5 Principles for Great Visual Facilitation

Graphic facilitation is the use of visual media and imagery to guide a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. The imagery will be used differently by each individual in the group but overall the effect will be one of improved alignment in a similar way to meeting minutes. The greatest power of images over words is in the interpretation, after all…

A picture tells a thousand words

I have found that this form of facilitation is most powerful when used during conversations that have no predetermined end point apart from an alignment of the individuals present. This is because the images themselves become a structure for what had been discussed already and suggest potential topics for continuing the conversation.

I have been facilitating using graphics for several years note and over that time I have discovered five principles that have helped me.

The 5 Principles of Graphic Facilitation

The 5 Principles of Graphic Facilitation

1. Prepare for the conversation
It can often help to learn more about the topic before the conversation where possible as this can provide useful insight. This research can be done in a number of ways including reading relevant material or taking with the participants before hand. This isn’t always essential from a capture perspective but will help you to engage with the conversation and improve the end result.

2. Understand where the emotion is
Emotion is the critical component to creating a visual that facilitates a conversation. It is important to understand the topics that are creating the emotion in the conversation as these are the ones that need most guidance.

3. Create a foundation using keywords
Listen carefully to the conversation and keep your ear open for key points of debate. This is often easier when you know the topic being discussed but if you don’t the group can be used for guidance, consider their response as points are raised. you need to distil the essence of a message into a word or a short statement. These keywords help you to construct a map of the conversation that you can create imagery around.

Writing is an important part of any graphic facilitators tool kit and as such it is essential to practice your style. Remember it should be readable and quick as well as look good so think about it from another perspective.

4. Organise your work
Group common topics together, consider how they connect with each other. The important thing here is to ensure that relationships are clearly illustrated. This can be done through the use of boxes, clouds, arrows, lines and even scale. Depending on your medium it can be hard to rearrange so think about your layout before you start, considering where you want to leave room and what you want to be focused on is critical at all stages.

5. You don’t have to be Picasso…
To use graphic facilitation does not require you to be an amazing artist or illustrator. I’m not saying that the end product won’t look amazing if you are, I’m saying that to share its meaning a picture doesn’t have to be a work of art. Any imagery can be simplified down to icons using basic shapes such as circles, triangles and rectangles. Use these to construct icons that represent the pictures you are thinking of when you hear the keywords.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share?


Taking a Holisitic Point of View

Over the last few years I have encountered a number of client problems where I have not managed to understand the complete context of the situation. With hindsight, I have discovered that this was because I was unable to break up the context into its component parts and in some cases I was unaware that those component parts existed in the first place. The Vantage Points model (copyright © MG Taylor Corporation 1980-2013), shown below has helped me to structure my conversations and ensure that I understand every problem, both in terms of current conditions and future vision from every vantage point.

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The model breaks up into 7 key components that, for me, help to construct an holistic picture of any given scenario be the current or possible future. I will share my thoughts about how each of these can help define a problem from bottom up or as I see them from core beliefs to activities:


…makes up the fundamental and core beliefs that unite the organisation or part of the organisation depending on the scope of your problem. These beliefs are not necesarily obvious and are very rarely articulated in any official documentation. This is one of the hardest components to fully understand when trying to understand any given problem as your own beliefs can often change the way you percieve other beliefs. Very few companies or individuals can clearly articulate the beliefs that drive them, even harder is to narrow down the beliefs that they actually have rather than those they want to have or want others to think they have.

You can see philosophy exist both strongly and weakly in organisations, the stronger the philosophy of the organisation the more it is seen in the other vantage points. Companies like Wikipedia, Apple and Google have very strong philosophies that has filtered all the way down into every day tasks such as greeting customers in a shop. Where the philosophy is weak in an organisation it is more likely that you will find individual pockets of belief that surround individuals or groups of individuals who view the world in their way.


…is often identified as the behaviours exhibited with the organisation. These behaviours are typically a direct physical manifestation of the philosophy or the beliefs within the organisation. There are a number of ways to understand the culture of an organisation, you could talk to those in the organisation to understand how they behave uner normal conditions and how they think people should behave or you could observe those in the organisation to see the behaviour. Questions will never give the full picture and the ‘Hawthorne effect’ has pointed out that observation changes the behaviour of the observed individuals so understanding the culture of any organisation difficult.

Cultural problems exist in an organisation when the behaviours exhibited by individuals do not help to achieve the desired vision or they actively hinder the vision from being achieved.


…states the rules of the game, it includes the purpose, the goals, the rules and the boundaries. Most organisations have many policies and usually many documents to define them. Policy will govern whether behaviours are appropriate, they will determine how the organisation operates. Some example policies include vision and mission statements to share purpose, HR, security and anti-corruption policies to share the rules and boundaries of the organisation. Unlike philosophy and culture the challenge with understanding policy is the quantity of information available and the possibility of conflicting information.


…is the organisation of resources to achieve the objectives stated by the policy, this usually includes an attempt to maintain growth and ensure sustainability. At a high level this is often represented as organisation diagrams showing business units and hierarchies. At a lower level of detail this can often be represented as delivery plans and roadmaps. A strategy that does not achieve the understood policy creates conflict and suggests that one or the other is wrong, this will also confuse anyone new to the system.


…is the efficient and effective use of available resources to achieve the desired goal. Strategies and tactics are often confused, tactics can be defined as a number of activities to acomplish the overall strategy. I have learnt that the important thing to think about when understanding an organisation’s tactics is how they connect to the defined strategy and policy. Where tactics and strategies conflict is usually where delivery challenges will arise as team members will not know what they are trying to achieve.


…concerns the distribution, management and storage of resources including but not limited to capabilities, knowledge, energy and individuals in the system. Understanding the flow of resources round an organisation will help to understand the context within which people are working in. For example, an individual starts in a company and it takes 5 weeks for him to receive the laptop he requires to do any work. This could make the individual believe that the company doesn’t care about its employees, which will affect his behaviours in the future which could mean that he performs his job below expectation.


…are defined as the jobs that needs to be done and how they are done, these are not the tactical activities but the jobs that make up those and other activities. These jobs may include typing documents, creating reports, attending meetings, talking with clients, developing software. The tasks individuals and teams complete on a day to day basis can be traced back through the previous vantage points to understand why those tasks are accomplished in the way they are.

This model has helped me to ensure that every problem I attempt to solve is solved holistically rather than ignoring fundamental compenents that can be easily overlooked. 5 of the above components are well understood in many organisations, it is with Philosophy and Culture that the least time is spent and yet they often contain some of the most powerful insights.

I discovered the Vantage Points model shortly after I started in the ASE and since then I have been on a voyage of discovery with it, every conversation I have with a client shows me a new aspect of the model, a nuance I hadn’t seen before. I hope you find this model as useful as I have, if you would like to read more about the etymology behind the model please click on the image above to go to the MG Taylor website

“If I had an hour to solve a problem…

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein

To successfully solve any problem, the most important thing to do is understand the problem in its entirety. 

The rate of change in society today is exceptionally quick and it is accelerating at an exponential rate. This acceleration is putting a pressure on organisations and individuals to make decisions before fully understanding the context.

For example… someone tells you “I have a problem…I can’t read road signs” at this point there are a number of possible problems depending on the context. They might not be able to read, they might be short sighted and be wearing the wrong glasses or not have any glasses at all, they might have a multitude of other problems. Without exploring the context of the problem any solution you put in place could be more detrimental than helpful.

Any problem can be defined by understanding both the current conditions and the desired vision. It is important to remember that the problem is the gap between these conditions and the vision not the conditions themselves. I encounter this every day in the ASE, what are seen at first as problems are often only the symptoms and conditions of real problems and the first step is to understand it.

Have you ever been in a situation like this, where a problem has been ignored while the symptoms are treated?