Working with visual metaphors enables people to SEE things differently. The use of imagery opens up outlooks, expands horizons and reveals new possibilities. In a similar fashion, much of our creative work opens up new work opportunities. Inspired by the process and it’s impact, many of our clients have, over the years, retained our services, inviting us to continue working with them, inviting us to make real the new ideas that they have revealed. From Mission Maps that have led to us unexpectedly helping NHS practitioners get to grips with microphones and podcasting. To BIG Picture events crystallising into unique logos and service rebranding that really resonate. Participatory improvement builds participatory improvement; creating a cyclical chain reaction.

So what began as a BIGGER Picture workshop with young people, on behalf of Lancashire based housing charity Key, launched something else entirely. Originally there to provide an inclusive way for service users to share their experiences and provide feedback on the support they had received, the staff were blown away by how powerful graphic facilitation is in practice. They saw first hand how the use of imagery and metaphor empowered their vulnerable clients so that they could open up and express themselves.

Though classified as a housing charity working with homeless young people, as well as those who are in imminent danger of losing their home, Key offers much more. One of the things the service prides itself on is its ability to address the underlying causes that have led to a young person being at risk. Often rooted in family breakdown, traumatic experiences or emotional and mental health difficulties, this responsive service offers support to enable individuals to move forward. A big part of this is helping young people open up and share their reality. It also involves taking a holistic view and working with parents and carers, mediating when possible to improve communication, reduce conflict and remove problems.

And it was making the connection between DCD’s way of working and Key’s person-centred approach that had the charity’s director inviting us back to provide CO Card training for the staff.

CO Cards are a powerful toolkit that can aid creative consultation, participation and engagement. Literally BIG Picture in a box; without the need to wield a paintbrush. Quick to learn and easy to use, this carefully chosen set of colourful image cards have the ability to channel conversations that explore the ‘meanings’ that participants make.

Right from the offset the practitioners ‘got it’, they instinctively understood the power of incorporating the Cards into their existing practice. What they valued was how intuitive the process felt. They also appreciated the way in which the cards shift the power dynamic. Instead of them asking questions and leading discussions, the emphasis moves to the table top, a shared space around which ‘meanings’ are explored and viewpoints clarified.

I knew the cards were put down randomly,
but it felt as if they had been selected just for me

Before the training day was over, plans were already afoot on how the team would be using the resource. Whether in initial assessments, therapeutic sessions or during family conferences, the consensus was that they had gained a flexible tool that did not prescribe a way of working, but rather enhanced existing approaches and techniques. A tool capable of making sure everyone’s outlook is seen and valued.

Cycling back to the beginning of this post; working with CO Cards enables people to SEE things differently. The use of imagery opens up outlooks, expands horizons and reveals new possibilities; an approach that is key to Key.

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