Tag: cultural safety

cultural safety and graphic facilitation

Better Graphic Facilitation with Cultural Safety: Using our Hands

cultural safety and graphic facilitationFinal post in this series on how to become a better graphic facilitator through engaging with Cultural Safety and Humility. 

Cultural Safety is an emerging core competency for visual practitioners working with Indigenous organizations and community groups.

This series concludes with a summary of these suggested core competencies, and ideas for implementing at an organizational level. 



SB-hands-600x600Although it will always be faster to draw simpler icons, what is gained in speed may be lost in distinction when ideas are distilled to universal concepts. Illustration can model holistic ways of knowing. Drawings can show us a strengths-based approach.

It’s important today to reflect on how our work is representative of the people with whom we’re collaborating. Because graphic recording and graphic facilitation are fast work, there is no easy answer. The important part is that as a practitioner, I am aware of the choices I make. Most practitioners use familiar ways of drawing people—often as “everyman” stick people (star people, bean people, and other shapes). This “Everyman” idea is meant to be a stand-in for a universal symbol—and in North America, we consider all other differences to be compared against Whiteness as the default.

A question I’ve come to consider is how can a stick figure (if it doesn’t have a race or ethnicity) represent, or support, cultural safety?

Although it will always be faster to draw simpler icons, what is gained in speed may be lost in distinction when ideas are distilled to universal concepts. I find myself asking in a graphic recording or facilitation session, what is more important: cultivating cultural safety or how I draw this stick figure? This may mean in some cases, I decide it is appropriate to use stick figures, because there are other drawings or text that create imagery or processes that support cultural safety. Sometimes on the same poster I will have a number of “everyman” stick figures balanced with other types of images. Overall, I challenge myself to go beyond different skin tones in what I draw, avoid reinforcing stereotypes, and utilize all resources to ensure respectful representations.

Pacific Herring Summit Cowichan graphic recording

It’s important today to reflect on how our work is representative of the people with whom we’re collaborating.

Sometimes I draw culturally relevant images, and I also avoid being inappropriately reductionist. For example, while working with specific First Nations on the west coast of British Columbia about their traditional herring practices, I was able to refer to each Nation’s unique fishing traditions. But while graphic recording at a national First Nations data conference, I was careful to not choose one symbol (not a tipi, nor a medicine wheel, etc.) to represent the diversity present. Using one symbol would be applying a pan-Indigenous graphic and would potentially be received as disrespect. It’s an important moment of choice that needs to be made quickly while working. The strength or limitations of my decision is based on my own knowledge.

SB tools - starSuggested tool: Amplify Indigneous voices

Overall, try and amplify Indigenous voices wherever you can – for strength and resilience. Another way to amplify voices is to encourage non-Indigenous conference organizers to include Indigenous voices on panels, organizing teams, and in outreach. As graphic facilitators, we weave between many sectors, and you might be surprised at the connections to different organizations you may have access to.

And amplifying Indigenous voices is also about sharing the markers! This year, I’m taking my practice one step further and mentoring an Indigenous artist who wants to learn graphic recording/graphic facilitation skills so we can work together on projects. As well, I’ve been invited to a series of high schools in a remote/rural area to work with Indigenous youth and share sketchnoting skills. It’s a two part project: we’ll share skills at the workshops, then interested youth can come to a community youth Summit to be part of the official conference sketchnoting team.


SB tools - starSuggested tool: Be an anthropologist about yourself

Take personal notes during a session, similar to how teachers-in-training keep journals or how anthropologists keep field notes. This is a reflection-in-action project. It was challenging to take time out to make notes, but later on, while I reviewed them, I was amazed at details that I had already forgotten. For example, one of my blind spots is feeling I need to capture new-to-me information as fast as possible. Being confident that I can wait, and use that time differently, is one of my reflection-in-action learnings. I’ve noticed times where I drew a list, but a diagram or model would have brought more meaning.

SB tools - starSuggested tool: Graphic facilitation portfolio review

For my graduate work, I designed a research study about my own practice that is easy for other practitioners to duplicate. I selected five illustrations from my portfolio over a period of 10 years and analyzed my design and content choices about how I drew issues of race, gender, or other markers of difference (or how I avoided it). Educators will recognize this as a self-study, or action research. Next, I kept a journal to better understand my biases and my worldview. I shared this journal with a trusted reader or group to deepen the learning. Then I wrote up the research findings and adjusted my work based on my learnings.


Graphic facilitation has the potential to enhance knowledge and build on the self-awareness necessary to advance meaningful change. As professionals, we can help the groups we work with by developing our core competencies, just as we work on other aspects of our practice. Here are suggested core competencies to support building cultural safety in our work:

  1. It starts with me. Each of us has to do our inner work. Arrive with humility. Research and understand my own history in the context of colonization of this country and the impact colonization has on the indigenous people and cultures here in their own land.
  2. My relationships with others in the room. How I introduce myself in a culturally appropriate way, and how do I behave. Who are the leader in the room? For this engagement, have I established appropriate networks in advance?
  3. Understanding my biases and worldview. Start from an assumption that things are not equal, institutions are not neutral, and that at the same time, people inside them may be very well-intentioned.
  4. Review my body of work as a critic. Pull out a selection of my images, and examine my work with a lens of cultural humility. What patterns do I notice? What choices did I make?
  5. Become an anthropologist-about-myself. Make field notes during a session one day. Use reflection-in-action. Take time out of the work to reflect on it and write down in as much detail as I can.
  6. Go beyond multiculturalism on the surface, and don’t limit myself to drawing different skin tones. How do I avoid reinforcing stereotypes in my images?
  7. Listen for the paradigms of colonialism, systems of class, gender, privilege.
  8. Support traditional Indigenous knowledge, connect stories to land and place.


Graphic facilitation can help support an open type of discussion for challenging issues, bringing art and conversation together in a room. Organizations can adopt graphic facilitation as a change methodology to tackle tough issues such as cultural safety, while learning about First Nations cultures with the richness visuals can bring to group conversations.

Here are some implementation ideas:

  • Cultural safety depends on people understanding histories they likely weren’t taught in schools; graphic facilitation is an engaging way to explain histories.
  • Encouraging people to learn—starting with self—is key to building cultural safety because competencies are not developed overnight. Information from keynotes or presentations is synthesized into smaller, bite-sized chunks.
  • Graphic facilitation creates reflection tools that create a natural conversation or solo reflection area which can prompt people to examine their cultural identities.
  • After the event, the visuals can be shared by email, newsletter, intranet, and in reports to continue to engage people emotionally and intellectually.
  • Graphic recordings can support organizational change: saving time by quickly summarizing meetings, identifying next steps, and mapping out change processes such as assessment tools, trainings, and human resources policies.I believe each mark we make is an opportunity to reflect in the moment and adjust the course forward, together. In writing this, my intent was to share my personal learning with others, to ask for and gather feedback, and always consider how we can challenge our own work to go deeper.


With gratitude to Cheryl Ward at the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training Program (British Columbia, Canada) and Joe Gallagher, Harmony Johnson and Janene Erickson at the First Nations Health Authority (BC, Canada) for support and feedback on this draft and along my learning journey.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series! For more on the incredible work being done by graphic facilitators and visual practitioners, check out our new book, Drawn Together through Visual Practice

cultural safety and graphic facilitation cultural safety and graphic facilitation cultural safety and graphic facilitation


cultural safety and graphic facilitation

Cultural Safety and Graphic Facilitation: Using our Hearts

cultural safety and graphic facilitationThird in a series about cultural safety and graphic facilitation.

Here, I look at how graphic facilitators can use our hearts, in order to better understand how emotion and empathy can be utilized in graphic recording sessions.

I’ll offer concrete strategies to help us build stronger connections and relationships.

THE HEART: EMPATHY IN Graphic facilitation

SB-heart--600x600Be aware of what triggers me emotionally. Build my own resilience. Define my role in the room. Show stories of success, not just trauma. Be humble.

Graphic recording intense stories and histories requires empathy. My colleague Kelvy Bird wrote to me that “the work we do is not emotional, but generates emotion in us and others, and involves accessing empathy through it all.” Developing empathetic listening and relational skills as part of Cultural Safety is more important than a new set of icons.

It’s important that I am not swept up in strong emotions that pull me out of the meeting and into my own inner world. The first time I heard an elder tell me about their traumatic experience in Indian Residential School while I was working, I froze. I knew the histories—but how could I make art that did this justice? I needed to come back to center quickly, because my role was to make images, and capture her story, not mine. The key is building my own resilience.

cultural-safety-and graphic facilitation

An approach that keeps cultural safety to the forefront is to introduce myself in a culturally respectful manner where I describe where I am from and acknowledge whose territory we are meeting on and thank my hosts. This builds relationships based in the processes of cultural humility. Similar to any instructor or facilitator standing in front of the (class)room, the graphic facilitator has a position of authority in the room, so it’s important to me that I tell the group how I am there to amplify their voices, and put their needs first. The person with the markers doesn’t make all the decisions – I’m there to follow the group! – but it’s crucial to acknowledge this. Working live, I can explain that I can make adjustments to the posters as needed. I can also confirm with keynote presenters or participants one-on-one about the way I’ve captured their words. Contractually, I ensure that First Nations organizations retain ownership/copyright of the images, using the principles of OCAP (c): Ownership, Control, Access and Possession.

Engaging with participants while self-reflecting about visual processes is a praxis: it can lead to more questions, which lead to new, better approaches to the work. Participants may experience legitimate doubts about raising “concerns” with the graphics—they might feel their feedback would “ruin the pretty picture,” they may know race or culture is visualized incorrectly but are unsure how to “fix it,” especially around a sensitive issue such as race. Therefore, the responsibility is up to me to actively check with participants about their experiences: I can create the safety for people to approach me. While doing longer term illustration projects and developing imagery, I often ask my clients if we can directly engage community feedback via elders, an advisory group, or an informal network, and I am open to feedback during all stages of creating illustrations.

SB tools - starSuggested tools: Build capacity for respect, and find ways to stay grounded

When I work from a place of empathy, it gives me joy. There are as many ways to build empathy as there are people. We can build empathy toward others by being honest about our own culture, and strive for open-mindedness through cultural humility to learn, honour, and respect other cultures. We can demonstrate empathy in our actions: giving people our full listening focus, or being attuned to body language. We can nurture our spiritual selves so we arrive to our work balanced, and have the capacity to build even more empathy. When we are thrown off balance or triggered, we need tools to become re-centered and return to the present moment. Breathing, moving my body, self-soothing with a drink of water, anchoring my feet by pushing them into the floor, or engaging in self-talk help me while I’m working. When I’m engaged in community-led processes it helps me move from reflection to action, and gives me joy- listening and taking direction from leaders in the room about what’s needed.

How do you negotiate emotions and empathy in your own graphic recording sessions? what strategies work best? Please feel free to share your experiences or suggestions in the comments section!

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cultural safety and graphic facilitationcultural safety and graphic facilitation







In the final post in this series, I explore how our hands can be best used to ensure that our work is representative of the people with whom we are working with, and outline core competencies for cultural safety.

cultural safety and graphic facilitation

Cultural Safety and Graphic Facilitation Part Two: Using our Heads

In the introduction post, I explored the meaning and importance of Cultural Safety and Humility in my work with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, and how this has shaped my practice as a non-Indigenous graphic facilitator. 


Graphic facilitators can use our whole selves in service of cultural safety. There are moments where we can’t rely on drawing tokenistic concepts of “multiculturalism” or “diversity.” Instead, we can draw from a deeper, more informed place. As a start, we can enlist our heads, hearts, and hands to support this work. I’ll use this structure of heads, hearts, and hands to outline a non-comprehensive set of tools that have helped me.


Understand history. Keep learning. Celebrate strong, diverse, and vibrant Indigenous cultures.

In order to support a group in building cultural safety, I have to see myself as part of—and not separate from—the journey of cultural safety as well.

My work starts before I arrive in the room. Even though I know race is socially constructed (that there is no scientific basis for racial differences), I know that race and Indigenous-specific racism shapes people’s lives. Cultural Humility helps me question the textbooks that taught me the winners and losers of history, and helps me understand Canada’s colonial history and how my family has benefited from laws and Indigenous- specific racism. By this re-learning, I uncover what shapes my worldview. Read more

Using Cultural Safety and Humility to Become a Better Graphic Facilitator

cultural safety and graphic facilitationI’m a graphic facilitator, and I want to plant a seed for other non-Indigenous practitioners who work with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities. The seed is Cultural Safety. Cultural Safety means that I work in a particular kind of way—with Cultural Humility—when I work with Indigenous people and others who are different from me. This is a four part blog series.

Many visual practitioners work cross-culturally, and it’s never been more timely to grow our collective skills together around an issue that is complex, challenging, and also deeply rewarding. Visual Practitioners use our considerable visual and facilitation skills to create—and see!—a more profound level of behavioural, interpersonal, and structural change. For these reasons, I believe Cultural Safety is an emerging core competency for visual practitioners. 

In this new blog series, I explore the concepts of Cultural Safety and Cultural Humility, and its importance to my work as a visual practitioner. The full article can also be found in our new book, Drawn Together through Visual Practice.  Specifically, I propose that we enlist our heads, hearts, and minds to support this work (jump ahead by clicking on the buttons above). This structure has helped me in concrete ways to be a better graphic facilitator.

Current campaign championed by the First Nations Health Authority
Current campaign championed by the First Nations Health Authority

But first, let me tell you a story.

Read more