Rich pictures – beyond the tipping point

Bell, Simon; Berg, Tessa and Morse, Stephen (2015). Rich pictures – beyond the tipping point. In: ISDR2015.



This paper concerns the interpretation of pictures which people draw in order to help them understand a situation – this includes critical and chronic situations such as those imagined in terms like: ‘the tipping point’.

The pictures in question are called Rich Pictures (RPs) and the matter at the heart of interpretation is insight drawn from eduction (drawing forth). Insights relate to the individual, the group, the context in which the individual and the group find themselves, and the (often obscure or even hidden) means whereby the context can be changed or improved.

In interpreting RPs groups and communities in difficult places we discover the history, variety and power of drawing. RP drawing, often as a collaborative exercise, is a powerful activity which has the capacity to break down barriers of language, education and culture. Drawing upon research with RPs from around the world and spanning over thirty years of our combined practice, this paper demonstrates RPs utility, universality and resilience. We argue that RP drawing enriches problem solving and, in the long term, saves time and resources from being expended on erroneous and/or superficial tasks. RPs embody the commonly expressed view that ‘pictures paint a thousand words’ but because of the collaborative nature of the style of drawing they actually go further than this by representing a thousand ideas. We argue that RPs are a powerful under-utilised tool which can be applied to make sense of a confusing world – they help us to explore complex and conflicted issues like the tipping point; one of the central themes of ISDRC 2015.

To-date little effort has been made with regard to the comparative analysis of RPs between individuals and groups where they have been asked to address a common issue. Key questions surround how issues that are common across RP representations can be identified and ‘ranked’.

This paper makes a case for RPs and sets out some thoughts and insights that we have had over the many years of working with them. To some extent the points we make are a ‘call’ to deeper and wider use; the setting of some frontiers that would warrant further research. For example we make the first case we are aware of for the application of techniques employed in ‘content analysis’ for assessing the meaning of multiple RPs. But we also want to talk about the relevance of RPs for a key theme of the ISDRC 2015 conference – the tipping point.

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