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Extremely Sketchy and Incredibly Graphic

New York Peace Institute Blog, the Hecklist by Brad Heckman

I recently joined NYC Sketchnoters Group, and tonight is our second meeting. Sketchnoting is all about using usual visual images — drawings, symbols, shapes, icons, color, etc. — to record ideas and convey meanings. For visual thinkers, it’s a great companion piece to traditional chicken scratch note-taking. Visuals for Change founder Amanda Lyons helms the group, and for a mere 10 bucks, you get yourself an evening of shame-free sketchnoting and infotaining interactive exercises.

Above is my sketch from an activity in which Amanda gave us a couple of minutes to illustrate of a concept of our choice. What I was going for was how, even in the most volatile arguments, there are often common, overlapping interests below the surface positions. This is a core concept of our work at New York Peace Institute, and of mediation in general.

Graphic Facilitation is a variation of sketchnoting in which a facilitator uses imagery to capture and map out what’s going on in a meeting — often used in visioning, strategic planning, problem-solving, prioritizing, and addressing intragroup dynamics. As groups are chatting, brainstorming, or arguing, a graphic facilitator tracks the conversation with images that memorialize the conversation, allow participants to see things in a new light, and stimulate creative option generation.

You needn’t be a Left Bank artiste to be a graphic facilitator, but you’ll need a pretty good visual vocabulary, the ability to think on your feet, a strong sense of spatial relations, and a good set of markers De rigeur in graphic facilitation: fabulous listening skills — being tuned into your audience so that your drawings truly reflect what folks have said

As a visual thinker and amateur-ish artist, I use my drawings when I train and teach. So I figured I’d ace this whole sketchnoting thing. But I quickly learned that it’s a whole other magilla from propping up pre-made drawings before an audience. Spontaneously coming up with appropriate, comprehensible drawings; building a visual lexicon; grasping the importance of layout — under time pressure and the furrowed-browed gaze of your participants — is not easy. (I’ve drawn countless birds in my day — but in the midst of a rapidfire sketchnoting exercise, the best I could do was a grotesque beaked blob.)

It’s great when mediators use visual thinking during sessions — for example, encouraging neighbors involved in noise disputes to sketch the layout of their apartments. We sometimes cover our mediation tables with paper, markers, and crayons to promote clients’ creativity.

We’d love to see more of this graphic content in our mediation rooms, and empower the city’s peacebuilders to tap into their visual side. So, on May 12th, we’re teaming up with the wonderful ImageThink to offer a full-day graphic facilitation training to the NYC peacebuilding community. They’ll provide an intensive, interactive, workshop that will give folks the basic tools they need to incorporate visual thinking in their practice. Stay tuned…details will be on our website soon, but meanwhile, feel free to contact our fabulous Training Director, Allison Attenello at [email protected] if you’re interested in hearing more.


Brad Heckman

Brad Heckman is Chief Executive Officer of the New York Peace Institute, one of the nation's largest conflict resolution services.  He's also an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches courses on international conflict resolution and organizational development.  His teaching style includes subjecting students… MORE >

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