How People Use Rich Pictures to Help Them Think and Act


How People Use Rich Pictures to Help Them Think and Act Simon BellGroups of all kinds are complex organisations. To understand them and to facilitate them in process terms is a matter of rich and diverse discourse in varied fields from sustainable development to coastal ecology; from bandwidth in rural communities to health service provision. How to allow groups to discourse, problem solve and review their own issues and concerns? Diagrams in general and rich pictures in particular can be great means to allow groups to explore their subconscious, their occult sentiments and conflicted understandings. This paper explores and explains diverse use of pictures and shows how they can be applied and understood in group processes of all kinds.


Our focus here is on the rich picture, a free form type of diagrammatic representation which has a wide role of functions within human artifice, but especially as a tool to help groups arrive at a consensual analysis of a situation. In a more extended work we have discussed the importance of the way in which groups of people make use of diagrams (Bell and Morse 2010). In this brief paper we will provide some background to the antecedence of rich pictures and to the way in which some have used them in groups and for group work. However, our main aim here is to describe in detail how rich pictures can be used to tell the inner most story of the group – sometimes the unconscious and occult story – and can help the group to move forward. Our proposition is that rich pictures are a valuable output in themselves and deserve far greater attention that we perhaps pay them when they are typically seen as but one step within a bigger process.

Springer Link

Bell, S. and Morse, S. 2013. How People Use Rich Pictures to Help Them Think and Act. Systemic Practice and Action Research. 26, pp. 331 – 348.

Triple Task Method: Systemic, Reflective Action Research


Triple Task Method: Systemic, Reflective Action Research Simon Bell

This brief article introduces a new methodology for systemic action research — Triple Task (TT) — and sets out its rationale and initial progress in becoming an embedded method for group working. Arising from the authors previous work with soft systems approaches, the Imagine method for sustainable development assessment and action research in a variety of global locations, TT provides a means for groups to engage together in purposive work and, at the same time, for facilitators to understand how the dynamic of the group influences the groups output. TT is based on an ambitious concept and at the time of writing the results of TT applied in the context of an EU Framework 7 funded project are in their early stages but importantly, significant insights are already arising including the answers to some puzzling questions:

  • Do purposeful groups always produce the most insightful outcomes?
  • Do conflictual groups produce incoherent results?
  • What makes a ‘good’ group?


Triple Task (TT) is a unique form of participatory action research in the sense that not only does it attempt to arrive at answers to research questions but also tries to understand what factors may have been at play in arriving at those answers. This attribute makes TT an advance on many other participatory techniques which are more focussed on delivering outputs (representing an apparent ‘consensus’) and less concerned (if at all) on the dynamic behind that ‘consensus’ and how the process may have influenced what was produced.

Participatory research takes many forms but the underlying philosophy is that all those involved—be they ‘researcher’ or ‘researched’—are involved in the design of a research process as well as the interpretation of findings. Power should be shared rather than being concentrated in the hands of a researcher. As a result the very process of doing the research can provide many insights and help bring about positive change. Hence the term ‘action research’; a research process that catalyses action.

Springer Link

PDF Link

Bell, S. and Morse, S. 2010. Triple Task Method: Systemic, Reflective Action Research. Systemic Practice and Action Research. DOI 10.1007/s11213-010-9171-7

An Approach to Comparing External and Internal Methods for Analyzing Group Dynamic

Beginning with the question, can a multimethodology explore the nature of group work from both the inside out (group participant self-analysis) and the outside in (facilitator observed analysis), this study presents the results of a statistical analysis comparing 2 different approaches to assessing group function: SYMLOG (A SYstem for the Mul- tiple Level Observation of Groups) and BECM (Being, Engaging, Contextualizing and Managing). SYMLOG is a quantitative internal assessment of group function made by members of the group, whereas BECM is a qualitative external assessment made by an outsider observing the groups. Together, it is argued, they provide a unique, triangu- lated assessment of the group dynamic. By using a “best subsets” linear regression technique it was found that some of the 26 characteristics of SYMLOG are related to BECM scoring (adjusted R2 0.82). This article discusses the reasons for this and the repercussions for such blending of approaches to understanding group dynamic. The article ends by discussing the relative advantages and disadvantages of the 2 ap- proaches and potential for further hybridizing of them in blended group dynamic approaches.

APA Link

Bell, S. and Morse, S. 2013. An Approach to Comparing External and Internal Methods for Analyzing Group Dynamic. Group Dynamics: theory, research and practice. 17, 4, 281 – 298.

Rich Pictures: Sustainable Development and Stakeholders – The Benefits of Content Analysis


Rich Pictures: Sustainable Development and Stakeholders – The Benefits of Content Analysis Simon BellThis paper concerns the interpretation of pictures that stakeholders draw in order to help them structure and understand complex situations. The pictures in question are called Rich Pictures (RPs) and the matter at the heart of interpretation is insight drawn from eduction (drawing forth). Insights relate to stakeholders of all kinds, be they the individual, the group, the context in which the individual and the group find themselves, or the means whereby the context can be made more sustainable or improved. RP drawing, often as a collaborative, stakeholder exercise, is a powerful activity that has the capacity to break down barriers of lan- guage, education and culture. Drawing upon research with RPs from around the world and spanning 50 years of our combined practice, this paper demonstrates RPs’ utility, universal- ity and resilience. We maintain that RP drawing enriches problem solving and, in the long term, saves time and resources being expended on erroneous and/or superficial tasks.
However, the interpretation of RPs is still in its infancy. By use of processes derived from various forms of content analysis (CA) we argue that RPs can be applied as a powerful tool in a variety of policy fields. Conclusions for application are drawn and suggestions are made for further research relating to the clearer interpretation of RPs.

Wiley Online Link

Bell, Simon, Berg, Tessa, and Morse, Stephen. (2016) Rich Pictures: Sustainable Development and Stakeholders – The Benefits of Content Analysis. Sust. Dev., 24: 136–148. doi: 10.1002/sd.1614.

Towards Understanding Problem Structuring and Groups with Triple Task Methodology ‘e’


Towards Understanding Problem Structuring and Groups with Triple Task Methodology ‘e’ Simon BellThe many issues which confront Problem Structuring Groups (PSGs) engaging in applying problem structuring methods (PSMs) are well reported in the literature. Often group problem structuring work is well organised around an array of processes and methods which has received wide-ranging testing in the field however, the assessment of the group in terms of its output, group dynamic and self-assessment tends to be handled piecemeal at best. Triple task methodology (TTM) has been described as a means to manage the three group assessments— group output, dynamic and self-assessment in one frame. In this paper an experimental version of TTM (TTMe) is described in use in an Education project setting in Abu Dhabi. It was intended to make TTM less cumbersome and time consuming and, at the same time, more systemically integrated, a significant objective being to make it easier to use by practitioners who have not used it before or who have only small prior use of group assessment methods. The paper describes the application of TTMe, provides an overall assessment of the value of the exercise, discusses the outputs of the group work and points to the value of TTMe in identifying and clarifying unique group qualities or signatures. The major contribution of the paper is to bring to PSG processes a degree of rapid, non-specialist, empirically comparable assessment on the richness of the group use of PSMs.

Springer Link

Bell, S., Mahroum, S. and Yassin, N. (2016). Towards understanding problem structuring and groups with triple task methodology ‘e’. Journal of the Operational Research Society. doi:10.1057/s41274-016-0017-2

Formations of Terror

There are a host of books about fear but, as yet, there has been little attempt to methodically and systemically assess how fear emerges and is targeted. This highly readable yet rigorous book sets about the methodical assessment of fear as an emergent property. Working from the personal experience of fear as ‘everyman’, and then using examples and case studies, it explores the main principles which lie behind the manifestation of fear of all kinds. Using climate change as its specific point of focus, fear is seen to be a major force in problem assessment and analysis and, by accident or intention, a significant confusion to human decision making. By the systemic development of the main features of the Paradigm of Fear and the identification of Fear Amplifying and Fear Attenuating systems, the book demonstrates how fear can be contained, how new social forms can arise and how new behaviours and social qualities can mitigate the Formations of Terror.

2017 S.Bell Formations of Terror

Measuring and Evaluating – Introducing Imagine

How the Imagine Approach Captures Context and Leads to Sustainability

The Imagine approach is intended to assist organisations and communities of all kinds to improve their long-term sustainability. It provides a rapid means to:

  • Gain a clear understanding of the context in which the organisation or community finds itself and the challenges it faces.
  • Identify the main indicators which can be used to measure progress made in facing these challenges.
  • Assess the overall message of these indicators and thereby assess the current sustainability of the organisation or community.
  • Consider the current challenges, make scenarios of possible undesirable and desirable futures.
  • Assess progress made in either achieving or remaining clear of these futures in the light of current challenges.

Imagine requires the organisation to invest in no additional capital assets such as software or personnel. It is a facilitated workshop process in which a series of tools are applied to enable local decision makers to map their own context and model sustainable futures. In a series of four half day Imagine events, stakeholders from within the organisation or community come together with a facilitator to engage in the process. Imagine is Rapid, Participatory and Holistic It provides organisations and communities with empowering, evidence-based information … helping them to gain a clear insight into a sustainable future. Rich Pictures (such as seen at the top of the page) are used to map the initial context and amoeba diagrams provide an overview of how things were, are and (importantly) could be. Imagine is not Expert driven, Top down or Exclusive and full of technical language.



Triple Task Double Task Simon Bell

Introducing Triple Task Method

The Triple Task Method

Triple Task Method or TTM is an empathetic approach designed to help a facilitator gain a deep knowledge of a group or community using three tasks. 
The method assumes that there is a difficult issue for the group or community to grapple with. Task 1 generates the groups answers to troublesome questions about the issue while Tasks 2 and 3 are designed to explore the ways in which the groups function and how this influences their analysis both in terms of what emerges under Task 1 but also in terms of the variation one might see between members of the group and how they are able to influence the dynamic. 
From the perspective of participants, they only consciously experience Task 1;
 Tasks 2 and 3 are largely invisible to them and are employed to help generate
understandings to be shared later.

Task 1

The main element of TTM in the sense that it is the task which is visible to the groups and will provide the insights about troublesome questions (what is the issue? what has been done so far? By whom? Why? How is this assessed in terms of effectiveness? Etc.). For convenience, Task 1 is also subdivided into three main steps: Scoping, developing Visions of Change (VoCs) and planning Desired change:

Task 2

This is an ‘outside in’ review of the group dynamic. In effect, it is the facilitators assessment of the group process using a matrix approach originally developed at the Open University and known as BECM.

Task 3

Is the ‘inside out’ review of the group dynamic – the stakeholders’ assessment of their group process. The three tasks align in providing a unique ‘group signature’ which can be compared and contrasted to the unique signatures of other groups or benchmark signatures. At the end of a TTM intervention a group will have gained clarity about its task and the organisation will have a deeper knowledge of how well groups are functioning.

Project Fear Comic Formations of Terror Simon Bell

The Project Fear Comic

The project fear comic – find out how fear is weaponised and targeted and how to avoid making things worse! This comic is an easy access point to understand the Formations of Terror (2017.)

Video Link

Bell S. The Project Fear comic

Factors Affecting the Move to an eSystems Approach to Remote Care Delivery

Optimization of care provision, in the future, requires a shift from the current paternal model of dispensing care, to a collaborative model of coaching, supporting and enabling self-care and promoting independence. This will not be appropriate for all people and for all care providers but if resource utility is to be maximized, an approach must be developed that facilitates as much independence and self-determination as each person can safely and capably engage in. This requires that care provision be personalized and include broader engagement, such as social and family connections, as part of a person’s care network.

In order to facilitate a transformation of care providers into care collaborators, communications technology can play a significant enabling role as it has in other eSystems. Ubiquity of such technology across care providers, care receivers and their support networks can underpin new models of care provision. Developing a platform approach for communication and having a menu of interfaces and devices, care services can be personalized such that the technology reflects a person’s specific needs. This novel approach to person-centered communication moves away from a “one-size-fits-all” model and can facilitate combinatorial interventions. However, the move to eSystem- mediated autonomy in remote care provision is confounded by many factors. This paper will discuss the development of just such a communication platform and more than ten year’s experience will be explored in developing combinatorial innovations reflecting personal needs in two care scenarios. Through working with care practitioners and patients the platform has addressed needs in primary, secondary and social care in the UK. The current challenges in scaling the approach will be examined from the point of view of the difficulties in mapping the use of eSystems on to the fragmented nature of current care delivery.


Hoare A, Factors Affecting the Move to an eSystems Approach to Remote Care Delivery Conference:  2016 9th International Conference on Developments in eSystems Engineering (DeSE), Liverpool, 2016, pp. 7-12.
doi: 10.1109/DeSE.2016.3