I am very excited to announce we are offering a graphic facilitation workshop July 13-14, 2015. This is the 6th annual ‘rosviz’ gathering taking place in the mountain setting of beautiful Rossland, British Columbia. We have sold out the last 2 years so register early to secure your spot!
Earlier this year I joined the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (K-Hub) made up of research institutes located in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka (one in each country), as their knowledge management specialist. The K-Hub is funded by the Asian Development Bank for three years and has some additional funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (specifically on the topic of innovative sanitation). It’s an exciting initiative that I’m looking forward to working with. What exactly will I do?
My role is to help the research centres have more impact with their research. There is often an underlying assumption that good information will lead to good decisions. In reality, decision-making is a process and researchers have a role to play beyond producing information (creating a report does not mean you have influence!). The people I’m working with are experiencing a shift from being predominantly researchers to ‘influencers of change’.
Our internal K-Hub journey started with a capacity assessment, followed by a group training on how to influence policy and practice for researchers. Each institute is now developing a work plan to guide efforts in their respective countries.
The training we undertook in May 2014 introduced a process to help the researchers consider from the start how their findings might be used, and how to build bridges with others so the priorities they identify can become the priorities of their governments and practitioners. Given there are similar efforts being undertaken around the world (building capacity for influencing policy/practice), I wanted to share our process so far including the methodology we are working with.
There are many ways to go about this (see note below) and after reviewing a lot of material generated by others combined with my own experience, I narrowed it down to six steps:
Step 1: Define the issue
Step 2: Articulate the goal
Step 3: Understand your context
Step 4: Identify decision makers, key actors and relationships
Step 5: Describe your influence story
Step 6: Monitoring and learning
Each step is part of a thinking process to remind researchers about WHY they are undertaking the research and that research is only part of the influencing process. Indeed, we need to build evidence however we can also play a role in helping knowledge to be used to make change happen. You can find the six-step process described in detail (with activities to help you think through the step) in the attached guide (TrainingWorkbook_SL May 4-5-Final Formatted). I view the guidebook as a living document to be updated based on the experience of our K-Hub. Feel free to send me comments as well! The accompanying power point is here: K-hub_Training_May4-5_Final
While obvious for some, planning for change (i.e. outcomes) is quite challenging for many people. Project design (including research) based on outputs and activities has been acceptable practice for a long time. No one asked why are you doing this research or this project? What difference will it make? What change will you contribute to and how? Given this is a different way of thinking for the K-Hub researchers I don’t expect the shift will happen in a day. However, I will be satisfied with my contribution when I hear the researchers talking about changes they want to contribute to, people they need to network with and why their strategy is working (or not) rather than reports and seminars. We have two to three years…
In developing the methodology, I reviewed numerous resources on line. Some of these resources are listed at the end of the training manual however many more were consulted, particularly on the theory behind influencing policy and practice. I also interviewed three practitioners who provided me invaluable advice. Thank you Enrique Mendizabal (onthinktanks.org), Nancy White (fullcirc.com) and James Georgalakis (http://www.ids.ac.uk/person/james-georgalakis) for generously sharing your ideas.
These musings are my personal reflections and I will be sure to keep reflecting (and updating you) on the process over the next two years. Webpages with project information are being developed by the K-Hub and will be shared when available. The ADB project page is http://www.adb.org/projects/46465-001/main
When I saw an ad from a researcher wanting to help visualize mental health training for female sex workers in Kathmandu, I thought maybe my graphic facilitation skills could be of use. Besides, it sounded like an interesting project and very different from my usual environment and development focused work. The project is now complete.
As a facilitator, its typical to debrief with three questions: what? so what? now what?
Over a period of three months, we had one pilot and three sessions where the women who took the training debriefed their learning and I drew the key points on a wall. Meanwhile, an artist was refining my ideas on a wacom tablet in order to produce a digital image in real time. After the discussion died down, the women went through my drawing explaining what they saw and I added or commented on anything that was new or different from their interpretation. Sometimes they saw things I never imagined however typically we both had the main ideas in sync. The refined digital image was saved on a USB and taken to a print shop nearby while the women were given a free lunch of Nepali Daal Bhat. The print out was delivered and all women took a copy with them to use in their own discussions with women in their ‘professional networks’.
Here is an example of the last training session output. The left side is the refined version by the artist and the right side was the sketch I drew on the wall in front of the ladies as they provided their learning impressions. The debrief sessions were always about 30 minutes max so this was a very quick interpretation of their training.
I’m still waiting for the researcher to do her analysis on how the visuals contributed (or not) to facilitating mental health discussions by the trainees with their colleagues. However, she did send a note recently saying, “In the post-training reactions a couple of the women said that their favorite part of the training was the “learning through drawing” part! With your help, we were able to provide a largely illiterate population with a practical and meaningful tool that helped them complete their teaching tasks with a lot more confidence than they otherwise would have had.”
For all us of involved it was a big learning experience. I have learned a few things including:
- It is possible to draw without words and explain ideas (though I find this very intimidating!)
- Keying in on the main message and using a central image are helpful tactics
- Putting the icons/drawing onto a landscape or setting helps the ideas to not ‘sit in space’
- Perfection isn’t needed though an artist can do amazing things to spruce up a sketch (i.e. make it look professional)
- People remember the discussion having watched the drawing take place before their eyes and take part in the meaning making
- Visuals are a bridge across language but can also be tricky (i.e. watch out for cultural metaphors and faux pas!)
I hope to take part in the celebration with the participants this April and learn more about how their on the ground sessions went with their colleagues. Personally, I have learned a lot about having confidence to make a mark on the page in front of a group of people talking about serious issues AND have the ability to step back and be okay with what they like and dislike with the drawing created.
While I really appreciated the artists’ support, I also plan to work on my visual vocabulary as it does get easier to draw on the fly with practice, and use of specific icons.
I am happy to have participated in a new and exciting application of visual methods and will continue to push my edges.
I have recently joined an interesting project to establish a South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (funded by the Asian Development Bank). I will have the opportunity to work with research institutes in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (to start) on sustainable development issues in the urban sector. My role as knowledge management specialist is to build capacity of the researchers to undertake outcome focused research for policy influencing. I am tasked with creating a template to help the researchers develop policy influencing strategies, improve technical writing skills for policy briefs, provide a 2-day training workshop and will also act as a mentor on an ongoing basis for two years. For anyone who knows me, this sounds like a dream!
In some ways, it is a dream and in other ways, I have gone down a rabbit hole of jargon that is giving me nightmares.
As I consider the assessment I need to undertake as a first step, I cannot imagine asking people about their familiarity or confidence level in using tools like: problem trees, objective tress, force field analysis, stakeholder maps, SWOT, theory of change, the RAPID framework, alignment/interest/influence matrix, outcome mapping, advocacy strategy, communications strategy, etc etc etc. Don’t you feel overwhelmed just reading the list of available and suggested tools? I do.
This is forcing me to really take a step back and figure out what I need to know from the participants beforehand in order to design a good training and what is the best way to get the information from them (this is before I even start doing the real work!).
While originally I thought a simple online survey would work, I have decided that this is not the best tool given many people may not use the same terms for undertaking analytical tasks. My simple assessment could get wordy and complicated. Moreover, if I leave the online survey open-ended, I won’t have the opportunity to really understand the responses provided without proper follow-up. This leads me to the idea of conducting group interviews with each centre. This way, I can probe into the questions I ask with the group from each centre and build on the conversation as it evolves. I believe I will gain a better understanding of the types of methods they have used (or not used) previously.
I have already had one introductory Skype meeting with each centre so this is also a nice way to build our relationship given I am going to be working with them for the next two years.
Sooooo…given I want to learn about what experience (or lack of experience) the centres have with undertaking outcome oriented research for policy influencing these are the questions I’m considering using to guide my interviews. The results need to inform the design of a template for policy influencing as well as a 2-day training for the centres. I would love your feedback as its still in draft form. Or maybe you work in this area and have other bits of advice for me? If so, thanks for sharing!
1. Please share an example or two of research you undertook in the past specifically with the purpose of changing policy:
- How was the research topic decided?
- Did the research lead to a change? If yes, what were the key factors?
- Did you document your assumptions for creating change? If yes, how?
- Were other actors/partners involved? How so?
- Did you have a strategy in place that you followed?
- Did you use specific tools or techniques to understand the different actors/stakeholders involved? Those who would support or challenge your research?
- How did you monitor the change that took place?
- How do you know your influence on the change, as opposed to other outside forces?
- If not, have you used a strategy for other advocacy work? If yes, please describe what this looked like.
- If not, how do you feel embarking on this type of work in the future? What are you most excited about and most concerned about?
2. Please describe how you typically disseminate the knowledge generated from research.
- What methods do you use? Example strategy?
- What has been most successful? What has been least successful?
- How do you define your audiences?
- Do you typically write different messages for different audiences?
- Do you work with communication professionals?
- What type of communications products do you think policy makers find most useful? For example:
- Policy briefs
- Opinion articles, News items
- Media, Community radio
- Working groups
- High profile events
- Public pressure
3. To what extent are policies in your field evidence-informed?
- What are some of the factors that determine whether, and to what extent, evidence informs or even influences policy decisions?
- Is demand a necessary condition for the uptake of research?
- Do you think well-conceived and compellingly packaged research findings stimulate the interest of policy makers?
This blog post follows up from an earlier post I wrote about applying graphic facilitation in new contexts. The day arrived last Friday for the first official training of female sex workers (in Nepal) in improving their mental health. Women were given a training and then debriefed. During the debrief, the facilitator asked the women, what are the main messages you learned from the training?
The women provided feedback on what they learned, what they felt was most important and the key messages to provide to their colleagues in the trainings they will provide on their own over the next two weeks. They were enthusiastic and had lots to say.
During that time, I drew out the main messages on a wall that was in plain view. I started with a woman hugging herself as the key point was the importance to love yourself and be kind to yourself in order to be able to give to others such as family and the community. It also helps for creativity and generating new ideas. The idea of taking time for oneself was talked about, physical pain being related to mental illness, as well as the struggle of implementing what was learned in the real world, when one walks out the door. They gave the drawing a title, “My Life”.
When finished, we went over the drawing as a group sharing what we saw and how it reflected back what they said. At the same time, an artist was drawing the key points on her wacom tablet to create a refined, digital version that could be printed immediately for women to take away with them. The entire process of reflection, drawing and refinement was about 30 minutes (i.e. quick!).
Here is the rough live version (done by me) as well as the artists’ rendition (with Nepali translation) and some additional images to remind them to share what they learned with their colleagues.
The final digital drawing was taken to a print shop nearby while the women were given a free lunch. The free food was key to getting the women to stick around after the training.
The copies were brought back and distributed so they had something to help them remember the content when training their colleagues and friends. The women were very thankful and interested in the whole visualization process. Despite the language barrier, I gather they appreciated being heard and having input into the product they took home. This is certainly one of the main messages I promote for why graphic facilitation is a great tool with meaning making and groups.
We are planning to use the same technique next week in the second training of the three part series.
Overall, working with an artist is really amazing and I will try it again in the future in other contexts.
Next week I have a meeting with an organization to kick off planning for a 5 day international scientific symposium for about 200-250 people. They hired me as they want the agenda to be more participatory, innovative and engaging than a typical scientific symposium which generally means powerpoint presentations all day interspersed with some poster sessions and possibly a couple excursions to the local sites. We will still include the presentations/posters, etc but I will embed them into a more engaging structure that includes different types of knowledge sharing, networking and general engagement.
The planning meeting will have about 10 people from the organization and is my first opportunity to get all ideas on the table as well as key information that I can take away and use to design the first draft of an agenda. I have two hours to get the information I need with the people in the room.
Here are the questions I’m planning to ask:
- What are the 3-5 key objectives of the symposium? (as specific as possible)
- What are your desired outcomes for:
- Field of study
- What learning, knowledge products and/or artifacts do you want to document during and after the end of the symposium?
- What are the big questions that all scientists attending are interested in? What big questions are emerging in the field?
- Who are potential audiences/groups that you would like the visiting scientists to engage with?
- Are there other organizations that you could partner with to offer community engagement opportunities? If so, who?
- What are potential excursions that could be offered?
- What capacity exists within your organization to help deliver the conference on the ground? What additional capacity might be needed?
- Anything else to consider or take note of in the design and planning process?
Am I missing any key questions to get this started? Do you have any suggestions for how to structure the meeting of 10 people to ensure I get through all the material using all knowledge in the room? I am always happy to use visuals as well….
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!