Visual Facilitation Gallery Walk: Co-Learning Gathering at the University of Minnesota

Cristina Lopez

Forevermore, we acknowledge the Doodle as a tool for whole-mind learning, and we wield its power deliberately and without restriction, in any learning environment we see fit. Doodler’s Manifesto

Part of The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter (hereafter referred to as “Art of Hosting”) practice is to co-learn with others in community [link to introduction section on four-fold practice]. In 2012–13, the Art of Hosting community at the University of Minnesota hosted a visual facilitation workshop to support our co-learning around visual facilitation. Combining the facilitation of an exploratory or deliberative process with graphic recording, visual facilitation creates much more than pretty pictures. The process requires the ability to listen carefully, present the abstract, and diffuse in more concrete and connected ways. The visual images produced render “group think” processes visible, and represent both the bigger picture and its constituent parts. Professional visual or graphic facilitators are highly skilled at drawing, listening, and thinking on their feet. While the rest of us might not achieve that level of skill, anyone can learn basics in visual facilitation, and both benefit and contribute.

While there is much that distinguishes Art of Hosting from other approaches, there are many powerful examples within the community of visual facilitation expertise. When we convened the workshop, we worked with Katie Boone, Jen Mein, Marcela Sotela Odor, Virajita Singh, Sandra Wolfe Wood, and all members of the regional Art of Hosting community in Minnesota.

The session goals were to:

  • Explain visual facilitation, and what forms it might take
  • Explain how visual facilitation can enrich participative change processes and decision-making
  • Create opportunities for pursuing further development in skills and knowledge, either individually or with others in the Art of Hosting Community of Practitioners
  • Identify opportunities for integrating visual facilitation in their Art of Hosting practice

Planning the Session

Busy team members were not able to congregate in one place, so we met via Google Hangout and coordinated our work through Google Docs. Meeting in a visual medium, combined with our collective enthusiasm for the topic, created a sense of presence as we worked at a distance. Together we developed an event flow and activities, and planned logistics.

Finding space for events on a large campus can be a challenge, and the room we found was functional with white boards, tables, a projector, and space to move around. Making the space more visually inviting was a priority for our group. When our guests arrived on the day of the event, they saw colorful cloths on the tables, pretty glass jars with rainbows of markers standing up inside, and origami cranes lining the shelves and tables.

The format we selected for this session was a Gallery Walk, designed to be fast-paced and connect participants with a variety of topics and people. Our facilitators were stationed around the room. Whiteboards, paper, and markers were available so that participants could engage actively and try out new skills in thinking, drawing, and mapping. Our guests formed small groups and moved from station to station, taking ten minutes for each activity. One of our greatest challenges was to keep people moving so they would have the opportunity to try out each activity, though we understood that it can be tempting to linger, to keep working and talking.

The activities at each station addressed a range of visual facilitation techniques that can be applied at different stages of an Art of Hosting event:

  • Jen shared her expertise on creating visual agendas, demonstrated how she creates drawings, and shared sample harvest documents. Participants then thought about an upcoming meeting and drew their own agendas.
  • Virajita taught us about mind mapping by walking us through an example and then providing a topic to mind map. Our participants shared their ideas by speaking them out loud, but also created visual mind maps as they were talking.
  • Marcela created activities to help those of us who (think we) can’t draw. Participants at her station learned how to draw faces and facial expressions.
  • Sandy asked us draw abstract concepts, challenging us to think and express ourselves more visually.
  • Katie showed an example of a video harvest and led discussions about the advantages and strategies for creating and making use of them

Participant Harvest

“I have done a little visual facilitation in my work with groups doing planning work, and am hungry to expand both my abilities as well as my mindset for using this approach.”

Through an intake form our participants explained their interest in the topic, and during harvest they expressed “what came alive for them” during the session. Their comments, analyzed here into major themes, demonstrate why it’s worth picking up a pen to doodle and diagram our ideas as we explore with others through conversation.

Better understanding

“I have witnessed how graphic depiction of a concept can really help form deeper understanding.

I’ve always been interested in communicating complex information via visual representations. I would like to see examples of how others are doing this.”

During harvest the group identified many ways in which visual representations and facilitation can help us gain understanding of topics and issues. Groups can use mind mapping to explore complex issues and problems, and show relationships between ideas. Both the process of drawing and the drawing itself can incorporate “multiple modes of reflective thinking.” While we draw, we process at many different levels, and “having something at your fingertips helps.” As one participant said: “Let people doodle and share their doodles with each other. Doodling encourages non-literal thinking and more creativity.”

Working together

“It sounds intriguing and I want to reconnect with the group! I look forward to sharing and being inspired by everyone who participates.”

Those who attended the event noted visual facilitation can be presented as an invitation to work together in different ways. In some instances, visual interpretation creates opportunities for more people to take on the role of teaching or informing: while one person speaks, others might draw on the board, thereby providing a supplemental mode of explanation. Others observed that capturing ideas through drawing presents opportunities to benefit from our collective—rather than individual—powers of observation. “You can relieve yourself of the interpretation, allow the group to see the pattern, and connect it with the experience and the conversation.” While a harvester might synthesize through their own perspective, a harvest team is key for identifying the patterns. And visual representations lend themselves to representing a synthesis rather than a collection of ideas.

Showing Care

“The Art of Hosting is about triggering emotion; the change happens not when people can recount the facts; it happens when people have an evocative experience over a shared experience.”

In recognition that drawing requires both skills and time, one participant observed, “Graphic harvesting is a way to tell a group, ‘I heard you and what you had to say was important enough that it is written down/drawn.’”

Anyone can do it!

“I hope to get fresh ideas for what might be done, how it can add to a conversation, and some simple tips for visualizing when you don’t think you can draw (a.k.a., you are last pick for Pictionary teams).”

And indeed, people commented that drawing is not as hard as it looks and, if children can do it, so can you.

Resource Harvest

We created the following list of resources for those who are interested in exploring visual facilitation further.


Experts and Organizations

Good Sources of Information and Inspiration

Visual Harvest Examples

  1. MN Community Education Association Annual Conference: ProAction Café
  2. Center for Earth Spirituality & Rural Ministry: Earth Conference
  3. Mankato Area Refugee Consortium Video Harvest
  4. Visual Notetaking 101,” slides and audio from a SXSW panel featuring Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, Mike Rohde, and Austin Kleon
  5. xkcd: A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math and Language


Animoto is a simple, online tool for creating and sharing videos that can be used to design and build a Harvest Video during a process or event. Like many online tools, the free version is limited in terms of features and access, and there are different levels of pricing.