The fellows meet their challenge cartographer

"How can we work in chaos in a way that feels secure," Stine Degnegaard asked the fellows during a studio session this week. Stine, a Copenhagen-based visual strategist, is visiting the to collaborate with the fellows and help visually capture their work. On Wednesday, she offered them an introduction to co-creation methodology in multi-stakeholder initiatives.

Stine, also a partner and co-founder of the advisory firm INITIATIVES, has developed visual guides to help identify opportunities for strategic co-creation. She offered these resources to the fellows, helping them map their projects' journeys. The tools aid in breaking down complex problems into smaller, actionable initiatives, as the process identifies previously unknown users or collaborators in a project space. Stine's methods were especially useful for the fellows, who seek to affect large, complex arenas such as the federal government, K12 education and the law.

Strategic visualization is a fluid process, one organizations can flow into and out of throughout a project's lifespan, as it evolves. The visual representation of complex systems helps identify unforeseen problems and clarify existing tensions. It also ensures an iterative process that allows teams to go backwards and forwards in time, providing a spatial representation of their challenge to enable dynamic perspectives, as opposed to linear ones.

On Thursday, I sat in on a session Stine had with Kim Jacobson on her project, the iZone. Kim's challenge has a number of facets, but among the most challenging has been to visualize and conceptualize the iZone itself.

When asked how it felt to talk about the iZone and see it manifest visually, a huge smile broke across Kim's face.

"I need to tell lots of different pieces of this story to different people, and I am hoping this will help clarify the different aspects of it," Kim said. The process, she continued, has helped her break down the complexity of the work that she and her team are doing into something they and others can understand. She's been trying to articulate to people that, when it comes to the iZone, they are on a journey together, as opposed to joining something that already exists. The visualizations made that make sense, she said.

Stine works with Caitria shortly after the Wednesday workshop with the fellows. (Emi Kolawole)

Stine also worked with Melissa Pelochino on her project, #2minPD -- a short-form video method for teachers to record and share professional development training. Melissa's goal is to transform teachers' professional development into a generative and community-building endeavor. When reviewing Stine's visualizations, she, too, was pleased to see her process -- and her challenges -- mapped out.

As for Stine, the work has been an opportunity to test her own methods and work. "I am very humbled in having met with the fellows," she said. "I haven't seen a hub for potential like this before."

She has found that the fellows, in diving into their process over the past nine months, have learned an immense amount about the ecosystems they seek to change. Rather than their own heads, Stine said, the fellows have "globes full of so much knowledge" to draw from. This means they are quick with answers to her questions -- answers she was able to use to visualize the nature of the fellows' strategy and challenges today.

The next step, Stine says, is "to focus -- and if not to kill your darlings, to prioritize them."

"What is the one message you want each person to take away," she challenged the fellows to ask themselves. "What is it you want to communicate?"

"You have so much to offer, and you are so needed. So how do you break all of this information into something that is digestible and gets [your stakeholders] longing for more?"

The strategic visualizations are a stage in that process, a map from their challenge cartographer to help navigate complex worlds.