Graphic recording is the translation of conversations into images and text on large sheets of paper during meetings and events.
An evaluator might choose graphic recording to capture collective stories and visually represent conversations throughout an evaluation process. This could include discussions with stakeholders during a number of stages and processes, such as conducting a needs analysis or developing a theory of change, workshops to discuss interim evaluation findings and stakeholder feedback, and presentations of final evaluation findings telling the story of the journey of the program and the principles that guide it.
Graphic recording can be both a process and a product. A skilled graphic recorder employs graphics to lead group processes in an engaging and interactive way. This requires strong interpersonal competence, superb listening skills, and the ability to think on your feet.
Sometimes the representation of information in a visual format provokes new insights and learning from different perspectives. In this way, graphic recording can serve as a mirror for the group: reflecting back to them what they are collectively sharing. It’s also a method for making the seemingly intangible tangible and can help to simplify complex ideas and data to make them accessible and actionable. Graphic recording is a tool you can use to strengthen your ability to communicate evaluation findings and facilitate reflection on data, especially when concepts are complex and difficult to explain. It’s about using tools--like pen and paper--to externalize your internal thinking process, making your thoughts more clear, explicit, and actionable.
There are a number of different approaches to using graphic recording to capture a conversation, depending on the purpose of the discussion. A graphic recording session with a skilled facilitator can be used to foster inclusive participation by turning emerging ideas and themes into easy-to-understand pictures and symbols in a way that values each contribution. This can encourage every participant of the discussion to feel ownership of the results because they see themselves in the visual story. Alternatively, when capturing a brainstorming session with the goal of generating new ideas for the future, it’s best to capture every voice and idea equally by using direct quotes, call-out boxes, and highlighting specific examples, etc. However, if the goal of the session was to gather knowledge from an expert panel, then the graphic recording would more heavily focus on facts shared by experts (as opposed to opinions, lessons relevant only in specific contexts, etc.). Another example is when the goal of the session is to give an overview of a topic. In this case, you’ll want to capture broad-brush ideas and themes, rather than in-the-weeds details.
As a graphic recorder, you are constantly synthesising the information you are taking in (grouping into themes, grouping based on relevance to goal, etc.). As you capture a conversation, it’s important to keep the overall purpose in mind and ask yourself, “What are the most important pieces I can capture given the purpose of the meeting?”
Graphic recording can:
- Help groups and individuals develop creative ideas by drawing connections.
- Enable higher and more complex levels of dialogue and discussion.
- Revitalize energy and interest levels by making discussions (whether in training sessions, workshops or meetings) more enjoyable and interesting.
- Lower misunderstanding and increase participants’ feelings of acknowledgement (people feel heard when they see their ideas and questions recorded verbatim).
- Equip participants with a unique and tangible “take-away” of their experience that ensures easy sharing.
In addition to capturing conversations in real-time, graphic recording skills can also be used to create summaries of evaluation findings, visual reports and presentations. There are a number of examples from Katherine Haugh, an information designer and evaluator who frequently uses her graphic recording skills to create digestible, visual evaluation summaries and reports (http://katherinehaugh.com/blog/).
Presentation: Resilience Measurement – A session with Nancy Mock, Maliha Khan, Scott G. Chaplowe, Brandi Renee Gilbert, and Christine Getman
Advice for choosing this method
Graphic recording doesn’t work for everyone. Some participants find that it works better for them to sit and listen or use their hands rather than focus on the creation of visuals. Other learners find that they can’t make sense of and retain information in visuals created by others, but are much better able to if they create the visuals themselves. If that’s the case, graphic recorders can encourage participants to visually capture the session in addition to the graphic recording. That can be a valuable technique for building shared understanding. The goal of graphic recording should be to complement other learning styles/preferences, but never to replace them.
Graphic recording is a tool that is applicable to a wide variety of settings (meetings, conferences, annual retreats, brainstorming sessions, etc.)
Generally, graphic recording is most effective when conversations are complex, forward-looking, and multi-faceted and when participants are engaged in contributing to and learning from the visual content.
Advice for using this method
You don’t have to be an artist to be an effective graphic recorder. You can build up your skills by practising in low stakes environments, such as informal discussions or as an audience member at conference sessions. You should be willing to try, mess up, and try again, to be curious, and to stay humble.
Team up with your facilitator. If you are capturing the conversation for a specific purpose, work with your facilitator to figure out what the best use of the graphic recording will be. For example, the facilitator may want to use a graphic recording created at the beginning of the day to bring the group together for reflection at the end of the day.
Move to the back or the side of the room. Some learners find watching a graphic recording come together distracting. It’s helpful for both participants and speakers if you move to the back or the side of the room so that participants can view what has been captured at a break or at the end of the discussion.
Before a graphic recording session, it can be useful to familiarise yourself with the material to be presented or discussed and/or make time to talk to the presenters about their key points before a session begins – particularly if the presenter is not familiar with graphic recording.
Start with the four C’s: Connectors, Containers, Colour, and Common objects. Connectors are lines you use to draw linkages between ideas. Containers are boxes and shapes you put around words to express emotion and call attention to specific ideas or phrases. Colour can be used strategically to highlight key points, emote different feelings, and ensure balance on a page. Common objects can be used to complement words or phrases and drive home key points.
When you are graphic recording, be sure to latch onto juicy quotes. Those quotes stick with people and capture the essence of a discussion.
You can synthesise key points into priority buckets (which you can highlight with colour, shading, or position on your graphic) or into examples buckets (which you could place off to the side, with smaller text, and less colour).
To make sure you don’t miss a point, always put a piece of scrap paper off to the side of your graphic recording sheet in order to jot key ideas down as you hear them. Some graphic recorders use shorthand techniques or symbols to help them remember what to transfer over to the graphic recording sheet.
Prioritisation is a fluid process with graphic recording and for the most part, you have to be able to quickly discern if something is a priority. One clue for this is whether it’s been repeated multiple times or if it’s not (e.g. it was just a one-off comment). An easy way to prioritise points on the go is to star them on your scrap paper and then transport them over onto the graphic recording sheet as you hear more of the conversation.
Haugh, Katherine (2016). Resilience Measurement – A session with Nancy Mock, Maliha Khan, Scott G. Chaplowe, Brandi Renee Gilbert, and Christine Getman (AEA16). Retrieved from: http://katherinehaugh.com
Haugh, Katherine. (2017). Visualize It: Michael Quinn Patton’s Principles for Facilitating Evaluation (AEA17). Retrieved from: http://katherinehaugh.com
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