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

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):

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

Learning, Sharing, Celebrating 

I’m at the 2016 PPMA seminar with Meg Peppin. We’re here as guests of Sue Evans, the new PPMA President who has kindly asked us to facilitate some Reflect and Connect open space conversations on the fringe of this year’s seminar. I’ll come back to that later, for now though here are a few snippets, things I’m hearing and spotting which are making me think. (I’m writing this post on my iPhone, apologies for any typos).

Sue welcomed everyone to the seminar and encouraged us to Learn, Share, and Celebrate, really encouraging themes. Sue talked briefly of her experiences using Appreciative Inquiry to help bring these themes to life in her work, before introducing Neil Carberry, CBI Director of Employment Skills and Public Services, to talk about productivity.

Neil’s session was conversational – Nick Heckscher from Manpower posed a few questions to Neil before opening the exchange up to the floor. Here’s some of what I heard:

Central government productivity initiatives have one thing in common, consistent failure. If we are to improve productivity, raise output, pay more, and create a better working environment, it will succeed locally. Technology is not a productivity enhancement in itself.

If all you look for from your training efforts is a return on investment, you may improve what people do now, but you’re not preparing for the future.

We need to get better at sharing, data, resources, and power. How do we overcome our fears, our vulnerability? Be open, honest, get to clarity. Focus on how people are treated.

I found Neil’s session quite grounded. He focused much more in real work, and was reassuringly light on the usual management speak and lofty, disconnected ideals you frequently hear in an opening keynote.

Later we heard from John Henderson, Chief Executive of Staffordshire County Council. John took up his post in 2015, following a career in the army, and he spoke about confidence, organisational agility, and leadership. Leadership is largely the same, behaviourally at least, in the army and the county council. It gets talked about a lot more in John’s current role, ‘I’ve heard more about leadership in the past year, than in all the previous ten’.

Recently I’ve observed a tendency for people to lump HR and OD together. John highlighted organisational development as an important, distinct function, with a focus on thinking, and capability development.

John also spoke about visible leadership, using it to subvert hierarchy at times, and to see and feel experiences first hand.

And what of our Reflect and Connect conversations? So far, these have focused on big data. What is it, how do we gather, store, and use it? How can we make access to data open by default? How can we lower some of the bureaucratic barriers in organisations in order to pilot more new ideas?

Day one finished with a black tie drinks reception in a courtyard followed by celebrating the PPMA Rising Star and Apprentice of the year. This was followed by dinner, and the PPMA Excellence in People Management Awards.

A lovely day of learning, sharing, and celebrating.