Rich Pictures are a drawing, a picture, of a system or ‘situation’. They are almost always produced together in groups in workshop settings, with large pieces of paper (though some scholars have suggested they can be used as individual analytic tools, e.g. Bell and Morse, 2013a). They are intended to be a shared representation of the system; the value they generate is often mostly in the process and discussions this generates rather than the picture itself as an output. What the picture should contain is often left completely up to the participants; very few, if any, prompts are given by facilitators beyond asking them to ‘draw the system’. However, some guidance on the method does suggest that using the prompts, ‘structures’, ‘processes’, ‘climate’, ‘people’, ‘issues expressed by people’, and ‘conflict’, as things to consider putting in the picture can be helpful. Another common prompt for groups who are struggling to start is to suggest they draw themselves in the system. Participants are normally discouraged from using text or words as much as possible, though this is not always the case—some Rich Pictures contain a lot of text. Though not used as a prompt, most facilitators also don’t intend participants to produce a diagram which looks like a Theory of Change map or flow diagram. The aim is to avoid the constraints such diagram types introduce. However, Rich Pictures can contain arrows and represent causal relationships. In sum, Rich Pictures are flexible, can contain almost anything, and emphasise letting participants do what they want above all else. Once a Rich Picture is produced, it can be analysed by participants and researchers as part of the process of using the method, though it is often the process of drawing and discussing that is the most important element.
Let’s look at some examples. Figure 2.1 shows an ‘archetypal-if-poor’ Rich Picture of the National Health Service in the UK from Bell and Morse (2013a). We can see the participants who drew the picture in the centre, surrounded by different elements of the system, such as patients and staff (the figures on the right), and concepts such as bureaucracy and measurement/targets (the abacus and paperwork top left). Bell and Morse describe the picture as being relatively poor in terms of its visual content but suggest that this did not diminish its value as a discussion tool.
Another example can be seen in Fig. 2.2, again from Bell and Morse (2013a). This example benefits from some more skilled drawing perhaps (e.g. the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ monkey) and uses no text, except for the ‘WB’ to denote ‘World Bank’.
There is inevitably a huge variety in Rich Pictures, so we strongly suggest you look for more examples to fully appreciate the range in what they can look like. A simple search engine image search can help with this, or Bell et al. (2016a) includes many examples. Beyond the variety in what participants might produce, there is also variety in the practice of using Rich Pictures. As we acknowledged in our introduction, some practitioners will only use them as part of a wider process, rather than a standalone systems mapping method. This will affect the way in which they are used, the emphasis put on iterating and returning to the pictures, and the amount of time spent focusing on them alone.
There is also variety in the prompts and facilitation given to participants. Most Rich Pictures will be developed with minimal prompts and will not be developed beyond a simple drawing on paper. However, some will be drawn with stronger guidance on what to include, and maybe use rules such as ‘no text’. The pictures may also go through some digitisation and refinement, even with the help of an artist or graphic designer, with the aim being to produce something more lasting which can be shared as a communication tool. Lastly, we have observed no variety in the terminology used to describe Rich Pictures, but it is worth noting that many participatory approaches will involve drawing and sketching of different types, and they will have much in common with Rich Pictures, even if they are not formally coming from a systems perspective or intended to ‘map’ a system in some way.
Rich Pictures emerged from and are part of a wider approach to studying and acting in systems, called Soft Systems Methodology. We do not intend to go into any depth on this approach in this chapter but do outline some of its history and aims in the ‘brief history’ section below.