I love scribing. That’s another term for graphic facilitation. Other terms include “graphic recorder” and “whiteboard artist”, but whatever you call it, it’s essentially the same thing.

Scribing is such a unique and wonderful way to communicate and to capture the essence of a discussion or presentation. It can provide a picture to sum up words, a model to illustrate a concept. The possibilities seem endless, and therein lies the danger! I have been asked many times over the years to “scribe” things that just don’t make sense. It’s always been hard to articulate why they don’t make sense, it’s often just a gut feeling I have. After spending many years scribing in so many situations, I just know.

I’d like to share three elements that will allow for great scribing; these are important criteria that will help ensure the opportunity is right to include a scribe.

1.        The Discussion

Not all discussions lend themselves well to scribing. The best discussions to scribe are on topics that are somewhat accessible. Discussions that are extremely technical in nature may not translate so well on to a scribed board. Effective capture may be possible, and themes may be identified, but if the topic is fraught with very technical terms and the discussion is quite tactical, the end product may have limits- think lists of acronyms or straightforward mind-maps without much eye candy. The richer the dialogue, the richer the imagery. Similarly, a scribed presentation can really have an impact, but the same principles mentioned above apply.

2.        A Framework

It’s important to have a good idea about what should be covered during the discussion. Having a list of topics that are to be included helps, having a set of specific objectives is even better. The scribing will reflect that framework back, which will make for a nice visual artifact. The organization of the discussion will make it easier for the scribe to build a visual framework on the board, and will also allow for more opportunity to enhance with additional imagery, since a logical structure will more easily emerge.

3.        A Facilitator

Sometimes group discussions have a tendency to roll off the track. It’s human nature to go off on tangents! Additionally, sometimes it can be difficult for a group to overcome disagreement and move on. These risks are mitigated when a facilitator is present. It’s great to have a trained, professional facilitator, but what’s most important is that someone in the room is at least playing that role. What does that mean, exactly?

  • The facilitator should be neutral, that is, they don’t have their own agenda. They can recognize when a discussion is off topic and gently move the group back on to their intended topic.
  • Recognize when the group has gotten to a “good enough” place on a particular area, and urge them along to the next. 
  • Confirm what they’re hearing. They may repeat back, in summary, what they have heard from the group. When the facilitator is able to summarize and validate what they’ve heard, it can serve as a quick audit point between the scribe’s ears and the board. It’s not necessary, but it can be helpful when there’s a lot of information coming at once. A great facilitator can be a great partner to the scribe.

Keeping the above in mind will make the scribing experience a better one for all concerned. There are exceptions to that rule, and sometimes great scribing will emerge from less than ideal situations. In the end, though, a strong discussion will yield a visual representation that is useful for the participants both in the moment and as an artifact for reference later.