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A visual facilitation tool – try a paired photo walk

sam bradd, vancouver, image, visual facilitation, what is graphic recording, what is graphic facilitation, graphic illustration, union, knowledge translation, public engagement, research, vision, innovation in engagement, illustrator, best practice, vector, visualization, visual learners, infographic, graphic design, mind map, mind mapping, visual practitioner, creativity, sketch noters, visual notetaking, facilitator, indigenous, visual thinking, information architects, visual synthesis, graphic translation, group graphics, and ideation specialists, live drawing, group facilitation, group collaborative work, world cafe, conference, information design, information designers, educator, non-profit, progressive, environment, sustainability, community, health, indigenous, aboriginal, youth, teens, adult learners, adult education, empowerment, justice, leadership, team building, experiential graphicsThe visual facilitation challenge: a 5 day planning session, 25 elected leaders, a room with no windows. The task: engage meaningfully about the organization’s 5 strategic areas, and use visuals.

It was the exact opportunity to design a new visual tool: a paired photo walk for strategic planning.

Here’s why.

I’m passionate about better meetings.

Whatever the type of meeting, there’s probably a way to do it better. Meetings that get more stuff done. That are strategic. Leave you feeling connected to others. Or feeling more creative. Or on track to the take next step. And don’t leave you tired and burnt out.

I design the kind of meetings that I want to be part of. Nobody wakes up and says “today, I really want to sit indoors with powerpoint for four hours.” I want to spend my time learning new things and contributing. And I want to use visuals to engage with groups, including graphic facilitation and photography.

My co-facilitator Alison Brewin (a specialist in non-profit governance) and I sent the group on a paired photo walk with purpose. The results: more energy in the room after the walk, short creative activity got the group ready for future/forward thinking, and participants spoke eloquently – tapping into metaphors – about the strategic areas without a flip chart brainstorm in sight.

There’s three main steps: 1) choose carefully how pairs will be formed. 2) Pairs take smartphone photos symbolizing the organization’s strategic areas. 3) Present images as a slideshow and debrief. That’s it. The group is then ready for deeper work. This is also a great exercise to pair with graphic recording.

I wasn't on the photo walk, but maybe I'd find meaning in this photo?
If I was on the photo walk, maybe I’d see “moving forward together” represented by this bus. Who knows!

Photowalk for strategic planning: Detailed instructions

1. Set people up in pairs.

  • Our session had a specific 5-day structure that allowed for meaningful, mentorship pairs to work together multiple times. I was trained on a model from Training for Change in Philadelphia. We use pairs because “Support for learning seems to increase the speed and depth of the learning, whether it comes from support groups or from “buddies” (a partner for learning).
  • This paired activity has structure, creating a low-risk environment to be complete the task and be creative.

2. The task: take a photo symbolizing one of the organization’s key strategic areas. 

  • Explain that the photo is symbolic. For example, if a strategic area is “communication across sectors”, the instructions could be, “For example, for you might take a photo of a tree because it symbolizes being one part of a bigger forest.” Any interpretations are welcome.
  • Each pair should send in two photos (one per person). Be ready to talk about it to the group.

3.  Send participants outside.

  • It was a 30-minute exercise plus the afternoon coffee break, for a total of 45 minutes.
  • Point out nearby parks/areas of interest.
  • Pairs should leave and return together.
  • Ensure everyone has the facilitators’ email address to email in photos.

4. Present the photos and debrief together. 

  • Facilitators collect the photos and prep a slideshow with a laptop/projector while everyone returns.
  • Each pair shares their photo, and what it means.
  • Facilitators debrief for how the strategic areas show up in every day life, any common themes, noticings, and interesting findings.

You could also have participants email you photos for the next morning, if technical limitations are a factor, although some momentum will be lost. The activity that follows after this can look deeper into strategic areas one by one. Other variations on a facilitated photo walk could be an assignment for homework, a group walk, or bringing in a meaningful photo for discussion.

It’s fun, and effective. You might think you don’t have time to get outside, but what you really don’t have time for is a sleepy afternoon session where less gets done. Instead, work with the challenges – like having no windows and long days – and find ways to make your meeting better.

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