Applying Graphic Facilitation in New Contexts

A few weeks ago I answered an advert asking for a volunteer to visualize a training session on building self-esteem and improving mental health for women who are sexually exploited in Nepal. I wondered if graphic facilitation may be useful in this context and explained a bit about what I could offer.  An artist also volunteered.  The plan provided to us is we will have three training sessions on different topics related to improving mental health and well-being with leaders from different sex-trade networks.  After each session, the facilitator will debrief with the women on key lessons they learned and the women will then share these with their networks.  An 8.5×11 visual aid will then be drawn, photocopied and provided to each women to take home. All women will be given a meal at the end to encourage their attendance, staying for the full session and waiting for their photocopy to remind them of what they learned.

Today we met for the first time to do a test run of a session with staff from the NGO which works with the women. The researcher and a translator ran the session simulating what we would be going through with the women in the future.  Overall, it was a huge learning experience for me as a graphic facilitator in terms of cross-cultural communications, setting, expectations, and adapting to new environments and circumstances.  A few photos are posted as I probably won’t be able to take photos of the real group. Here are a few of the things that stood out for me today:

  1. As someone who mainly works in environment and development, working on a social issue, particularly around the exploitation of women and girls, is a giant leap.  It is a difficult and sad subject to wrap my mind around.  The NGO is also a shelter for women so arriving there and seeing women and children hanging out, and knowing their situation, made everything very real.  It was a welcoming environment and I was glad to take the leap.

    A welcoming group in Kathmandu, Nepal.

    A welcoming group in Kathmandu, Nepal.

  2. The room we were working in was much smaller than most rooms I give workshops in.  It had pillows on the floor for sitting and most walls had windows with bars or shelving.  It was not yet clear if we would be drawing on small paper in our lap or on the wall.  My preference was the wall as I think there is value in people seeing their contributions being drawn in the moment for them.  Still, the ‘real estate’ was tight and we ended up using the back of a door and an adjacent wall.

    Facilitator provided an overview of the training to staff during our 'test-run'.

    Facilitator provided an overview of the training to staff during our ‘test-run’.

  3. Working side by side at the wall (on fairly small paper).

    Working side by side at the wall (on fairly small paper).

  4. Given most of the women are illiterate and furthermore I don’t speak Nepali, we were asked to draw without words.  It was kind of like doing a repetitive icon jam and it was challenging to tie it together without a title or way to connect things.  I uses arrows in some cases but I don’t think they had the same meaning as in my own culture (more on this in the next point). While its good practice to not use words, I think my artifacts tend to make more sense with a few words.
  5. It’s quite amazing to learn how people interpret the images.  This can be both positive and negative.  One of the key points was around meditation and spoke to how we clean our clothes, dishes and bodies every day and we also need to clean our minds.  I drew a sun drying clothes on a line.  I didn’t think much about it however one woman interpreted it as the sun shining equally on all clothes.  It was a beautiful thought.  Another point talked about how women are often regarded as less than men and we need to change that.  I drew a women hunched over, looking down and a man standing tall over her.  I put a big red x over it.  This turned out to be a cultural faux pas.  A woman shared that in this culture men bless their women at their feet and thus I was putting an x over a cultural norm.  Wow!  I didn’t mean to do that.  Thankfully this was a test run.

    Interpreting the images after the discussion.

    Interpreting the images after the discussion.

  6. Much of the training went back and forth with a negative idea and turning it around to be positive (i.e. women are not treated equal but let’s change that).  My drawings tended to show the negative and the positive, usually connected by an arrow or indicated by a check mark.  However, the take home messages would be much simpler with a few key positive messages.  My colleague, the artist, chose to draw only the positive images and it created less confusion for the staff who later gave their interpretations of the drawings.  For the future, it was agreed that less is more and positive is better than negative when the topic is about increasing self-esteem!
  7. What’s next?  We still aren’t sure how to run the actual session as there is a strong desire to keep it simple, brief, yet also acknowledge the voices of the women.  The general plan is to:
  • Provide the overview talk (speaker).
  • Debrief with the women on their main learning (facilitator).
  • Draw the main learnings while the women are speaking (me and the artist).  To keep it simple only draw the positive images.
  • Have the women agree on their three top learnings to share with their networks.
  • Agree on which images represent those learnings the most.
  • Redraw the key images on a small sheet of paper for photocopying (while they eat).

The artist and I still need to figure out how to work together, especially if we are going to be producing a small sheet of paper.  She is very talented and I really think this image she created sums up the main messages of today’s training in one synthesis image.

Adi (the artist's) image of cleaning inside and out.  I think this sums up the training quite well!

Adi (the artist’s) image of cleaning inside and out. I think this sums up the training quite well!

We will get together before the next training and see if we can come up with a better strategy than today where we basically stood side by side and drew what made sense to us but had no real relation to each other. We have three trainings in total so we can revise after the first one based on how it goes and the feedback from the women.

All in all, it has been a very new and interesting application of graphic facilitation for me.  I will keep you posted on how the real session goes. If you have ideas or input, please share as we still have time to adapt the process.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Applying Graphic Facilitation in New Contexts

  1. Pingback: The Challenges of Graphic Facilitation in a Different Culture | VizWorld.com

  2. Exciting to explore the intercultural aspect of graphic facilitation and expand on what we know about it and your willingness to enter into a sensitive conversation is great. I did a session last year for a gathering of five different immigrant settlement groups – there were 21 languages represented and they loved the idea of a new way of communicating with each other. It was one of my favourite gigs and I’d love to do that work all the time. There were many different kinds of artists present, and that was interesting – one of them was a quite famous artist in his culture – so there was a bit of interplay in figuring out how what I was doing was art, in relation to his work, in relation to some art made my immigrant children that was part of a show in the same place. It was an honour just to have the conversation and I was humbled by his (somewhat puzzled) generosity and curiosity. People liked to see themselves in the drawings – not generic figures but drawings with details of what they were wearing and who they were with were really exciting. I wondered if, in that context, there was a kind of locating of self after various traumas as the images were of places they loved and felt welcome at in their community, and them in those places. From new immigrant arrivals to established politicians who had immigrated a long time ago they kept looking at the drawings and saying variations of “There I am; I am here,” in different languages. It was an odd gig in that the easel travelled around to three different locations over the course of the evening and one family who was pictured in the graphic followed it and would sit wherever I put the easel up, beaming and pointing. A cultural mistake I made (maybe) was letting kids come and draw with me – which I loved, but some people responded really badly to it. I hope to hear more about your adventures with this group and really appreciated you sharing this.

  3. Michelle Laurie

    Hi Aaron, That is interesting that people wanted to see themselves in the image. Usually I advocate for making things look less real to avoid misinterpreting things or getting into sticky situations (i.e. people that are purple and green are better than white, brown, etc). Maybe I need to rethink this strategy…Also surprised about not letting the kids draw but I guess that is the cultural challenge. What works in one, doesn’t always work in another. I would like to encourage the women to pick up pens and at least mark images that have meaning to them. However that idea was not widely embraced when I shared it at the last meeting. Wish me luck with the navigation of a new situation!

  4. Pingback: Sense making with community and an artist in Nepal | Michelle Laurie rants and raves

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