Visual Communication : Different ways of recording our thoughts

I recently attended an Open Space event discussing Paradigms of Mental Health. Open Space Technology is a very liberating, loose framework within which to convene dialogue. I like it a lot, it’s a great opportunity to hear many voices, I use it often in my work and when I’m aware of other events where the technology is to be applied, I’m keen to get along and participate. So far this year I’ve been involved in Open Space events discussing:

  • The Future of Learning Technologies
  • The Arts in my local borough
  • Mental Health

I usually note take when I’m at these events, and for some reason, Open Space tends to bring out the artist in me.

The conversation at the learning technologies event focused less on the technology itself, far more on behaviours. Here’s the sketch note I made whilst at the event.

During the arts session, there were lots of opportunities to talk, so I proposed a session called ‘Would You Like to Paint?’ where instead of having a conversation, we just made art together. Here’s some of our work.

At the mental health conversation, I was introduced to Monica Biagioli, a senior lecturer at London College of Communication. Monica showed me a new device, called The Zine. We were given a piece of paper, folded with a few cuts in it, and invited to record thoughts and ideas as we conversed. The way the paper is cut means you can refold it into many shapes, which in turn means the things you originally noted adjacent to one another, can be repositioned. Here are some photos showing side one and two of my zine, and a folded version.

I love how, as you move from conversation to conversation, taking notes as you go, the notes can be refolded and repositioned, taking the dialogue in new and unexpected directions. Very zen.

Almost two months after attending the mental health open space event, the zine is still in clear view on my desk. Bearing in mind my desk doubles up as a mini art studio, the continued presence of the zine is no mean feat! I think it is an excellent tool for recording, and remixing ideas. Thank you Monica, for this great, and simple idea.

A version of this post first appeared on HRExaminer in May 2018.

Update. I recently met Monica Biagioli again, and she has kindly provided additional information relating to the Zine project. I’m delighted to share this with you here.

Zine Method credits

Description:
Monica Biagioli, Allan Owens and Anne Pässilä started their collaboration around the Zine Method in a participatory innovation process in social enterprise where the focus was to capture citizens’ perspectives and ideas as well as to create a space for sharing multiple perspectives into a development process.  After that we have systematically applied the Zine Method  in various contexts: IFKAD, Bari, Italy, 2015; GNOSIS, London, UK, 2016; IFKAD, Dresden,Germany, 2016; PhD students at University of Chester, UK; MA students at University of Chester and University of the Arts London, UK, 2017 onwards; ArtsEqual LUT research as artful inquiry, Lahti, Finland; Zamek Cieszyn, Cieszyn, Poland, 2018; RSA NHS R&D Mental health care session, Liverpool, UK, 2018; University of Central Lancashire, 2018; Realising Potential Ltd application in leadership coaching and as facilitation in business, 2018 onwards; ACAT Conference 2018, application of method by conference participants during the conference.

By Zine Method we mean the design response of the ‘zine’ as a means for self-reflection and to improve communication. Zines (small (maga)zines) have roots in the do-it-yourself movement. The idea and use of the zine has emerged over time, from the early leaflets and pamphlets produced by independent publishers in the late 18th century, to the amateur press movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, to the subculture of fandom that emerged in the 1930s in science fiction, to spread later to the punk and riot grrrl movements, up to current times.

Zines are applied as a method of collecting and analysing data within a framework of qualitative analysis to retain more of the shape of the complete experience (Dewey) and allow for emotional responses to emerge within the zine format. Zines can be solely for private consumption (self-reflection) and can therefore act as containers to process difficult emotions, such as the ones that emerge in conflict situations.

– A way to progress understanding iteratively by applying the format to map the negotiation ahead:
use it as metaphor; brainstorm ideas; and apply it as a communication tool; One of our collaborators pointed out that when applying zines to organising collective voicing “It is more about collective reflection and meaning making rather than problem solving”
– A way to reflect subjectively on own role in the process:
each zine can focus on different points of views and contributions to the negotiation; it can serve as a self-reflection tool to check “what is going on with yourself”
– A contained way to address complexity and ambiguity:
each zine can map and record uncertainties within a conflict negotiation process and the role emotion plays in that; help find relationships out of random placements; and connect elements previously disconnected to make sense of a situation

Zine Method report for Beyond Text (includes the zine template): 
http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/12489/1/Zine%20Method%20Beyond%20Text%20May%202017.pdf

Zine construction by Monica Biagioli; application developed collaboratively by Monica Biagioli, Allan Owens and Anne Pässilä. Source: Biagioli, Monica (2018) The Zine Method. Project Report. RECAP Research Centre; and Biagioli, M., Pässilä, A. and Owens, A. (forthcoming) Zine method as a form of qualitative analysis. In Jeff Adams & Allan Owens (eds.) Beyond Text. Intellect LTD, UK

Monica Biagioli, Professor Allan Owens, and Dr Anne Pässilä
June 2018

Paradigms of Mental Health

This week started with a visit to Liverpool to take part in an Open Space session titled Paradigms of Mental Health. The event was organised by NHS Research and Development North West, and co sponsored by Chester University and The RSA. I’m a big fan of Open Space technology, and when you combine that with the curiosity which fuels the NHS R&D North West team, the chances of an interesting event are high.

On arrival it quickly became clear I knew hardly anybody in the room, and while that might be briefly unsettling, it’s a good indicator of what’s to come. Open Space works really well in a group where people are largely unfamiliar with each other.

As we began the session, we were invited to make use of a device I’d not played with before, the Zine. Monica Biagioli, Senior Lecturer at UAL : London college of communication, offered us each a folded and cut piece of paper, onto which we were invited to record notes, doodles, anything which helped us to make sense of the conversations we took part in. I made notes as I listened, walked, and talked. Here are the two sides of my finished Zine.

Something which interested me about this device is that it can be folded into many shapes, and in doing so, some of the notes get transposed, ending up alongside new neighbours.

Folded Zine

The event was fascinating – a rich variety of subjects were offered up for discussion. A report will be published from the event and I look forward to reading that. For now – I just want to share a few snippets which caught my attention:

  • Having a sense of permission for self care
  • Arts based methods heighten our sense of embodiment
  • Reframe – focus less on what is wrong, more in what is right
  • Feeling powerful in playfulness
  • Arts as ways to normalise experience and share with others

The afternoon passed far too quickly, a sure sign people were thoroughly engaged in the process. As I headed back to London I folded and refolded my Zine several times on the train. I’m really enjoying the device as an aid to reflection and as a way of stirring thoughts up a little. Thank you to the team at NHS R&D North West for making this event happen, and for extending the invitation.

Footnote:

I arrived early for the event, and had just enough time for a quick walk to Tate Liverpool to see the Lichtenstein room. Too often when we travel for our work – we arrive, do our thing, and leave. I like to make time to experience something else beyond the immediate work when I travel, and on this occasion, I managed it. It was lovely to spend a few minutes in the presence of works by an artist I admire, some more familiar, some less so.

 

Stepping Off

I’ve walked a long way since I first wore my Fitbit on December 27th 2014. 13,992,079 steps, or 6,606.28 miles if you prefer. I can only recall forgetting to put it on once or twice since then, one of those occasions being when Carole and I enjoyed two and a half days walking a section of the South Downs Way. All those unrecorded steps, lost into the ether. More importantly, what a fantastic walk we had!

For a while, My Fitbit was helpful in encouraging me to be more active. For a while. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my growing discomfort in realising that when I responded to various Fitbit challenges I ended up walking primarily to win the challenge, not to enjoy the walk. At that time I consciously broke a 40 day streak of walking at least 10,000 steps a day, feeling satisfied that I’d noticed my dysfunctional behaviour, and stopped it.

The following two weeks were filled with walking for all the right reasons, and if anything, breaking that streak freed me to walk even further, and enjoy it even more. Sunday morning just gone, as I sat admiring my previous two weeks efforts, it dawned on me that in breaking that streak, I’d not so much broken the pattern of behaviour, just shifted it slightly.

I went on to enjoy a day of Fitbitless hard graft in the garden, and today I’m on my way to Liverpool to attend an event about mental health, minus my Fitbit. I appreciate the initial nudge my 2014 Christmas present provided, and I’ve certainly had my money’s worth from it, but we’re through. I’ll keep walking, blissfully ignorant of precisely how far, and without accumulating any more ‘badges’. The data is no longer helpful.

As an aside I’m left wondering, in a workplace environment where we’re encouraged to gather more and more data, rather than blindly following the herd, should we be asking more questions of each other? Questions like:

  • Why are we collecting this data?
  • What will we use this data for?
  • How long do we need to collect, use, and keep this data?

I used to think it was fine for employers to gather pretty much any data on their workforce. Now, I’m not so sure. Just because we can measure stuff, does it mean we should?

Footnote: I’ve now deleted the app from my phone and asked Fitbit to remove all my data from their systems. No going back. A friend wrote to me saying, ‘I applaud the abandonment of the prison bracelet. The Quantified Self is dead, long live the Qualified Self.’