments or polls with varying degrees of relevance. What is worse is that I have been a perpetrator of these practices so I continue to try and change my evil ways.

Changing ingrained habits requires some reflection – of self and of the state of the practice of these so-called “webinars.”  Recently I had the chance to offer feedback on a webinar I experienced as a recording.  I’ve edited/generalized my thoughts to share. In a follow up post I’ll reflect on my own practice — this is where I need to cut to the bone!
1. Us/Them: It is logical for an organizer or organizing agency to want to  appear well prepared for sharing their work. We all like folks to know we “did our homework.” We get our slides spiffed up and appropriately formatted for the webinar tool we are given. We time our remarks. We practice speaking clearly and at an appropriate pace.

The challenge this presents is that the end product puts the speaker and/or the organization at the center. We create an us/them dynamic before the event even starts. Think about set ups where the only ones who can use the voice tool to communicate are the organizers. Those who bear the presentation file are in control of the message. The tool administrator(s) control the process (i.e determining that they speak for 60 minutes, then there is Q&A.)

The use of a one way style of presentation reinforces the power dynamics of the speaker/expert/organization as central, and everyone else as “audience.” All too often, the audience is never heard. Is that a good use of precious synchronous time? Why not send out a video or narrated PowerPoint? An online gathering is time better spent as a multi-directional mode of “being together” — even online. This does NOT diminish the importance and value of content we “deliver” to others. Here are some options to consider.


  • Move away from meetings that are primarily broadcast which holds control with the presenter. Sharing information is essential, but synchronous time should always have significant multi directional interaction. For my colleagues in international development, I think everyone has values of inclusiveness and shared participation. We have to “walk this talk” in webinars as well.
  • Small things can create or break down us/them.  For example don’t just show where you are on a map at the start of a webinar, add dots for all the participants and their locations. Better yet, use a tool that allows them to add their own dots. Help the group see not only you,  but “we” – all the people working together about something we all care deeply about.
  • Because we lack body  language online, it is useful to really scrutinize our language.From the wording in the slides and by the speaker, consider changes in language so that it is more inclusive of the participants.


2. Strive for  good practices for learning/engaging online. Webinars in general run the risk of being even less engaging than a dark room face to face with a long PowerPoint. There is a saying in the online facilitation world “A bad meeting F2F is a terrible meeting online.” So we need to be even more attentive to how we structure online engagements to reflect a) how adults learn b) the high risk of losing attention (especially due to multi tasking) and c) the cultural and power diversity inherent in your group. Quality content is important, but it alone is not a reason to use an interactive platform — you can deliver content in many ways. Choosing a synchronous mode, to me,  implies interaction.


  • Consider keeping online meetings to 60 minutes. If not, do a stretch break every at 30 and 60 minutes. Say “let’s take a 60 second break.” Stand up, stretch, look away from the screen and give your body a moment of respite. We’ll call you back in 60 (90-120) seconds (sometimes a bio break is useful!)
  • A useful rule of thumb is to break up information presentation with some means of audience engagement/participation every 7-15 minutes. Use polls, chat, “red/green/yellow” feedback mechanisms, hand raising, checking for understanding, etc. This may mean you have someone facilitating these other channels if it is too distracting for the host and speakers. (Over time it does get easier, but practice is critical!)
  • Take questions approximately every 15 minutes vs holding at end. People stop listening carefully and are thus less prepared to ask questions after longer periods of time. (They are also more prone to multitasking, etc.)
  • Don’t just deliver information – use narrative. Stories hold our attention better than a series of bullet points. In fact, ditch those boring slides unless you are using the printed information to make it easier for people coming from a different first language.
  • Deliver the useful content in a different manner and use the webmeeting entirely for questions and interactions. Send a recording introducing the team. Send a narrated PowerPoint about the topic. Keep these content packages smaller. For example, if you were trying to give an overview of a portfolio of projects, you could break it up into some sub packages. 1) about the team 2) strategy, 3) project descriptions, 4) monitoring and evaluation strategy, etc.
  • Secondary tip: Do not think of these information products as polished products — don’t waste energy overproducing. That sucks the human element out of it. Imperfection is a door to engagement… seriously. Moments of uncertainty, tough questions — these engage the participants.
  • Stay relaxed as a narrator and speak at useful pace for understanding, particularly for those who have English as a second (or third, fourth) language. Keep that human touch. Add little bits of personal information and affect. Be human.
  • Let participants ask question verbally, not just in chat if possible. While there are many technical complications and sometimes the burden of accents on unclear audio channels, voice brings again brings in that human element. (Video does too, but there are bandwidth considerations. When you can, consider using it.)
  • Encourage collective note taking in the chat room or with complementary tool. When people share this task, they listen more carefully and the begin to learn about each others strengths and insights as people add additional information or annotations.
  • When someone asks a question, note who asked the question. This helps everyone see that people are heard, even if the audio option is not practical (for various reasons, no mic, etc. )  At the end of the call, specifically thank by name those who asked questions to encourage the behavior for future interactions.
  • In Q&A sections, consider a visual to help people pay attention. Use the whiteboard for noting the questions, answers, links that refer to what has been spoken about, etc.

There are a few ideas. What are yours?

Also, here are some previous posts about similar issues:

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