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Diagramming for development 1 - Bounding realities

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Page 1
Peter Checkland introduced rich pictures for use in the early stages of his Soft Systems Methodology.
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They are possibly the most important, and probably the least popular, of the systems diagram types.
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They address the state of unknowing that a group or individual is in at the beginning of an exploration or inquiry.
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They’re a vehicle for moving from this state of messy confusion, where all you know is that you’re dealing with a problematic situation, to a state where you’ve identified one or more themes that – as a group or individual – you want to address.
In the Soft Systems Methodology, these themes are then refined and defined as systems of interest for further exploration in various ways.
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To work with rich pictures you need to have lots of big sheets of plain paper…
And lots of big coloured pens.
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Then you simply draw what you see happening in the situation.
You don’t have to be good at drawing – ‘pin’ men will do.
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But you do need to show all that you perceive as problematic or significant – emotions and relationships as well as groupings and connections of various sorts.
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A rich picture can cope with any sort of chaos. It happily receives whatever chaotic mess of thoughts and perceptions pours down your arm from your brain, out of the pen in your hand and onto the page.
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For many students, the value of rich pictures is only revealed once they start using them in a group.
One of the difficulties of thinking and learning about a messy situation is that different people in the situation have different perceptions of and assumptions about what is going on.
Looking at each other’s pictures is an effective way of revealing these differences because they express things you wouldn’t think of saying.
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And sometimes they allow you to say in a simple and unthreatening way things it might have seemed rude or frivolous to articulate.
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Standing back to look at your own rich picture – and perhaps discussing it with others - can help you to see things you might otherwise have missed: connections, traps, possibilities, contradictions, and so on.
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It can be hard to face other people’s often surprisingly different assumptions, because this makes us question our own assumptions, which can be demanding and unsettling. It can mean throwing away the solutions we thought we had, going back to the beginning and starting afresh.
But that’s often exactly what is needed at the start of a systemic inquiry…
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One of the reasons people find rich pictures difficult is that they try to convert ideas they’ve already verbalised into visual symbols.
But the benefit of rich pictures is in revealing thoughts you haven’t already had, and in saying things you haven’t already said.
Jake Chapman, who uses rich pictures with groups of highly articulate public policy makers, suggests the following trick to get around this problem:
Before asking the group to start drawing, he gets them to write down – in words – everything they already think about the situation. The things they always say about it. The things they’ve already articulated. These thoughts are valuable, but the desire to express them can get in the way of doing the simpler thing: just drawing what you ‘see’ happening in the situation.
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In order to learn something new, you have to go through a state of unknowing. You have to accept that there are things you don’t already know.
So you might say that there’s something brave and heroic about using rich pictures. Going into unknown territory – into the dark.
End transcript: Animation 1
Animation 1

 2.1 When to use each diagram

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