Data is all around us more and more, and sometimes its hard to actually visualize what you are really need to do with it.  As facilitators, we need to help participants with data visualization to see the information they are wrestling with more clearly.

To show you this, I really must start with a story.

Recently, my dear parents were moving to an independent living retirement community. Because they had already sold their home of 60 years, downsizing was imminent. My Dad was hesitant. My Mom was flustered. Too many decisions about what pieces of furniture to take and how they would all fit. Every discussion of the topic sort of ended with just more confusion.

So, I put on my facilitator hat.

I copied an overview plan of the apartment, that showed how a few pieces would fit. This was good, but not great. I grabbed my office whiteboard, drew a big version of their apartment and then beside it listed every piece of furniture.

There, in one eye span, was everything we needed to decide on… a list of furniture and available locations, with the all-important checkmarks. It was amazing to see what a difference that visualization made.  My parents were much more at ease with deciding furniture and placement.

Sound like your team?

Too often I am in rooms of smart, technical people who try to fit all the concepts in their head, without using whiteboards or flip charts.  I believe many of us still have classroom blackboard phobia – fear of putting the wrong stuff up for all to see.

In all these experiences, I’ve affirmed what folks like W. Edward Tufte keep preaching – the eye-brain connection is like high speed internet compared to the ear-brain, which is barely dial-up speed.   Data Visualization frees our brain up to think about moving forward, rather than keeping track of all the things in our head.

How to visualize your data as a team:

  • Simple Supplies…Use what you have.  You don’t have to have fancy equipment.  The more rudimentary the better.  You just need a way for the team to work with the things you are discussing.  We are making a common space to explore and discuss.  You will need something from each of these 4 categories:
    • Common Space: A table or wall.  Something everyone can gather around.  (Large group?  Break them up and set up multiple stations that the team can alternate through or come up with multiple ideas to the same challenge.)
    • Workspace: Marker boards, flip chart paper, printer paper, butcher paper, or construction paper.
    • Sorting Items: Some sticky notes in fancy colors, scraps of paper, or napkins.  I sometimes bring in game elements like blocks, dice, or little figurines depending on what we are doing.  The lighthearted nature will help people relax.
    • Markers, pens, and tape.
  • Get it up there.  Are you sorting comments, ideas, problems, facts?  Get as much up into the common space as possible.  If you will be rearranging things a lot, sticky notes or notecards and tape are recommended!  If some of your data is a ginormous spreadsheet with thousands of records, just reference the source and what data you need from it.
  • Use computers sparingly!  We all think that using a computer will make things faster and easier to see.  It can make things easier to see, but I guarantee it will slow your progress to a grinding halt!!  The formality of the typed word will lead the team to word smithing and critique.  I’ve had many a scribble and misspelled words help a team toward success.  Formalize it later, keep moving on the task.
  • Tactile interaction gets the brain going.  Ask people to get out of their seats (and out of movie watching mode!) and participate.  Break a problem or process into pieces and have small groups work with each part and then merge with others.  Groups of 4 work best, more will lead to floaters and vacationers in the groups.
  • Get a big picture view. Show off their work!  Go through the whole thing to summarize for the team, which will help spur thoughts and clarification.  This will lead to better collective understanding and problem solving.

When you get the information out into common space, everyone can reference the same information. This lead to faster and clearer communication.  For most of you, that speed will translate into better decisions.  For my parents, it translated into peace of mind.


Are you interested in learning more about facilitating? Check this out!

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