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Martha C. Bean

Complexities Visualized & Resolved

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Illustrating Issues

It can take hard work to solve a problem collaboratively, to make a decision collectively, or to negotiate with resolve and integrity. This is especially true when members of a group hold different perspectives on the issues. Illustrating  issues -- using the imagery supplied by those involved -- ignites interest in moving forward and invites creativity in seeking solutions. Pictures enable people to realize their own perspective, while recognizing the views of others. Pictures allow people to literally see a situation holistically.

Drawing of may stakeholders in a strategic process

When success is evident - name and celebrate it! 

Providing healthy snacks for in schools -- and making them delectable for kids to eat  -- is a mighty challenge. The Pew Memorial Trusts is at the forefront of this effort. Pew convened school chefs, students, administrators, food security advocates, researchers, teachers, parent activists, food suppliers, non-profit organizations, agency leads and food service managers -- all leaders in the healthy foods movement. Together, they articulated the success they've seen when schools make healthy snacks the norm. The illustration shows obstacles and opportunities to enabling people to see the light at the end of the tunnel, ultimately arriving at the goal of healthy for and healthy kids. 

drawing of illustrating issues for Sammamish Basin

When problems are earth-bound - map them!

Urbanization and change was rapidly occurring in what had been a rural watershed. Natural, agricultural and human resources shaped the culture of the watershed -- but now they seemed to be in conflict. This sketch map was produced in concert with a large collaborative group. After the base was drawn, people used the map to locate and illustrate their own 'special' spots, unique attributes of the area, sites with potential and problem areas. This illustration of issues -- literally drawn on the watershed map -- launched a productive discussion about a plan for the future.

Addressing Impasse through

Issue Illustrations

And then there is the reality of impasse. It is normal for groups wrestling with tough issues to hit a deadlock now and then. Even so, an impasse can be daunting, and can sap energy from productive work.  Issue illustrations are uniquely effective in getting groups to overcome impasse and stagnation. Issue illustrations provide proof that concerns have been heard genuinely and registered faithfully. This, in turn, generates excitement among participants about getting back on board with the work at hand.

Drawing showing people in silos to illustrate isolated interests

When stuck in silos.... Open them up!

Click on the slide show to see an issue illustration, and the vision participants articulated for resolution. The issue is a familiar one: groups that should be working together seamlessly were stuck in their silos. And citizens felt completely outside, relegated to banging on the structures. Rather than talking and collaborating, reports were being tossed about and technical studies done in a fashion that seemed isolated. The solution? Click and see! 

drawing of many underwater factors impacting stability

When issues create a perfect storm, change the forecast!

Everyone on this journey wanted the same thing: safe, bountiful, and affordable food. Their aspirations are illustrated by the figurehead of the ship. However, three organizations effectively held the tiller for the ship. All seemed to be steering in different directions. Changing politics seemed to blow the ship in all directions, and the roiling sea brought new challenges to the surface constantly. The sponsors of the journey were watching closely, each with a different idea of what the ultimate solution would be. The group provided every part of the imagery for this issue illustration. The individual pictures in the sea were their personal touchstones, helping all know their issue was understood and important. When one problem was addressed, the corresponding picture was covered and annotated right on the issue illustration. So the illustration belonged to the group and it's progress; the imagery helped catalyze discussion and kept it open and focused.

drawing of people sittng at a meeting thinking about the big pcture

When things get boggy, refocus and get a grip!

Discussions were slogging along - stuck in the muck and the mud. Each participant had a similar view of the future, but did not know it. Using images from participants' animated discussions, this issue illustration exactly identifies concerns held by individuals. And it shows how even with significant differences, individuals collectively framed success in a surprisingly congruent way. This allowed the group to "see" their way out of the muck and the mud, and move ahead. 


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