Capturing the good work created by a group by openly recording it – for everyone to see – is a key skill that is often overlooked in meetings. And sadly, people who do try are often tempted to not do it well.
We call this the art of scribing – the skill of transparently recording the ideas and agreements that a group produces. It can generate a key output for a workshop or meeting, and is a great way to document the journey of your group’s work, from proposal to decision made.
Benefits of scribing
Visually sharing input provides an accurate record of the process and helps with sorting – seeing what topics can be grouped together, and then which issues to prioritise.
It feels very powerful for people to have their input validated when it’s written up for all to see; it fosters a sense of inclusion and ownership of what has happened in a group.
1. Use great equipment
- Butcher’s paper/poster-sized paper is better than writing on a whiteboard as you can take it home to write up
- Having the notes on paper is a good way to record accurately what happened – this promotes accountability
- Paper is low tech – most people find it a trustworthy, understandable medium
- Use odourless, chisel-tipped textas/markers
- Have good paper, markers, masking tape – you don’t want to be distracted by poor quality gear
2. Set up the right person for the job
- It’s preferable for scribing to be done by a support facilitator rather than the lead facilitator in complex work or large groups
- Avoid having a member of your meeting act as scribe – it will detract from their participation, and you have no knowledge of their scribing skills. Plus, others may feel that they have more power.
- Beware Scribe: you have the ‘power of the pen’; don’t lapse into taking on the lead facilitator role!
3. Prepare to do a great job
- Make sure that you have sufficient flat wall/hanging space
- Prepare butcher’s paper if possible
- Think through how you want to lay out information on the paper, eg: Your evaluation may have ‘Good’, ‘Not so good’ and ‘Improvements’ headings
- Clarify who is to write up your notes afterward – you or a liaison person? – as a report of the meeting
4. Check out how it looks
- Clear and big writing – but don’t get hung up if your writing isn’t flash, just do it as best you can
- Check whether it’s readable
- Be aware of sight impaired/illiterate members of the group
- Try to avoid abbreviations (such a long word!)
- Don’t stand in front of your writing
5. Capture accurately what is said
- Listen closely to participants
- Stay true to the way a person has said it; extract all of their point, don’t put it in your words
- Don’t interrupt participants when they are making a point
- Check that you have got it
- You need to be able to go fast, but not get flustered
- The lead facilitator assists to capture points
- Don’t generally attribute comments to particular people
6. Finish your scribing work
- Give people clear understanding about what will happen with their scribed comments – report to whom by when
- Edit later for clarity, make sure it makes sense, but be faithful to the intent
- Try to ensure people get a copy of the written-up record
- Lay out your write-up as it happened in the session, so people can process what they experienced
- Remember – don’t translate into your own words – use what was said.
- If you attend to all these facets of scribing, you are highly likely to capture the gems and do justice to all the good work being done. Go forth and record with integrity the wisdom of your group!