Anthropology and Visual Thinking

Some time ago, I was giving a lecture for my fellow anthropologist colleagues (Erhvervsantropologerne) about how I am using anthropology in my work as a graphic facilitator in Draw2think.

At first I was concerned about holding this lecture! Do I use anthropology in my job at all??? Then I did some thinking about how I deal with my clients and how I approach the content that I am going to visualize, and I realized that my education as anthropologist is very fundamental for my way of working.

How does Anthropology match with graphic facilitation?

Being a graphic facilitator is of course about drawing. However, graphic facilitation is also about observation, listening and synthesizing. Participant observation, active listening, and analysing cultural and social knowledge are profound elements of anthropological methodology. So in a way graphic facilitation and anthropology go together very well.

I find it crucial to do some kind of research about the “local knowledge” of my clients. I always meet my clients face to face in their own environment if possible. The questions that come to my mind when I meet a new organisation go like this: How do they work? What kind of language do they use? What is important in their world? What do they think about each other? What is going on right now? What is actually going on? I find it crucial to investigate their purpose with the assignment, and I ask tons of questions about the target group of our communication. This is the reason why I usually hit the nail on the head. I often hear the words: You nailed it! It was just the way we want it! For me it means that I have reached the goal, and this is the thrill of my job.

I use my anthropological curiosity and wonder …

My clients in the medical industry have very complex knowledge that sometimes needs to be translated into more understandable information. In order to communicate correctly to the target group, I like to meet the patients and doctors involved. As an example, I stayed at Glostrup Hospital for a day where I followed a doctor seeing patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Before my assignment to produce speed-drawing movies for the Prison Probation Service I did a quick research about how the employees in prisons work and what it looks like in prison. So I went inside the prison, Vestre Fængsel, for a day. I think that the movies would have lacked their sense of authenticity and lost their authority, had the uniforms, keys, doors etc. looked wrong.

Bridging communication

Many of my assignments are about communication – for instance how to bridge the communication between the top management and the rest of the organisation. The highly educated leaders are often challenged when they want to communicate new directions and changes to the entire organisation. I research the information, and in a way I translate this content into visual language that is easier to understand. I think what anthropologists often do when they work with Human resource or whatever field they work in, the often have the role as one that turns things around and have the ability to look at things from another perspective. This ability is one particular strength of our education, and it enables us to put ourselves in place of the Others.

A search for Truth

Being a graphic recorder in meetings (making big drawings at the wall in real time), it is crucial to find out what the participants find most important and to have a sense of what type of drawings they like and dislike. As a graphic recorder you have the power to choose some pictures and make them more important than others. I never use a certain metaphor if it doesn’t come up in the dialogue. Listening for certain words, and thinking about their origin may give me a hint of the way we are going in this meeting. I always practice before a gig but I never know how it will turn out in the end because I go with the flow of the meeting. For me, it is more important that the drawings reflect the dialogue rather than a drawing of something nice that I practiced the day before – only if it comes up in the dialogue will I draw it. Working this way doesn’t make it easy, but I prefer to show the real process of the day. Of course it is really just an illusion that I can find “The Truth” and draw it out, but I have this urge to come as close as possible to a true picture of the group that I am working with. I think that this faithfulness to the subjects (the informers) originates from the school of anthropology, and this is one more reason that anthropology works so well together with my visual practice.

Workshop på Bella Sky om Den Motiverende Samtale

Workshop på Bella Sky om Den Motiverende Samtale

Irene Mynthe