In the “Know” domain of A Practice Model for Scribing, four moves* mark a facilitator’s choice around what to do with the volume of content we hear streaming in the air. The actual choosing process is completely subjective, and it is a scribe’s listening skills that inform the real sifting ability. This framework merely offers categories to consider while holding broad swaths of information, to inform decision-making of what to draw, when.

Bypass: In the service tracking with the flow of conversation, you move over topics that might be confusing or might not yet seem to fit in the picture.

  • Let it go! The easy road here and sometimes the path of least resistance. If the content is in support of another main point, redundant, or completely confounding…. quickly decide not to include it in your picture or even retain in your mind.
  • Come up with alternative ways to reveal the topic. Maybe this can be a short list and not a picture, or written in a smaller font or lighter color.
  • Seek to maintain balance. If things get heated, you can ease the flow by careful and reductive use of language to represent content, or draw less of what is growing (like when one person might be on a rant or in a monologue…)
  • Deepen your own inquiry and hold the container. Just pause. Reflect quickly in the moment and try to sense into what is actually going on.

Name: Bring attention to content by naming it, without judging or evaluating. You don’t have to elaborate at this point. It might feel like you should capture everything, but you don’t! Maybe the content is not yet all out in the air, and is still emerging, therefore only ready to be noted.

  • Listen (Level 2) in an objective way. Suspend your opinions or beliefs in order to hear as clearly as possible.
  • Draw literally. Use specific visual language that maps accurately to the speaker’s words and watch your level of interpretation.
  • Keep an ear open to content repetition, reinforcement, and differentiation. When something seems to keep looping back, make sure to include it.

Engage: Enter the dynamic to further surface patterns, to deepen the inquiry, and to expand the container.

  • Listen (Level 3) from the perspective of the room, of the speaker(s).
  • Identify unclear verbal streams in service of uncovering their sources.
  • Reveal structures of interaction, as explained the in the Iceberg model.
  • Explore what is at risk, what is not said, and what might actually seek expression.
  • Note: Requires a higher degree of facilitative skill and a stronger container

Transform: Make facilitative container-building moves to shift the dynamic, even if you are on the side of the room, silent. You have influence here to either disrupt or stabilize through your drawing. Transform with great care!

  • Listen deeply (Level 4) to space between the words, for what wants to surface.
  • Trust that a deeper meaning will arrive and be ready to include it.
  • Notice the sequence of voices and/or the flow and sounds.
  • Seek beyond the content to engage with the dynamic.

Lastly, considering system dynamics layered into this framework, as visual facilitators we can have a subtle influence on a room by either increasing or decreasing awareness to certain content.

If something has already been expressed a number of times, then we can further reinforce that point by writing it up again and again (amplify), or we can decide to only write it once, or include only a few keywords (attenuate), which in effect balances the dominance.

Depending on the needs of the crowd, we can use a more synthetic approach, taking in lots of content and organizing it into clusters, carefully framing and making connections, aiming to reduce the complexity and offer cohesion.

At other times, we can use a more deconstructive approach, intentionally taking one concept and breaking it into parts, so that what seems like a knot is more easy to parse out. This would have the direct opposite effect of synthesis, as the approach aims to surface and amplify complexity – to expand a conversation and prompt new thinking.

Either approach – balancing or reinforcing – weaves in along the entire path of bypass-name-engage-transform.

The key point is that, as we make sense of what we hear and what is called for in the room, we can actively choose how to respond.

Bypass-Name-Engage-Transform comes from my work in the late 90’s with Bill Isaacs of Dialogos, and I have mainly taken it from the original context of verbal facilitation and applied it to visual practice. The original framework was conceived by Diana M. Smith. Learn more in Divide or Conquer, Chapter 9. 


  1. Diana Smith says:

    I really like what you’ve done with the diagram. Bill Isaacs at Dialogos is an old friend and colleague of all of us at Action Design. We created this model back in the early 1990s and shared it with Bill, who’s helped us to share it with the world. So glad to see it spread. For more, see chapter 9 in Divide or Conquer by Diana M. Smith

    • Kelvy Bird says:

      Diana – I am incredibly grateful for your bringing the source of this work to my attention. I was not aware – and i will shift the attribution to you immediately. Many scribes have, and are, finding it a helpful framework – and i’m thrilled we can all learn more now through your direct work. Thank you!!!!!