Book Review: The graphic novel as a format for visual sensemaking and the change poets of ‘Unrig’

My local library – part of the Helsinki City system – had this book on display yesterday among the handful of English language books accessible for browsing within the current constraints of the pandemic. I devoured it in one sitting.

As I wrote in a private paid-for social media platform where I’m part of the founding membership, it was a lucid and clear explanation of the way the participatory democracy system has faced challenges due to the impact and influence of money. Author Daniel G. Newman has the uncanny ability to explain complicated concepts that I was wholly unaware of from history and government in a few brief sentences which George O’Connor illustrates in a lowkey manner using a subdued yet aesthetically sensible palette.

In light of recent thinking and writing on KE Weick’s works on sensemaking and change in organizations, and my own explorations of visual sensemaking tools, I cannot help but connect the two dots in order to frame this graphic novel as a exemplar of high art. Here’s an example of their work that succinctly draws the historical development of the electoral college – something I was completely unfamiliar with – in a manner that clearly explains the what, why, and how of the current day system.Newman strips the extraneous from his narrative – the social media platforms and their role & impact for example – yet manages to outline the underlying patterns and framework of the system so well that one can easily see the role played by digital technologies, without them ever being mentioned.

I hope that someone will bring this book to the notice of Weick and his sensibilities regarding the role of explicit words and sensemaking as a means to effect positive beneficial transformation of human organizations are stirred enough to think of the graphic novel format as the tool for change poets of this decade.

Ample supplementary research exists to provide evidence that people do not read long screeds as they used to and that small screens are the most popular delivery mechanism. For the young and for those who aren’t as comfortable reading corporate jargon or academic papers – those who probably need the knowledge contained in this book the most – this format is a powerful visual tool for sensemaking and thinking about action.

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