The falseness of flipcharts

Have just endured another horrific meeting. Two hours was the total time, and the first person to speak who wasn’t the chair or the guest speaker (managed to spend 35 minutes on a 20 minute presentation) opened their mouth fifty minutes in. And this Authentic Voice from the Floor was no improvement (the kind of guy that inspired other participants to forge different badges to avoid being in the same group in the second part of the evening.).

And what was the second part of the evening? In small groups answering questions (imposed from on high and of no direct relevance to the problems the participants were facing), and writing answers on … flipcharts.

Bloody bloody flipcharts. The cheap and easy “fix” for making meetings “participatory.” Except it isn’t.

The analogy is this- we constantly deride technological fixes for climate change (nuclear power, geoengineering, carbon capture and storage) and call for ‘social change’ instead. But with our boring and hierarchical meetings, we throw in a technofix (flipcharts) and pretend that the meeting is now democratic, dynamic and useful. Tosh.

A couple of photos may get taken, for the annual report or the website, to prove to funders that the organisation is gettin’ down wi’ da yoof. It’s like watching your uncle dance.

You can gild a turd, but it is still a turd. Real democracy and dynamism comes from finding out who is in the room, what they know, what they want to discuss/learn and then helping them create the conditions to get on with it.
Open. Space. Technology. Law of Two Feet.

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9 Responses to The falseness of flipcharts

  1. marc says:

    Flippin’ fuck-charts

  2. leavergirl says:

    I feel yer pain. The only solution to boring meetings is… don’t go. Or sabotage them. Strike, mon! The purveyors of boring meetings will keep cranking them out as long as warm bodies show up and put up.

    Change follows consequences.

  3. dwighttowers says:

    Hi Leavergirl,

    trouble was, I had put hours and hours (literally. In total somewhere between 8 and 15) liaising with the organisers, who had approached me. We agreed it wouldn’t be top down talk and chalk, that people would get to network instead of being lectured or diverted into pointless exercises. Yes, very important we do it differently they said. And then…. so. What to do? When you want to get active people together, and someone approaches you to do it differently. Sigh. But I do go to too many shite meetings. And most of the ones that aren’t shite, in my experience, are the properly open space ones. Which are very very few. Organisers being small c conservative and control freaks and scared and inexperienced in how it could be done differently.
    You’re right about change following consequences. And for the organisers of that meeting, no consequences. So no change….

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  5. You’re going to love me for this, but this response is in defence of flipcharts! How so, I hear you say (or more likely scream given the obvious level of frustration)….

    Well it’s about attitude, isn’t it – how you use the tool. I hope that competent facilitators who are genuinely trying to elicit thoughts ideas and action from a group can use flipchart to good effect. So in praise of flipchart….

    First, it’s not powerpoint. Even a pre-written flipchart can be changed. It’s easy to amend a flipchart in order to add thoughts and new perspectives that emerge from the group. Not so easy to do that with powerpoint.

    Second it makes a conversation visible which has 3 benefits – (1) those folk who are visually inclined get to access the discussion through another sense (2) it allows the group to hold the person running the discussion to account in a “no that’s not what I meant” kind of way, when they summarise a point incorrectly (3) it brings to light the bias of the person running the discussion when they fail to write down certain points but write down others.

    Third, you can take it anywhere. It travels well. It can be used in squats with no power, marquees in muddy fields, as well as posh training rooms with all mod cons (and con is usually the right word!). It’s pretty luddite really (and that’s a good thing in my book).

    But obviously if the presenter/facilitator hasn’t got the right attitude and the group doesn’t feel empowered enough to challenge them, we have a problem.

    • dwighttowers says:

      Nope, thank you for what you’ve written. You’ve made a spot-on defence of how flipcharts CAN be used (and I am sure they are in your hands, because you use them in the ways you’ve listed above. You don’t use them to guide/channel/coerce/impose, which is what happened in the truly dreadful meeting that inspired the post above). I know it makes me a bad person, but when I got an email from the organisation in question about how it was probably not going to survive because of the Tory cuts, I kinda shrugged and said to myself “so fucking what, you ain’t gonna be missed.” Now, these were well-meaning people, and it’s bad they’re losing they’re jobs and all, but there were such excruciating levels of incompetence and lack of awareness and some straight out manipulation… deep breaths, deep breaths. Even 8 months later the red mist seems to be descending… Thanks as ever for your astute corrections and nuance in response to my sweeping generalisations and broadsword…

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