Real Life Learning

Steps in Facilitation 2 – Images and Metaphors

Preeti distributing image cardsFor the second of my mentoring sessions with Preeti I decided to keep with the subject of data collection and explore a more sophisticated technique to the standard Post It sort we had used in the previous session.

The brain dump onto Post It notes works really well when everyone can easily articulate their thoughts but sometimes you want something deeper to be explored and the conventional brain dump can end up being a mass of slightly meaningless unconnected words.

We explored using visual imagery as a trigger to an initial dialogue and looked at how you might use this in different settings. I used a set of visual cards from St Lukes Resources.

Image Cards from St Lukes Innovative ResourcesWe laid the cards out on the floor and discussed how and when a facilitator might display the cards and the impact it might have on a group when they came into the room and saw a range of image cards around the room. We discussed how sometimes just laying the cards out can create a buzz and indicates a move into a different exploration than the standard brain thought.

The topic we choose to use the cards for was how we saw our respective careers at the present. We both selected one card that had a resonance with us about our career. We then explained it to each other. We then each wrote a phrase on a Post It note that summarised what the other person had said, this helped to clarify and capture our thoughts. With a group of people this can be very helpful if you want the group to find common themes that have emerged from the images, I often find that unless we capture the individual thoughts the group can be too literal and focus on the pictures instead of what they represented to the other people in the group.

We then reviewed the cards and selected a picture that represented where we want our careers to be in the future, what would a successful career look like for us. Once again we shared our thoughts and then gave each other a summarised statement on a Post It note.

Where our careers are and where we want them to be...

We then discussed different questions you could use for the images including:

What image represents your team when it is at its best?

  • What image represents your approach to leadership?
  • Which of the images represents how you want to influence others in the future?
  • Which of the images describe how your organisation is seen by employees?

We also discussed the situation where the cards might help encourage sharing and participation:

  • Creative people would like using metaphors
  • People who are less comfortable with writing information onto Post It notes will often use richer language when verbally describing an image (I found this in my work with various international groups)
  • More introverted individuals will appreciate being able to take their time to describe an image instead of the more frantic approach of a typical brain dump type activity. (this was certainly the case when I worked with a group in Ukraine recently, this activity was the only time that one of the group shared their thoughts in front of others in a larger group setting)

Preeti asked what the next step would be and we discussed the way you might use our previous session on braindumping, clustering and voting to pull out the key themes and generate some action points. We also identified that in our career discussion we had both identified a gap between our career now and where we want to get to so the next step might be to do an individual or a group gap analysis.

One of the theoretical models we looked at was Appreciative Inquiry which helps us as facilitators to make a question to explore that will energise people and focus on positive attributes. We also discussed the use of SPO and the Feedback Loop, two techniques that Tony Mann discusses in his book that I have raved about before:

Facilitation Book

Facilitation Book

A gap analysis is simply looking at the two questions below and identifying what the difference is between now and the future.

Question One

Where are we now? What are the indicators of this state? What is the evidence for this? What are the characteristics?

Question Two

Where do we want to be? What does it look like? What will be the characteristics of this desired state? How will we know we have reached this state

It is about a plan that identifies what needs to change for the future state to be achieved? You can ask simple questions about what the individual or group need to stop or start doing? The answers that emerge from this can be used to create an action plan

Categories: Communication Skills, Consultancy Skills, facilitation

Customer Journey Mapping: a large group intervention » « Steps in Facilitation – Collecting Data


  1. Lovely exercise and the idea of simply leaving the cards lying around at the start is brilliant. I’ve used signs on the walls, without explanation, to trigger thoughts and discussions before.

    Also when working with children I have had them draw their thoughts and feelings rather than having to describe them verbally.

    I’d be tempted to have some blank cards so that if people couldn’t find the image they really wanted they could draw something more apt.

    Clever stuff.



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