What does belonging mean to you?

I loved this project because it brought together several components that make it especially fun and rewarding: a really juicy policy issue facing our country, an amazingly dedicated and caring staff, and a fabulous facilitator who I’ve always wanted to work with.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), an organization that works on immigrant and refugee issues, held a series of meetings around the country to assess what kind of impact they are having in the communities where they work. I finally got a chance to team with Chris Corrigan, a wonderful facilitator from the Art of Hosting practice, who ran the World Café process for the day.






A tapestry of visual maps.

LIRS had held two meetings beforehand in Philadelphia and North Dakota using colleagues of mine as the graphic facilitators. Their visual maps were hung in the room serving as a rich tapestry of the conversations that had occurred in other communities.

Chris asked me if I was intimidated by my colleagues’ work. No, I said, I can only bring what I bring and trust that it’s good enough.

Ah, gorgeous tables.

The LIRS team/staff was over-the-top impressive. If you ever need pointers on how to prep a room for a World Café, they have the definitive manual and have set the standard. A lot of effort goes into prepping the space for a World Café so that participants feel comfortable, relaxed and invited into the conversation. Imagine a café in Paris with a lovely table cloth, flowers, and a wonderful flowing conversation that enriches your life.

Their set-up included:

  • Handmade tablecloths from bolts of beautiful fabric
  • Gorgeous flowers on each table
  • Candy
  • Loads of markers
  • A take-away branded puzzle for each participant (kind of like a Rubik’s Cube)

Hello in 25 languages.

The day-long process began with finding out how many languages we could say “Hello” in. I lost track but I think there were about 25 in the room.

The day was rich in storytelling as people from Venezuela, Italy, Thailand and about 25 other countries shared their experiences about their home country and their new county, America.

What amazed and surprised me was how proud they were to be US citizens. The love the schools and the opportunities even while missing parts of the culture they left behind which struck me as such a contrast to how I’m always hearing about how our schools are failing and the lack of opportunities that exist.

  • What does it mean to belong?
  • The conversation focused on questions like:
  • What is belonging?
  • What does it mean to belong?
  • When do you know that you belong?

Participants clearly differentiated the difference between “Welcome” which happens first and is more superficial and “Belong” which someone explained as being able to put their feet up on the coffee table.

Exploding with color.

I don’t know if it was the blue of Tampa Bay seen thru the windows or the infectious excitement in the room, but I used more vibrant colors in a single map than I have in a long time. It’s positively exploding with color and accurately reflects the gorgeous blend of diverse backgrounds and cultures we strung together that day.

Wow. What a take-away.  

At the end of the Café, the LIRS team did something that was so over-the-top impressive my jaw dropped open for a full 20 seconds. After the first round of the harvest (World Café’s usually have three rounds of questions and conversations) I gave them a digital image of the visual map so far. They ran off to Kinko’s to make copies for everyone, which they inserted into a folio along with a certificate of participation. They wanted folks to walk out with a little reminder of the day and something to show their family and friends. Impressive!!


At the Weight of the Nation conference, 1200 public health policy makers and health professionals gathered in DC to assess where we are as a nation on the challenge of addressing obesity. I provided graphic facilitation so attendees could see their content visually. They loved the visual maps. I was blown away by the great response to my work.

Scientists, policy makers and academics never fail to respond positively to seeing their information presented in a creative visual way. One person in particular said, “You’ve made a whole lot of people happy, I hope you know.

Click the graphic to view enlarged version. 

This is a HUGE problem.

Currently 36% of adults and 17% of children are obese. Obesity-related health issues consume 9% of the health care budget, a whopping $190 billion in costs a year. The reasons why are vast:

  • Lack of fresh foods available typically in low-income neighborhoods, which has created food deserts.
  • Physical education being replaced in schools for more time for math and science. More screen time in front of televisions and computers.
  • A built environment in many places that relies heavily on cars for transportation rather than walking or biking.
  • Marketing of unhealthy food choices targeted to very young children to influence their food choices throughout their life.
  • National subsidies that go toward corn, sugar and soy beans which creates an unhealthy food production cycle.

Eat less, move more.

The good news is there’s a lot happening already to confront this national challenge and we’re already seeing success. The rise of obesity is starting to slow as people get the message and get active. Examples:

  • The Mayor of Nashville has a program called “Walk 100 miles with the Mayor” that encouraged thousands of people to take up walking on a daily basis.
  • Nashville also created 130 miles of bike trails.
  • Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia brought in fresh farmers markets to low-income areas that had never had access to fresh produce.
  • Parks are being created in Los Angeles neighborhoods that previously only had parking lots.
  • Colorado is requiring 600 minutes a month of physical activity in schools.
  • The military is completely updating all of their menu services to offer healthier choices of food.
  • Cities across the country are converting abandoned sites to community food gardens.

Michelle Obama gets the nation moving.

Click the graphic to view enlarged version.

One of the brightest programs making a difference is the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” project which has encouraged millions of kids to be more active and to eat healthier. Michelle Obama has visited countless schools, done push-ups with Ellen Degeneres on the Ellen show, planted a vegetable garden on the White House lawn and inspired so many around the country to focus on reducing childhood obesity.

Drawing the Cookie Monster.

Click the graphic to view enlarged version.

 Sesame Street showed up to talk about what the show is doing to influence kids toward making healthy food choices. The song “Just try it” sung by the Muppets encourages kids to try new vegetables.

Cookie Monster sings about the dilemma of eating a cookie or an apple and Decides that cookies are a “sometime” food. And Lily, a new character, was created to highlight the issue of food insecurity—lack of food on a daily basis—which faces millions of children every day.

An HBO Premier.

HBO premiered the documentary “The Weight of the Nation” and the Institute of Medicine released a new report which received a ton of press coverage including the front page of USA Today and a mention from Bill Maher.

The bottom line is there is so much work to be done obesity needs a national focus and mobilization of resources. It’s costing us as a nation in lost productivity, rising health care costs and early death. Plus a lot of people are unable to have the happy and healthy lives that they truly want. Let’s get busy.

To see more visual maps from the conference, head over to my Portfolio page.


I had the distinct pleasure of talking graphic facilitation to a bunch of budding managers when my friend Heather Plett invited me to be a guest speaker in her class at the University of Winnipeg’s Professional Applied Continuing Education program on effective facilitation. Heather had this to say about my contribution to her class:

I’m going through the final assessments of students from my Effective Facilitation class, and quite a few of them mentioned that one of their favourite things about the class was learning about graphic facilitation. Kudos to you! And thanks again for offering your wisdom.

We held the conversation on Skype—a recent, ahem, client of mine—which allowed me to do some show & tell. I started by sharing the digitized versions of several visual maps from meetings I’ve been in.

Patterns, chaos and consensus.

The students were incredibly inquisitive and kept me on my toes with their questions. (And because they were sitting far away from the mike I had to concentrate really hard to hear what they were saying.)

At one point I turned the tables on them and asked how they would pitch a client on using graphic facilitation for a meeting they were designing. I got some great answers.

Here are some of the questions we talked about:

  • What’s the best kind of situation or process to use graphic facilitation?
  • How does the drawing help people see the bigger picture and reduce conflict?
  • What about meetings that don’t end in consensus?
  • Are you able to identify a pattern when the group is in chaos?
  • Do I make the pictures beforehand? (um, no)
  • Is there a particular procedure you follow when you create the map?
  • Can things be misinterpreted because of the symbols you use?

About 18 minutes in I told the story about visualizing the biggest conflict I’d ever witnessed—which ended beautifully—when my client, Goddard College, modeled their own deep dialogue process amongst themselves. As I told the students, my job is to be an honest witness and reflect what takes place in the most authentic way. The visual map represents the energy of the meeting—each map has it’s own kind of energy: chaos, excitement, lack of focus, etc.

Listen to the whole interview for the answers.



On this day of solstice as the world slows down and the starry night is long, I want to express my gratitude for all the wonderful experiences I’ve had with the friends, clients, colleagues, partners and teachers who’ve crossed my path during my many travels this year. My life is richer because you are in it. Thank you!!

May your holiday be filled with joy and may all your wishes for the coming year come true.

Much love, Julie

PS–I used some iconography from a couple of my clients (Victoria’s Secret and Burt’s Bees) in this visual map just for fun.

Click the image to enlarge.


Feel anyway.

by Julie

Recently, Jen Louden asked a bunch of brave, sexy, creative women, “How you are claiming your power, trusting it, and using it to transform the world right now?” The answers they gave are beautiful and inspiring. Here’s mine:

When so much in the world hurts, crushes, overwhelms and swallows us whole, I vow to feel anyway.

To open my heart, anyway.

It is the boldest, most radical act a person can do. Always has been, always will be.

I vow to feel the sky, and your tender tears, with my fingertips.

To know the rhythm of the ocean in my bones.

To reflect moonlight in my upturned face.

To wiggle my toes in rich warm sun-kissed dirt.

To bury my nose in your pungent stink and stay there forever.

To throw my head back in deep throated delirious laughter.

To take in the pain of the world and not shun it.

To look fear in the eye and smile back with radiance.

My heart is big enough for all of this and more.

I promise to be reverent,
and wanton.

And to feel anyway, even when the world is crashing down around me. I promise you.

Take my hand. Let me show you how to feel anyway too.

It’s a risk. I know. Only the bravest can swim in tumultuous seas. Only a boat built from the strongest wood will survive. A sexton that’s true.

We’ll navigate by the stars. They never lie. Steer steady toward a tsunami of bliss, as vast and limitless as the horizon. It’s there shimmering for us under the bright sun.

I will illuminate your inner territory. You will pry my heart open wider and wider. A blood oath between us. Fuller and farther together.

Come. Be with me. Let me throw my arms around your neck and pull your body close.
I will delight you,
entice you,
tickle you,
torture you,
tease you,
exasperate you,
enthrall you,
bewilder you,
enrapture you,
mesmerize you
and love you.

Claim what you desire. It’s right here. Now. Breathing, pulsing next to you.

Like a whisper. Like the brush of a kiss, a soft exhale against your cheek.

This. Now.

A moment so real it crushes insignificance with its weight.

Open me like a living poem. I dare you.

Click here to download a copy of this beautiful collection of 47 essays, poems, photographs and videos. (no cost and no sign up required, it’s purely a gift.)