Understanding reverging in visual thinking
Feb 2022 - ongoing
The project is done in the context of the visual thinking Agency Flatland. The aim of this project was to explore reverging in the context of visual thinking.
Reverging is the phase that bridges the diverging and converging phases in creative facilitation. The goal of reverging is to revisit and rearrange the options generated in the divergent phase to create a better understanding of all the options to select the best ones in the converging phase.
The initial design statement was to make reverging more deliberate at Flatland instead of implicit at Flatland. As reverging is a deliberate activity (Kalina, 2018: Heijne & van der Meer, 2019).
To better understand the project’s topic, a literature review, interviews with Flatland, and case studies have been conducted.
The literature review concluded that reverging is essential for creating a shared understanding of the options generated in the divergent phase. Moreover, it was found that sketching and visualizing help externalize (tacit) knowledge. This enables the sharing, grounding, manipulation, and generation of ideas. Finally, transdisciplinary learning and knowledge creation can be supported by boundary objects, allowing the translation, transfer, and transformation of knowledge.
The interviews with Flatland reveal the different skills and characteristics needed as a facilitator or illustrator at Flatland, why visual thinking works according to Flatland, and how they would identify reverging in the Flatland process.
The case studies disclosed that the Flatland methodology is more a process flow to hold on to instead of a strict step-by-step plan that needs to be followed. Additionally, it revealed the success factors, risk factors, and requirements for fruitful reverging in visual thinking.
Based on the findings from the discovery phase of the project a general model was constructed to bring all the findings together. The general model served as the starting point for the design requirements and opportunities.
In addition, reverging at Flatland has been described and analyzed more in-depth. The analysis revealed that there was no common knowledge about the concept of reverging. However, it was found that reverging was done at Flatland, but more unconsciously rather than deliberate. Two types of reverging moments at Flatland have been identified: (1) reverging exercises done with the client during a session and (2) the activity called whiteboarding, which is a separate session without the client to make thinking steps based on the output from the previous session.
This project focused on the second type of reverging moment because it is a formatted and formulated phase at Flatland, setting a clear boundary for highlighting the problems and developing a design. The main difference between reverging at Flatland compared to the rules described in theory is that it is done without the client. This may lead to the not-invented-here syndrome, which often results in the client’s difficult acceptance and implementation of the outcome, according to Buijs & van der Meer (2013).
Based on the output from the general model, design opportunities have been identified. The chosen opportunity for this project was to guarantee client ownership by involving the client more in the whiteboarding reverging process. A design statement and requirements have been formulated to guide the final design’s creation.
Additionally, the metaphor of a magic map maker has been formulated to describe the selected opportunity. This narrative was used to make the findings from the research more concrete and get the conversation started.
Different creative sessions have been held to come up with the starting point for a solution to guarantee client ownership. Based on the input from the co-creation sessions different minimum viable products were created iteratively. These have been discussed with Flatlanders and adapted according to the feedback obtained during the iteration rounds.
The final design, the whiteboarding tool, consists of three sub-parts:
The Flatland workstyles, based on the narrative of the metaphor of the magic mapmaker, balancing the map maker and wizard workstyle throughout the entire process
The Flatland journey is adapted from their current setup of the general project flow. The whiteboard phase was not included yet. The Flatland journey aims at making that explicit. Revealing the problem in the focus area (whiteboarding phase) of reverging steps happening without the involvement of the client and therefore the client potentially lacks ownership of the final outcome
In order to solve this problem finally the Whiteboard canvas has been developed to help Flatland involve the client in the whiteboarding phase and make their reverging steps explicit so they can be shared and discussed with the client.
The impact of this project was created through (1) the research, (2) the metaphor, and (3) the tool.
The research highlighted the discrepancy between the literature and Flatland’s way of working. The gap served as the initial starting point for giving recommendations to Flatland and coming up with the final design.
The metaphor served as a narrative for Flatland to talk about the highlighted problem and reflect on their workstyle.
The whiteboard tool served as an intervention to do the whiteboarding in a more structured manner with the client’s involvement. The canvas has been tested with members of the Flatland team and is ready to be used in Mural, Photoshop, or real life!
To conclude the project, the limitations have been highlighted, and future research directions have been proposed.