I have 25 years experience facilitating groups in six broad contexts:

  • arts-based facilitation,
  • interactive learning facilitation
  • strategic planning,
  • community education and training,
  • graphic recording, and
  • gestalt group facilitation (developmental groups and conflict transformation)

We have all suffered ‘death by powerpoint’ and other numbing efforts to inform and educate us. In my years in local government I sat through hours of zombifying meetings and training. I refuse to pass on the pain.


Most of us learn best in situations where we are treated with respect. Respect is number one. That means finding out what people know already, how best they learn, how they want to engage, and meeting them in that space. There are lots of facilitation tricks and techniques out there that look fun and colourful, but which corrall us into behaviours that are awkward. That’s really naff and we all know it.

In my case, my learning preferences are process-based – visual and kinaesthetic. I bring this to my work, knowing I share these preferences with a large percentage of the population.

Here are some of the approaches I use:

Dialogue-based learning – Living Books

I developed this training framework in 2015, taking the Danish Living Libraries model as my inspiration.  Living Libraries is a stereotype-busting and relationship-building process where members of communities that have been stereotyped by the mainstream media are employed by libraries at special events as ‘living books’. They can be ‘borrowed’ for a conversation, and then checked back in to the library after the conversation.

In the learning model I use, 3-4 living books are chosen to provide a snapshot of their lives in a public forum, like a cover-blurb that brings out the key themes of a book. The audience then splits into ‘book clubs’ or conversation circles, sitting with each book in turn, and asking questions in the more intimate setting of a small group. By engaging in dialogue they learn directly from the living books. This model honours community members as experts of their own lives. It works on the premise that human beings are adept at recalling narrative, while we quickly forget facts and figures that are presented to us without being anchored down by lived experience.

The model suits many contexts but is best with people who work in community-facing roles. It is essentially an ‘extroverted’ learning process and requires some comfort from participants to ask questions and engage in conversation. It can be adapted to more introverted contexts with some support measures provided to facilitate comfortable interaction.

Ideal objectives for this training include awareness building and service improvement in relation to groups, communities and cultures that are identified as ‘non mainstream’. The living books may represent diversity, be less visible or the opposite: stereotyped, they may be classed as ‘harder to reach’, fringe or alternative.

Talking about them is often offensive, but talking with them is revelatory!

A session can be as short as three hours or be extended into a full-day of learning.

Graphic Facilitation

Graphic facilitation is approach that uses images throughout a session. This is usually an interactive process and can involve participants making and adding to visuals. It is aimed at engaging people at a more holistic level and drawing more creative thinking and visioning. I have used this approach in

  • cultural mapping
  • placemaking strategies
  • park upgrades and redevelopments
  • future plans and masterplans.

In all of these instances, engaging members across the whole community is important. The visual approach is inclusive, and of course, there is always an option for not using it – for those who are not visual learners!

Visual Storytelling

I use graphic recording a lot as a facilitation tool, capturing workshop and conference proceedings visually. This is particularly useful for visual thinkers (about 65% of the population) as well as for people who don’t have strong literacy skills. Australia’s functional literacy is quite low with the ABS indicating that 47% of Australian adults have trouble with literacy. Graphic recording tells the story and encapsulates key points that would otherwise need pages of text to express. It is highly engaging to see your words summarised graphically before your eyes.

I am IAP2 accredited (International Association for Public Participation) and have completed both the International and Australasian Certificates in Engagement. I am part of the Australasian Facilitation Network community, and also work in alliance with Curious Minds Co. I worked as the Senior Program Officer for Brisbane City Council’s Community Engagement Centre of Excellence for six years.

You’ll find a gallery of my recent charts here

Graphic recording at a climate change workshop

For more information, contact me:

© 2014-2017 Rachel Apelt

Leave a Reply