Navigating Change through Visual Facilitation

Visual Facilitation is a powerful form of storytelling that can help faciliate large groups to process ideas and moves groups towards a common goal. In real-time, conversations and insights from a conference or strategy planning meeting are distilled using hand-drawn images and words, creating a shared visual memory which endures long after the event. Visual facilitation is effective in bringing clarity around ideas and understanding how they fit into the larger system, process or strategy. Drawing upon symbols and metaphors, they provide an easy recall of concepts.

In Geoff Ball's early paper in the field of graphic facilitation 'Explicit Group Memory', the shared picture supports group learning and leaves a lasting memory in the group. Through making dialogue visible, it acts as a mirror reflecting back the group process using visual representations to help groups digest concepts and navigate change.

Pioneer in the field of visual organisational consulting and author of ‘The Visual Leader’, Dave Sibbert, describes visual thinking as an effective tool for visioning, motivating and facilitating the alignment of teams across an organisation, system thinking and organisational change. It enables people to see things in a comprehensive way, to deal with complexity easily and fosters co-creativity.

In societal transformation work, visual facilitation has been used to summarise complex system ideas, such as in the work of Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. In global environments, visual facilitation speaks across cultural and disciplinary boundaries as well as organisational divisions. Gail Taylor, co-founder of MG Taylor points out that ‘the more diversity in the room, the more powerful visual images become’. Sometimes called visual harvesting, the book ‘Drawn Together through Visual Practice’ compiles experience-based methods and insights from twenty-seven practitioners into visual practice.

Visual facilitation was utilised during UNSW Art & Design’s Faculty Strategy Planning Day to help the faculty move forward into the future with a new 2025 strategy. Key dialogue was captured and synthesised throughout the day and then reflected back to the group on the wall. The visual canvases captured the shared direction and actions, and the faculty were invited to add their thoughts and reflections to the wall. These were then integrated into the canvases, and later hung in the faculty's communal offices as well as shared through digital media.

Various staff members from the executive team, professional staff, academics, researchers, sessional staff to Phd students were able to view the day’s events, a number of whom were not present on the day. The outcome was greater transparency and improved communication.

‘I pondered the posters for quite a while and I was able to see the multiple layers of discussion that had gone on in that faculty day. For someone like me who’s a student, to see the direction of where the faculty is moving and the sorts of things that are being considered is really important, because it gives me direction as an upcoming academic. I found it really interesting to see it in a visual format, notions were connected and explained, the idea of exploring things visually through text and word. Making those connections visually in a summative way made it easy to understand in brief, rather than having to read a paper about it. I did spend quite a long time reading them.’ – Meg Lomm, Phd Student

As an artform, visual facilitation is emergent, it requires listening and involves improvisation. The power is in seeing our thoughts from new perspectives and through the sharing of visual story and interpretation, we find something that resonates with us.

For the UNSW Art & Design Faculty where creative thinking is at the core of it’s pedagogic engine, the power of visual thinking in change initiatives is highly valued. It not only fosters group interaction and inspires memorable ways to engage, it also aligns a group of people in a shared direction. Organisations can adopt visual facilitation in visioning shared roadmaps, setting a direction in strategic planning meetings as well as fostering a thriving culture and space for co-creation. A wall mural aided the faculty to navigate through organisational transitions.

Visual facilitation by Vivien Sung