A picture says a thousand words

March 11, 2007 at 5:58 am Leave a comment

Ayutthaya Thailand

A few years ago, I studied Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology and became very interested in how messy, unstructured problems could be explored. Soft Systems are intangible, open systems and they tend to be social and human eg an organisation is a soft system. This led me to my long standing interest in Rich Pictures, which can visually depict and gather information about a complex problem. From prehistoric times when humans depicted hunting scenes on cave walls, we have used symbols and images to express what we cannot perhaps say in words.

Knowledge management practitioners often have to deal with messy, unstructured problem situations – so how can Rich Pictures help? needless to say, “stuff” happens in organisations – people don’t always communicate well, if at all; projects run over budget; interactions between people have become increasingly complex. The human factor often plays a large role in any breakdown in communication or knowledge sharing.

Rich pictures (RP) can be applied to the initial stages of the knowledge elicitation process and assist in gaining an understanding of the problem and the structure and processes relevant to the problem. A RP attempts to gather all information about the problem situation and present it as a visual, situational summary in a cartoon-like picture.

A RP is not the solution to the problem the organisation faces; nor is it an organisation diagram. Also important to keep in mind that it’s a visual description of YOUR analysis. You are not an objective observer, but someone with a set of values, beliefs and norms that colour your perceptions. But Rich Pictures provide a model for thinking about the system and they give an impression of the system.

Here’s a quirky example of a RP showing the tea-making process. The idea is not to get bogged down in over-analysing the problem or writing lots of text on the RP. A really nice example of an RP showing an e-learning strategy problem depicted as a landscape is here (scroll down a bit). Evocative terms such as “Temple of Pedagogy”, “Early Adopt River” and “Shadowlands Techno jungle” beautifully capture the essence of the problem.

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Entry filed under: Knowledge Management.

My media consumption diet What is strategic CSR?

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