4 Levels of Scribing

中國 –  español – français


There exist depths, or phases, that directly correlate with attention.

By listening with the following levels in mind, we can participate in a shift of awareness and possibility. Otto Scharmer has described “Four Levels of Listening” that I apply here to the visual practice of scribing.

At Level One, quoting Otto, we Download and listen to reconfirm what we already know. What we see is limited to our own projections, reflecting the past.”

In scribing, we draw what we hear, and it’s literal. Someone says “bird” and we draw a bird. I also refer to this as “object-oriented” scribing, where a focus on individual, named parts is the primary approach.

Level Two represents Factual Listening. We notice difference, and we notice disconfirming data.”

We see what is being spoken from a broader vantage point, and still draw what we hear, but our lens expands to make sense of what is being spoken within a context, which we can map. “The bird is flying, then it reaches the coast and joins a flock,” and we enter the domain of storytelling.

Level Three shifts to Empathic Listening, seeing the situation through the eyes of another, leading to emotional connection. Listening begins to happen from the Field, or from the other person with whom you are connecting.”

This is where containers start to really activate, where our own heart comes online as we step into the shoes of another–like my grandmother opened space to witness and feel out my shoes. We start to care, genuinely care, and we shift. What comes through us shifts. Our drawing shifts. (How can it not?!)

We realize the story in the room is coming from a cultural frame of reference BEYOND the room; the facts coming out have causal underpinning. No bird, no story, exists as an island. Something came before the lone bird flying, and something will come after. To get at the structural dynamic, we must activate our attunement to the negative space, what is going on between the notes or objects, the subtler, quieter envelope within which the parts form a whole. We shift from noticing moments in time to sensing movements over time. As we inquire, we start to inhabit the story and make sense of it with the company.

And Level Four, Generative Listening, “requires us to connect with a capacity to let go and let come, to connect with an emerging future possibility that helps us to connect more fully with who we are and who we want to be.”

This can be said also for Level Four, Generative Scribing; we sense into and help surface the highest potentiality for the systems we serve. To do this requires a sensitivity with the energy of what is wanting to come through, an energy or vibe that has started to become tangible in Level Three.

What is drawn is secondary to tonal accuracy and gestures that evoke essential meaning.

I find here that time slows, the air quiets, and a kind of creative rupture takes place in the midst of sublime stillness. Something fine and as-yet-unnamable is coming alive, and scribes witness it; in a way we are midwives facilitating, through our being and our hands, an emergence of some communal shift and KNOWING.

This could be described as Flow, or the Zone, and is rare. It takes a well-tended container–at tiers of self, room and system–to reach this place, whether it be between two people or 70,000, in a window of an hour or decade. Numbers don’t even really matter.

What does matter is the qualitative listening behind the act of drawing, the listening that comes online by orienting WITHIN the context of a social body, with a core intent to join an invisible place and make manifest that which wants to be seen and witnessed.

Only draw what must be drawn in the new life. Only draw what represents the absolute present moment.


Related posts: Listening, the Iceberg, Storytelling, and Decoding a Wall

Otto Scharmer, Levels of Listening, as found in Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, first edition, Society for Organizational Learning, 2007 and a video clip from u.lab here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLfXpRkVZaI. As reference, Otto’s model – and yes, we scribe while listening, also in these levels…..

Levels of Listening

French translation, from Guillaume Lagane of Facilitation Graphique – Merçi!!


Chinese translation, from Jayce Lee (I am blown away!)


“It was such a honor and delightful experience to have a quick chat over email with Kelvy, when I found out she wrote an article about the 4 levels of scribing last week. It is truly a gift to all of us. For me, as a scribe, as a visual learner, it is a golden opportunity to reset myself from ground zero once again, to not only focus on the art of listening, but to deeply appreciate and practice the 4 levels of scribing.”


4 Levels of Scribing 視覺記錄的四個層次



在一個層次,我們姑且稱之為第一層次,我們聽到什麼就畫什麼,就是字面上的表述。有人說 “鳥”我們就畫隻鳥。在另一個層次,第二層次,雖然還是畫出我們所聽見的,但是我們從一個更寬廣的觀點來看見被說出來的是什麼意思.我們可以更廣角的鏡頭來觀察、傾聽、覺察,我們可以讓被說出來的內容以有意義的佈局方式呈現出其情境.例如:有人形容在展開圖中的鳥兒:“一隻正在翱翔的鳥,飛近海岸線並且飛入群鳥之中”,此時我們就進入故事敘述範疇當中.

接著在第三層次,我們所進行圖像記錄的這家公司,在探索實施新策略時,僱用新人需要付出什麼代價。我們領悟到在鳥,鳥群,海岸線的樣貌,與這家公司的狀態之間的連結- 這是一個展示字面上意義與隱喻兩部分關聯的機會,而這兩部分有著類似性質的能量.也許這兩部分的連結會被及時顯現出來–也許過幾個小時後才會被顯現出來。然而兩者間卻都彼此息息相關,我們(視覺記錄師)注意到了這一部分,因此我們能夠選擇用一個更廣闊的觀點來呈現。我們藉由加上一個鳥巢和鳥蛋來勾勒出情境,也許也可以加入一些文字來表達正在轉變的意義。




Translated by Jayce Lee @jaycelee, Proofread by Ripley Lin


4 niveles de la documentación gráfica, traducción al español por Zulma-Pataleta (Gracias!!!) 


Con frecuencia la gente pregunta cómo hacemos lo que hacemos. Hay una respuesta corta: “Dibujamos mientras la gente habla…” Y también hay otra forma de pensar en nuestra labor que hasta ahora estoy empezando a descubrir. Este artículo será corto, pero quisiera poner a andar las ruedas y aterrizar las ideas.

Considerando el marco de 4 niveles de escucha de Otto Scharmer‘s (ver al final del artículo) propongo la siguiente traducción aplicada a la documentación gráfica:

En el primer nivel, llamémoslo N1 (Nivel 1) dibujamos lo que oímos de manera literal, alguien dice “AVE” y nosotros dibujamos un ave. A otro nivel, N2, vemos lo que se está diciendo desde un punto más amplio, todavía dibujamos lo que oímos, pero nuestra lente puede ser expandida para entender lo que se está diciendo dentro de un contexto que podemos mapear. Alguén describe un ave en una imagen expandida “mientras que el ave va volando, llega a la costa y se une a una bandada de aves,” y entramos entonces al dominio del storytelling (contar historias).

Luego en N3, nos damos cuenta de que hay una conexión entre el ave, la bandada y la forma de la linea costera y la forma en la que la compañía – para la cual estamos haciendo documentación gráfica – está explorando lo que se requiere para atender a los nuevos empleados mientras se desarrolla una nueva estrategia (de una parte anterior de la conversación.) Aquí tenemos una oportunidad para demostrar la linea entre las partes de dos elementos de contenido que han sido compartidos: uno metafórico y otro literal pero de similar energía. Tal vez estos elementos fueron mencionados al mismo tiempo, tal vez fueron mencionados con horas de diferencia, pero ellos están RELACIONADOS, y nosotros lo notamos y tal vez podamos decidir mostrar aún una visión más amplia. Generamos sentido a través de añadir un nido, un huevo y tal vez anotando lo que está empezando a evolucionar.

Y luego hay algo más que es cada vez más evidente entre más hagas este trabajo… realmente es una manera profunda de escuchar combinada con soltar incluso la necesidad de dibujar. En ventanas de N4, mi experiencia es que el documentador debe asumir una unión íntima con la ENERGÍA de lo que está sucediendo, una energía que comienza a ser tangible en N3, en la que el tiempo se hace más lento, el aire reposa y las palabras salen del corazón en medio de largas pausas, con un tono de sintiéndose representados por la postura de unos pocos. (El ego se ha replegado. Ninguna voz domina. Las agendas se han evaporado. ) Se trata de una ruptura creativa en la que algo está naciendo, algo esta llegando a la VIDA y nosotros, como documentadores gráficos lo presenciamos; de alguna manera somos parteras facilitando a través de nuestro ser y nuestras manos el surgimiento de un cambio y CONOCIMIENTO colectivo.

Aquí lo que es importante es ser un canal. Solamente dibuja lo que debe ser dibujado en la nueva realidad. Solamente representa el momento absolutamente presente.

(Hay MUCHO MÁS que escribir sobre esto, y lo haré) Como referencia el modelo de Otto – y si, nosotros documentamos mientras escuchamos también en estos niveles…



  1. as a person who is just starting to explore the world of graphic recording and graphic facilitation i am thrilled to read and explore your work. It gives a clarity with academic flair. Thank you!

    • Kelvy Bird says:

      Hi Erik – Thank you so very much for this comment and eye-opener. I have been only superficially familiar with Guthengberg – and you have initiated a closer read and investigation into this concept. It seems fascinating, and incredibly relevant. It’s indeed an ongoing aim to bring personal artistry into shared sense-making environments. Much links to the heart, which possibly is a key to reversing homogeneity? Thank you, again.

  2. Pam Enz says:

    Oh, I like the description of sensemaking and contextualizing. I, too, have had a hard time describing my work when visually recording discussions. This will help.

    Linda, check out the various articles and blogs about how doodling enhances the learning experience. Encourage your great niece to keep drawing!

  3. Linda Hickey says:

    Brilliant. …I have a colleague who scribes our meetings all the time and it is fascinating. Captures content so vividly and it stays with me!
    This format needs to be incorporated I to our school system…I have a great neice (11 years old) who was chastised for doodling after her work was completed. She was told she was not listening and to stop the doodling…..imagine!