Flipping the page

‘We don’t get asked for them much anymore.  But we must have one somewhere’.

It was the first time I realised that the flip chart may be on its way out.

I first encountered a flip chart as a meeting participant in the late eighties.  I remembered being baffled as to why somebody was writing on a huge piece of paper.  Surely there would be minutes?  Why was it there?

Later flip charts became part of the furniture – often quite literally – and my comfort blanket as a facilitator.  I felt uncomfortable without one in the room.

While PowerPoint says ‘I am the expert.  Listen to me and look at me’ the flip chart says ‘Let’s capture what you say.  And anyone can have a go’.

The holy grail for facilitators is helping the group have a go. The group is where the action is.  The flip chart serves to record in real time what the group are discussing – either through the facilitator scribing what participants say, or group members creating their own feedback record.

Networked laptops on cabaret tables briefly threatened the hegemony of the flip chart with the feedback from groups projected on the screen at the front of the room.

But this was expensive and clunky.  Flip charts are a perfect piece of technology as everyone knows how to use them. They are cheap and cheerful. They are a key tool for co-creation. Even when people don’t share a language they can draw pictures together.

Online the new flip chart is the chat box, Whatsapp group or Twitter.  In the official meeting people carefully signal that they wish to speak, while the real meeting takes place in the interstices – in shorthand, emojis and rapid give and take.

I’ll be sorry when the last flip charts take their place in dusty stationery cupboards next to the disused overhead projectors.  But for all their democratic accessibility and ease of use, they still signalled that the focus was where the facilitator not the group wanted it to be.

Multi-tasking is enabling people to co-create the meeting they want rather than the meeting we want them to have.

So maybe it’s time to flip that page.