[Ethics and Expectations] How much work can/should a Graphic Facilitator/ Graphic Recorder be reasonably expected to deliver in a day?

All work all day makes the Graphic Facilitator/Graphic Recorder worth his/her pay? Let’s get real – there’s a real price to pay for both the Visual Practitioner and the Client when there are great expectations for Volume of output. Recently a Graphic Recorder collapsed in Russia after an intense day of work, and I am not sure if the collapse was meant to be taken literally, figuratively, or both. (Okay, I said this in jest, but you get the point.)

Truth be told, we don’t draw at the speed of light

Thanks to the highly popularised “whiteboard animation video” made famous some years back by RSA Animates, Graphic Facilitation (GF) and Graphic Recording (GR) have begun to make their way into meetings, ranging from intimate boardroom sessions to large scale multi-stakeholder conferences.

More than ever, there is recognition of the benefits of quickly drawing out ideas (Graphic Recording) and drawing together people and plans (Graphic Facilitation). GR and GF have become tried-and-tested methods to get audiences to buy and share ideas, and get clarity on teams’ plans.

However, it’s also no thanks to whiteboard animation videos that Client expectations have veered into extremes. Some Clients expect similar volume of output for GF/GR in similar time, imagining that Graphic Facilitators and Graphic Recorders can turn their time lapse button on to work at animated light-speed.

The reality? Ask Cognitive Media, the studio that produced the RSA Animates, who have described their work process in detail here. TL;DR: A polished whiteboard animation video, like any other video production, will take weeks and even months to perfect.

So, what’s our real draw?

No doubt, the speed of the draw is part of the draw of GR and GF work. But we’re human too.

And our real value goes beyond the fast drawing too. As much as “someone who draws quickly” is an attraction, any Client, asked point blank, would probably have justified their decision in hiring a GR or GF differently. I’m guessing, along the line of getting their big picture, people, and plans on board.

Here at Picture People Plan, there are three (3) reasons why we get hired:

Clarity: “Was that what you meant?” We clear the air and bring clarity to your meetings and plans with Pictures that speak a thousand words. (Aha!)

Concise: We cut through hours of talking and hundreds of slides with One Big Picture concise enough to takeaway, yet detailed enough to facilitate understanding.

Connected: “Where is this going and what’s the point?” We help you connect the dots and pieces by facilitating and visualising your plans and perspectives.

What does this mean? If we’re processing what’s happening at a higher order of thinking (evaluating, analysing, synthesising) then visualising the content for meaningful use, we’d be filtering information a lot more, and going for the Bigger Picture more than anything else. As an analogy, it’s sort of like the difference between taking notes verbatim, versus taking a good set of minutes where we paraphrase only what matters, and the next action steps.

When content gets captured in a high-volume but piecemeal manner, the Big Picture hardly emerges – that’s not usually the best outcome nor output for the Client.

Workplace Safety and Health Risks are real, but not many realise

Nearly every Graphic Facilitator/Graphic Recorder (me included) would be happy to work with the Client to make the engagement a success. We’re usually flexible, but work risks are real and need to be addressed for our personal and professional sustainability.

Some of the work risks Graphic Facilitators/ Graphic Recorders encounter include:

  • Physical work environment:
    • Is there sufficient space for movement without getting into the way of the event setup and the audience?
    • Are supports (e.g. easels) and surfaces (e.g. boards) safely setup and secured? I’ve once had a participant trying to take a shortcut through the event space very nearly push a 2m wall system on me.
    • Are we required to work on/from heights? e.g. on step stools to reach the top of a large board.
    • Are the drawing tools and pigments safe and non-toxic? Are the inks combustible?
  • Repetitive stress injury to hands/wrists/arm/shoulder in particular, for live assignments where there is high output volume where there is little “downtime” while in session, and/or insufficient breaks scheduled.
  • Noise levels at meetings or events. For example, when there is loud music in the background, or where multiple conversations are going on at the same time in a confined space, or where there’s interpretation via headset while the main conversation is going on.
  • Prolonged working hours – the Graphic Facilitator or Graphic Recorder’s day starts before the main event itself with preparation and setup; and ends with chart clear-up and handover.
    • How long are the shifts? There was an event I worked at where I had to stay overnight at the venue because the setup took too long, too late. And just before I could sleep for the night, more work came and kept me up till the next morning, the actual event day where I was due too.
    • Are there sufficient breaks worked in, in terms of frequency and duration?
  • Are meals and hydration provided for events that stretch over a number of hours?
  • How are the heavy lifting and moving of furniture, charts etc. taken care of? If I’m preparing enough logistics for a full workshop, just my suitcase of equipment alone (not counting boards and paper and participants’ material packs) can easily top 30kg.

As a reference, Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council advises that, as part of work risk assessment, to look into:

  1. Physical work environment: For example, exposure to work at heights, slippery surfaces, excessive noise levels, exposure to toxic substances, forceful exertions during manual handling, repetitive work.
  2. Work organisation: For example, work overload, prolonged working hours, shift work, returning to work upon recovery from injury or illness, inadequate training, poor communication, remuneration system.
  3. Personal health: For example, smoking, age, obesity, pregnancy, pre-existing health conditions (e.g., diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, asthma, colour blindness, allergies).

How much work can/should a Graphic Facilitator/ Graphic Recorder be reasonably expected to deliver in a day?

On the topic of setting reasonable work limits for Graphic Facilitators and Graphic Recorders, a comment on Facebook’s Graphic Facilitation group says, “Interpreters figured this out a long time ago, 2 or 3 interpreters in a booth, switch off every 20-30 min… What we do is even harder. Interpreters just sit there…!”

Our work as GR and GF share some similarities with interpreters, in that we are making sense of the discussion and translating that into a visual of words and pictures.

However, we don’t always work in tandem, nor work best in tandem. Often, it does take one frame of mind to meaningfully process the conversation coherently (both in terms of content and the visual output) for the Client.

What are some personal and professional boundaries you’d set for Graphic Facilitation and Graphic Recording work? Chat in the comments below!