ALT – A visual strategy


No-one would set out to create a visual strategy. But now that I’ve facilitated the creation of one, it seems such an obvious way of engaging the troops and gathering alignment, creating something that is both of the people and for the people.

Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT invited me along to a meeting of the trustees in order to visually explore the organisation’s values. Now, many of us have been exposed to values in the corporate sense – culture targets inflicted from above intended to gel an organisation together. It’s of little surprise that such a values manifesto is treated with scorn by those who are supposed to live it out, even if they hold those very values in spades.

As is the way with charities, the trustees of ALT are not paid, so each trustee has a bunch of reasons why they give of their precious time. Some perhaps are obvious, but some are much less so, regardless of which, once a trustee, no-one ever asks. So in this case, the values we explored were more character alignments – and so where better to start than asking: why are you a trustee of ALT?

The Thinkathon
Capturing this facilitated discussion live using pen, paper, document camera and projector, allowed us to see the gems as each was uncovered, some of which resonated deeply with the group. Being external, I could contain the extroverted voices and bring out the introverted ones, as well as sidestepping any politics in the room. And as people talked, they got excited…



The Ideas Dark Room
Capturing a conversation leaves no time for taking ideas further – so I am always keen to drag the remnants from a Thinkathon into the Ideas Dark Room (my shed) and progress them further. The richer the conversation, the easier this part of the process is – but ideas can come from anywhere: a funny thing you notice, a subconscious metaphor with a hand gesture, an off-the-cuff comment after the session… There are questions to ask the page, and puzzles that are asking to be solved.


Bringing it to Life

I gathered up the sketches and sent them through to Maren and later we talked them through with some of her team. The ALT team had been working with their membership on the organisation’s draft 3-year strategy. Maren asked whether we could use the visuals from the Trustee conversations to give the strategy a feel – an aesthetic. What’s the format that will engage most members? It’s probably the same format that will engage the most yet-to-be members too…


Telling a Story
And so, this becomes the primary challenge for visual thinkery; can we:

  1. ENGAGE: create something that people can get the gist of quickly
  2. SHARE: create something that people can make some noise with
  3. OWN: create something that people will tattoo on their laptop…

What we ended up creating really resonated with both members and non-members alike – but if you ask me, it was always going to. This is not magic – it’s artwork and aesthetic that’s rooted in a collaborative conversation.

If you want to have a closer look, here’s the published version in a presentation format designed to be delivered by any member.

Open University

Learn a Language in three weeks

Open University

The team at the Open University got in touch to ask if I’d create some thinkery for a couple of different projects. Firstly, to celebrate the 10th birthday of the OpenLearn platform, the OU’s flagship open access learning platform, some thinkery was needed to articulate it’s achievements.

Secondly, the language learning team wanted to explore if thinkery could be used to explore some of the more tricky areas of their badged open course.

I travelled up to Milton Keynes for a day of conversations, and armed with my pen, A3 paper and a document camera, I met the team and dived headlong into rich conversation.

Here are some of the initial sketches following our thinkery session (click to scroll through).

As always, I came away having learned a thing or two. Here’s a selection of the final artwork:


OER17 Conference

I bet the OER17 conference will be one of those that are referred back to for some time. It seemed like the right number of participants and the right mix of people. Although with so many parallel sessions, I must have missed out on a whole bunch of great insight.

I was there to run a workshop on “from Voice to Visual” (prezi is here), looking at the creative journey of the ALT visual strategy, together with Maren Deepwell CEO of ALT.

I like to visually process what I hear, and tune in to the messages that resonate with me. Hear it, see it, draw it (which also helps me remember it!) Call it my own form of active learning. The illustrations are below – just click for a slideshow…


Want to use an image?

The sketches and gifs below are available for use under a CC-BY 4.0 licence, which simply means that if you’d like to use them, all you have to do is attribute the creator (@bryanMMathers) wherever you use them. My business is dependent on people who attribute, so please do! To download a high-res version of an image, just click on the image to open it full size, and right-click / alt-click and select “Save image as…” or equivalent. 🙂

Radical Pedagogy

Radical Pedagogy

My wife is my signpost — for some things, anyway. She reads faster than me and tells me of books that I might like. I have but one requirement: at the end of the book, I want to be able to say “I’ve never read anything like that before”. As a result, I’ve been enjoying some Italo Calvino recently (no, I hadn’t heard of him either, but I’ve never read anything like it before…).
So how come all this Radical Pedagogy then Bryan? Well, this same wife is currently wading though a PGCE in her spare time, and asked if I’d create some slides for a presentation on Paolo Freire. The more I understand of his thinkery, the more I like him…

Subject — Verb — Object

As a kid in a classroom, I didn’t question it. I took what was laid before me, in the environment in which it was given. I was taught. I found it difficult to ask questions, as it revealed a lack of knowledge or understanding. The game was one of “how much do you know?“, maintaining our pecking order of perceived smartness. However, there were some teachers who came down to my level and transparently learned alongside me. It was different. They were different. The game was different: “where can we go today?

Monologue and Dialogue (a short poem)

The lecture.
At home, at school, and at church.
I’ve had so many,
but can recall very few…

The group.
At home, at school, and at church.
Articulating something half-baked,
in order to put it back in the oven and turn up the heat…

Bank of Education

Being in my kids room shortly before bedtime, and having momentarily confused Atilla with Genghis Khan (they won’t be happy), I instinctively reached for a handy volume from a colourful set of encyclopaedias. My search was fruitless. In the olden days, knowledge existed hidden away in pockets, which was fine if you knew which pocket and had the means to access it. However, one must not treat an encyclopaedia like wikipedia, for they offer two subtly different entry-points to learning: interest-led vs prescribed. By the way, are our schools more like encyclopaedias or wikis?

Ada College

Ada College

Ada College is the National College for Digital Skills in the UK. They are brand  new, and take a fresh approach to creating the designers and programmers of the future. They asked Visual Thinkery to come along and listen on the first day of the first intake of students. Having had experience getting alongside creative young people with Wapisasa C.I.C. I was more than happy to pitch up, talk to students and staff and pick up the vibe of the day.

The College itself has a great startup feel – and I couldn’t help think that I would have loved to have had the same opportunity when I was 16.

A number of thoughts emerged throughout the day, and I found myself asking the students why they had chosed Ada. There were a whole mix of reasons, but it became a key perspective that the college were keen to capture.

Read more about what Ada College are up to here.

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