Graphic Facilitation and my research

From the beginning of time, people have longed to leave a mark to make their presence known. It is a well-known fact that humanity has scribbled for centuries. Researchers of cave paintings point out that these drawings shared very important information — warned of the dangers, showed where the food is located, and so on.

Drawing is part of being human.

Before the child starts talking, not to mention the reading, he starts drawing. Every child has drawn lines and often in places that parents do not like very much (yes, even without paper and pencil). And if children’s drawing is initially discoverable in terms of tools and surface — the mother’s lipstick makes a beautiful mark on the wall or a sharp object draws a line on the floor, pencils are colored, etc., the more aware they become of being able to create meaning in circles and lines.

Scientists who have studied drawing agree that drawing comes from within us. It is a tool for expressing our feelings, for understanding the world around us.

My sons Samuel and Ruben Orav
My sons Samuel and Ruben Orav
Samuel and Ruben Orav

But surprisingly, graphic facilitation as a technique has not come from the educational sciences, but from the business world. I will not write here about graphic facilitation and its history because one of the field pioneers, David Sibbet has already made this great overview. If you are interested, please click here.

What I will write here more closely is about my interest in this field. I have taken it as my mission to promote graphic facilitation and teach conscious scribbling and thinking with a pen as much as I can. Most of all, I have focused on the study of graphic facilitation in the context of education. Because at one point, after I had trained it for some years, I got some very deep questions:

  • Why do we need to teach drawing as a thinking tool to grown-ups? Why and when we lose this ability if it is said that we are natural born sketchers?
  • Is it so that teaching and learning consciously visually is missing link in our education? Or we simply just do not notice it?
  • What are the different researches about graphic facilitation, visual thinking, sketchnotes, and creating mind maps especially in the context of learning and teaching?

There is a confusing fact. This is a confusion of concepts. Graphic facilitation is also called visual facilitation, graphic recording, visual recording etc. In addition, this area is also called by various names — sketching notes, sketchnoting, scribbling, drawing, mind maps, creating symbols, etc., all of which are in fact components or if you prefer- methods of graphic facilitation. They form this technique as a whole.
All these separate components are important for learning and teaching and have also been studied quite thoroughly. It could be logically concluded that graphic facilitation as a whole, as one method, would help to solve several educational bottlenecks.

EVP Meetup in Stockholm 2019

However, graphic facilitation has not been consciously addressed in the context of education in Estonia (and probably all over the world), although teachers, school leaders, and students want this training, talk about its importance, and so on.

Don't get me wrong in this “world context”. Quite a number of international books and descriptive documents have been published, but most of them are practice-based and there is little scientific research.

Here I have found a place to step in to contribute to the development of the field. Fortunately, others like me have begun to emerge who want to explore and promote the field of graphic facilitation. In my research, I found an article published in 2018 where Danish researchers provide an overview of graphic facilitation studies. They point out the same, my biggest initial problem, that this method is raising its head in an organizational and educational context, and there are a good many practice-based books and articles, but very little evidence-based. They decided to conduct a systematic literature search to gain a broader view of the field of graphic facilitation. To do this, researchers used Harzing’s Publish and Perish software (Harzing, 2010: 135–146) and queries: “graphic facilitation” or “graphic facilitator” between 1988 and 2018.

682 results were obtained, of which only 12 studies were eligible.

I will not delve into this study here for very long, because what is more important to me in this article is that someone has done a great job and shows that the studies are incomplete and need to be developed. But it also takes me back to one of my big questions — if you start researching something new, designing research, you should also map the field first. In other words, if we start to study graphic facilitation in the context of education, we should first map the current situation in our schools.

Is it so that teaching and learning consciously visually is missing link in our education?

And it is definitely necessary to find out the factors that hinder and encourage visual work and whether there is a greater need for this skill.

In other words, there is currently no basic document that would summarize the importance and at the same time clarity of the method, map the current situation and provide proposals for further research. From there comes the design and conduct of research, and so on.

And as a master’s student of educational innovation at the University of Tartu, I intend to create this document, map the current situation and defend it as a master’s thesis. Whether and how it all works out, I can share as early as summer.

Hautopp, H., & Ørngreen, R. (2018). A Review of Graphic Facilitation in Organizational and Educational Contexts. Designs for Learning, 10(1), 53–62.

I help people to be masters in thinking and cooperation with a mission to help people rediscover two innate abilities — scribbling and imagination.

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