Systems Scribing: Resources for Visuals and Systems Thinking

I’m resharing some great resources from Jessica Riehl and legend Kelvy Bird about Systems Scribing. Have you ever been curious about questions such as:

  • How can facilitating complexity and systems thinking serve groups?
  • What contribution to complexity and systems can visual practitioners make?
  • What types of systems diagrams are there?
  • How can we encourage the reach of systems thinking into visual practice?
  • When can graphic recorders/scribes best choose to draw differently: instead of a faithful record of what we hear, when can we draw to make the system visible?
  • How could we deepen the expertise of visual practitioners in multiple models for systems thinking: for example, if I notice that one metaphor is present in the room (eg an iceberg, or a change over time graph), how might I be attuned to the presence or usefulness of bringing in other system visuals?
  • How can we sense into something greater than us and into group dynamics?

This is where Systems Scribing comes in.

systems scribing

I came to taste these questions at an Advanced Visual Practice workshop led by legend Kelvy Bird and the Presencing Institute in 2019.  At that workshop, Jessica Riehl shared these great handouts with us. Jessica is a facilitator, scribe, photographer, and designer who uses collaborative-based design processes to gain insight and empower change; Kevly Bird has been working in the field of human development within organizational contexts since 1995, with a focus on collaboration, innovation, leadership, and collective intelligence. (And is a visionary in this work.) Jessica and Kelvy articulate what happens when we combine scribing or live graphic recording with systems thinking: Systems Scribing.

Each of these models could be considered a life’s work, and to see them on the page is a valuable systems thinking resource for me. I’m familiar with many of these but it’s my goal to be more familiar with more of them, to deepen my own practice. When I hear a group using, for example, an iceberg model for their sensemaking – my wish is that it sparks a reminder in me: what other systems thinking tools may be useful here? Hearing about one tool should trigger my thinking that other systems tools may also be possible/ have potential to serve the group.

Speaking of new tools, watch for their new book chapter coming out soon about Systems Scribing.

Jessica and Kelvy write,

This is a new, tangible approach to representing dynamics, occurring in the moment and over time, between a scribe and social body. This discipline develops a critical skill to facilitate a system’s ability to see and sense itself, as well as crystalize ideas into action.

Learn more in this excerpt Systems Scribing: An Emerging Visual Practice, authored by Kelvy Bird and Jessica Riehl, from the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Systems Thinking, Edited by Derek Cabrera et al. 2021

And my own intention is that as a visual practitioner, when needed, I’m able to use the tools of systems scribing to create an original model that the group needs right in the moment: the annotations, relationships, and more. I’m able to make visible the parts and the whole; the patterns and perspectives. Systems scribing helps us create a diagram of a system: it could be drawn on the back of a napkin but also something more full, where needed. I find that I might shift between graphic recording plenaries/workshop presentations into systems scribing in the same day. Or, I could be invited into a session to specifically build a model with a group (eg we are drawing what  governance options will serve us best?)

To learn more, Kelvy’s teaching and resources are abundant:



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