Volunteer project complete – what did I learn?

When I saw an ad from a researcher wanting to help visualize mental health training for female sex workers in Kathmandu, I thought maybe my graphic facilitation skills could be of use. Besides, it sounded like an interesting project and very different from my usual environment and development focused work. The project is now complete.

As a facilitator, its typical to debrief with three questions:  what? so what? now what?

What?

Over a period of three months, we had one pilot and three sessions where the women who took the training debriefed their learning and I drew the key points on a wall. Meanwhile, an artist was refining my ideas on a wacom tablet in order to produce a digital image in real time. After the discussion died down, the women went through my drawing explaining what they saw and I added or commented on anything that was new or different from their interpretation.  Sometimes they saw things I never imagined however typically we both had the main ideas in sync. The refined digital image was saved on a USB and taken to a print shop nearby while the women were given a free lunch of Nepali Daal Bhat. The print out was delivered and all women took a copy with them to use in their own discussions with women in their ‘professional networks’.

Here is an example of the last training session output.  The left side is the refined version by the artist and the right side was the sketch I drew on the wall in front of the ladies as they provided their learning impressions.  The debrief sessions were always about 30 minutes max so this was a very quick interpretation of their training.

Graphic representation of lessons learned.  Left side by Adi Bereshit-Elias and Right side by Michelle Laurie

Graphic representation of lessons learned. Left side by Adi Bereshit-Elias and Right side by Michelle Laurie

So what?

I’m still waiting for the researcher to do her analysis on how the visuals contributed (or not) to facilitating mental health discussions by the trainees with their colleagues.  However, she did send a note recently saying, “In the post-training reactions a couple of the women said that their favorite part of the training was the “learning through drawing” part! With your help, we were able to provide a largely illiterate population with a practical and meaningful tool that helped them complete their teaching tasks with a lot more confidence than they otherwise would have had.”

For all us of involved it was a big learning experience.  I have learned a few things including:

  • It is possible to draw without words and explain ideas (though I find this very intimidating!)
  • Keying in on the main message and using a central image are helpful tactics
  • Putting the icons/drawing onto a landscape or setting helps the ideas to not ‘sit in space’
  • Perfection isn’t needed though an artist can do amazing things to spruce up a sketch (i.e. make it look professional)
  • People remember the discussion having watched the drawing take place before their eyes and take part in the meaning making
  • Visuals are a bridge across language but can also be tricky (i.e. watch out for cultural metaphors and faux pas!)

Now What?

I hope to take part in the celebration with the participants this April and learn more about how their on the ground sessions went with their colleagues.  Personally, I have learned a lot about having confidence to make a mark on the page in front of a group of people talking about serious issues AND have the ability to step back and be okay with what they like and dislike with the drawing created.

While I really appreciated the artists’ support, I also plan to work on my visual vocabulary as it does get easier to draw on the fly with practice, and use of specific icons.

I am happy to have participated in a new and exciting application of visual methods and will continue to push my edges.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Volunteer project complete – what did I learn?

  1. So interesting! I love the idea to take away copies of the drawing as a way to bring new people into, and anchor, further conversations.

  2. Michelle Laurie

    Thanks Sylvia. The researcher came up with the idea mainly because the women were illiterate. However I think we can use this in so many applications. A form of visual notes :-)

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