Sunday, August 29, 2010

Graphic facilitation from the practitioner's perspective

Check out this post, and its 31 responses (as of today), on Julie Stuart's blog. It's a response to a mostly favorable Harvard Business Review post on graphic facilitation. Several things are interesting to me from a research as well as practitioner perspective.

From the research viewpoint, what's of interest is the way Julie and her community talk about their practice and the ways the aesthetics of their practice intertwine with the way they see the service they provide to their clients and participants -- what I would call their practitioner ethics.

For example, here is Julie talking about the complex of activities -- the stance -- of a graphic facilitator in the heat of the moment of practice:
When I graphically facilitate, I’m listening as a journalist would for the key themes and highlights in the story, organizing the information spatially, instinctually finding the structure, giving visual emphasis and hierarchy to the story as it emerges on the paper. And also paying attention to where the group needs to go next.

And the way her personal experience is uniquely and inextricably tied to the many dimensions that make up her practice (how she is able to listen, shape, and facilitate simultaneously), which is evocative of the way McCarthy and Wright talk about how taking an experiential view moves thinking about practice away from abstracted types and generalizations:
There is no one else on the planet with my particular combination of skills: public policy background + non-profit management + journalism + conceptual art + stock trading + politics + teaching + facilitation.

Julie, and many of her respondents, take issue with the phrase "pricy artist's handiwork" that appeared in the HBR article, and more generally with being referred to as "artists" in the context of graphic facilitation practice:
I don’t think of myself as an artist when I do graphic facilitation work. Yes, there are drawings that depict recognizable icons but art is about a tenth of what’s involved with this work. . . . Art—what we tend to think of as fine art—has original content. Creating visual maps from content that emerges from a group’s collective process and not from me, doesn’t qualify as art, in the original sense.

In this we see the consequence of the reductionist meanings that the terms "art" and "artist" have taken on, that art is something that only fine artists do, and that real art is something you would generally only find in a museum, rather than seeing artistry as something inherent in all levels of human culture. Dewey (in one of my many favorite quotes) said this in Art as Experience:
The intelligent mechanic engaged in his job, interested in doing well and finding satisfaction in his handiwork, caring for his materials and tools with genuine affection, is artistically engaged. (p. 4)

While arguing that the term "artist" is used pejoratively in the HBR article, Julie's post also takes a similar position to Dewey, hoping that when seen without the reductionist implications, graphic facilitators
.... aren’t seen as “the artist,” the person in the room owning the creative process for the group. It is my hope that we will be the enablers of everyone else’s creativity. That we will teach people to make their own pictures so that we aren’t seen as “the artist” but the person able to bring the artistry out of the people we work with who are hungry to express themselves creatively. I believe there is artistry in everyone. As Ellen Dissanayake writes in Homo Aestheticus, this used to be an accepted fact. Our culture has taken the ownership of creativity out of the hands of many and put it into the hands of a few. I would like to return it to the many.

There is more to say about the piece, and the 31 respondents mention many different facets. The number and energy of the responses, most of which are from fellow graphic facilitation practitioners (and participants) brings me to the other point of interest. As a practitioner of another form of visual facilitation, it's amazing to see the level of community and mutual reinforcement I've seen in the graphic facilitation world.

Compendium has had over 80,000 downloads, and there are currently more than 1600 members of the yahoogroup, but we've never seen anything like that kind of energized practitioner community. I think this is largely because most Compendium users are not using it for the kind of facilitative practice with the tool and approach that we originally developed it for. Judging by the entries on our download log, most people are using it for individual work, mostly as a mind-mapping tool. There are certainly facilitative practitioners using Compendium out there, but the practitioner community hasn't gelled in anything like the same way demonstrated in Julie's post and responses. It's something to strive towards. If/when I finish the phd, maybe I can put more energy in that direction; it's been a long while now since I did.

No comments: