How can visuals support individuals and systems to more clearly see themselves? It’s an ongoing inquiry – and a recent talk and workshop at Tufts Institute of the Environment TELI-G Program reignited a wish to better explore and explain this territory.
Here is the presentation, as a starting point, with brief notes and a practice at the end. A placeholder… an iteration… as the very willing participants iterated their own system-based interdisciplinary projects.
It was a wonderful experience to see the students light up with pens in hand, and an inspiration to continue looking at the way drawing can support seeing, and learning.
It started with my love of nature, growing up near woods where i could freely roam…
Then I studied painting at school, and tried to bring my fascination with the relation of all things (from nature) into 2 dimensional art-making.
All along i journaled, and still do. The practice has fed, over time, the way i now earn a living, which is a profession called graphic facilitation.
Sitting in social contexts, I reflect back what i hear and perceive through big drawings on walls, to support reflection and decision-making for groups and systems.
Specifically have been focusing on how drawings reinforce learning over time and distance. (See other posts on u.lab)
Incorporating systems thinking shows up literally (as picture) and also as an inner sense making device.
One key Systems Thinking (ST) tool – the Iceberg Model, helps to surface leverage points where the system – and the scribe – can place attention to facilitate desired outcomes. (Refer to post The Iceberg)
Events are like data, actual occurrences that we see, above the metaphoric waterline, like noticing a lone bird flying. In the spoken word, i think of events as individual notes – words or phrases, single statements, stand-alone ideas, comments, parts. These combine to tell stories and can be most readily represented through illustration and more literal pictures, combined with words. Ie: Human migration.
We can look for flock-like behavior in patterns of speech too. This occurs when one idea or person follow another, for example: “We live on 1 planet Earth, but our footprint on average is 1.5.” And then: “This will lead to turmoil and chaos, and eventually human migration.” – John Sterman (whose talk on Systems Thinking and Sustainability is the source of all these images…) The words come out with causal relation, and one concept FITS with another to form a gesture or new shape of it’s own, only a pattern because of grouping.
All these aspects (and many more) are components of the structure INSIDE a story, dialogue, conference theme, multi-year project. Every piece has context. Find it. Draw what is relevant to surface the inherent structure, or relationship of the parts, that wants to be revealed. How pieces of the picture form and relate. Every part of the picture holds together in a natural coherence. Connections surface across gaps, and it’s our place to organize them into an order that we perceive.
Sustainability image – the ENTIRE picture represents a mental model that the current climate change crisis is induced/amplified by human behavior. This territory is fine and subtle; the beliefs are in the room and they are in us. That said, it is possible to help reveal biases in order to activate reflection, and, perhaps, shift mindsets.
This is the deeper territory of aspiration, hope, calling, that which can set the tone for all else pushing upward through the iceberg. Not a space for projection of vision, more as a domain of possibility, into which a scribe can sense, and then hold in spirit (even without drawing!) to really join the system as it’s future self, and share the intent for the vision to come to form through the thinking and action of the people.
Working with people who have an understanding of system dynamics gives a head start for what to draw, explicitly using that particular visual language for common grounding.
Other times the group is not necessarily aware of ST, but I will employ a framework to help land the narrative. Here, Stocks and Flows in relation to learning.
Here, oscillating growth. In any case, I always find it helpful to use a framework as an underpinning device for the drawing. And that is what I would suggest today, as a first step to organizing information, transform from verbal or written to visual – consider a framework that can help visually organize the information.
For example, a framework for Creating a Problem, from MG Taylor. Conditions at the base, Vision at top, and in between the twist of creative tension which starts to clarify the problem, or case.
2D Modeling can be used as a sensemaking and communication tool when trying to understand elements of a system, to bridge an idea from concept to action. It is a method for giving form to ideas – and structure to processes – that might not be articulated outside the mind or intuition. We can use modeling at any phase of a process to create visual displays that share projects and engage potential stakeholders.
Now to get our hands into this! Explore…
and apply to your projects. Have fun!!!