Flip chart dumping is a way of parking ideas and actions and ensuring they are never realised in practice. The act of writing on a flip chart in front of others is a fairly physical activity and often gives the false impression that we are all “doing something”. In too many cases, what we are doing is parking what needs to be done in a place of inaction. The flip charts will be rolled up, a neat elastic band put around them, and they will then lie in a corner before finally being discarded, like an elderly grandparent, palmed off into a retirement home.
Facilitators often call this process “convergence” and dress it up with colourful Post-it stickers and neat prioritising techniques. The workshop or away day ends on an artificial high of everyone (who usually remember the last half an hour most, and often only remember the last half an hour) leaving the session feeling motivated, feeling that they have achieved something and colluding in the fact that the actions that have been beached on the flipcharty desert island, will soon be collectively forgotten when we get back to the day to day “real” business of work.
The facilitator leaves the venue happy that they have “delivered” an action plan that is simply one collective false revelation.
Flip chart dumping is the friend of unchange. Flip charts require people to stand up and write on them with big stinky inky pens. Few people can write neatly on them. Few people know how to write on them in ways where others can see, or in words that really capture accurately what is being said by people in the room. Writing every word can be impossible in a short timescale and summarising is a skill few have learned well, if at all.
So we also end up with scrawly, draftish, writing that doesn’t feel anything more than rough, unworthy of status or formal commitment. This usually leads to a further, even sneakier form of dumping which is for someone with no authority or influence back at base to type them up and circulate them. This usually happens after an apologised delay or, worse, so soon after the event that the first is like having your meal delivered to you two days after you left the restaurant, or, in the second case, like having your meal rammed down your throat whilst you are still eating your starter. One is too soon, one is too late. Both arrive at a time where action will fall flat because the dynamics of the event where commitment was really possible have died.
Flip chart dumping is a way to ensure that an away day or workshop doesn’t harvest in practice what was visioned, explored and agreed collaboratively.
So, what is to be done?
We have to make flip charting and the process of converging on decision and action one of authentic commitment. We have to allow time for it and not rush it at the end. Ideally, I’d suggest the process is broken up over two days, allowing people to sleep on what they are about to decide and commit to.
Flip charted actions need to be written up with legible love and collective care. The words need to be like an undistorted mirror, reflecting back an objective picture of what needs to be done. Then we need to ensure all in the room agree that that picture is clear, that the reflection is a reflection of them. If it isn’t we have to have to courage, the willingness and the time to go round again, to rework, to redraft, until the image IS clear.
Then comes the process of setting real timelines, real dates. We have to put the process into present and future. This needs to be done by then.
Next come real human beings who physically sign up to the actions, voluntarily, as part of their professional duties. If others, not in the room, are to be tasked, this needs to be done DURING the process. Those people need to be contacted and their tasks made clear, with similar sign up. There need to be consequences for non-action – formal and informal. Formal in terms of the usual processes of discipline. Informal in terms of sharing with each other how non action will impact on other tasks being agreed.
SIgn up should be physical. Sacred in blood. In this case, the organisational form of blood which is your name next to the action, written by you for all to see. A task, a date and deadline and your name.
The energy in the room becomes palpable. Fear and uncertainty arise, because we are forced to faced REAL realism. We explore what is needed and what is possible. We’ll battle for resources, we’ll argue about deadlines. And it will take longer. But the flip charts will not be dumping grounds – instead they will be priceless maps into the shared, wanted future. When all the actions are achieved and the organisation or community is in a better place, there is sometimes a reluctance to throw the original flip charts away, which have often been white tacked to the office wall as real plans should be. Instead they are framed, happily remembered proud artefacts of the shared history. A0 sized works of art. And that is what they are, pictures of a time when we were all at our best. Made by us. And, best of all, no one can remember a single thing about the facilitator.