Paul Brook: How doodles can help people to understand complex issues

Paul Brook is chief copywriter at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. In this guest blog on doodling, he shares how his JRF doodles focus on making sense of UK poverty, while his doodles for Blurt have illustrated his experiences of depression and anxiety. At this year's Social Media Exchange Anu Liisanantti, Communications at Hibiscus will be facilitating a lunchbite to get you doodling. She'll be looking at different examples and creating your own doodles, using basic techniques to make even complex messages more accessible.

Poverty isn’t easy to understand or explain. It has many causes and consequences, people disagree over what it is, and we need a combination of different solutions to solve it.

JRF’s work with the FrameWorks Institute has challenged us to think hard about how we talk about poverty. We want to inspire action and change to solve UK poverty, but we know there’s a lot of work to do if more people are to understand it and call more loudly for solutions – and we’ll have to try out some different ways of communicating.

I’ve used doodles to explain depression in a couple of blogs for the Blurt Foundation, and wondered whether I’d be able to do something similar to help people understand poverty. The research FrameWorks did for us suggested some metaphors that help to explain the ways poverty works, so I used these as the basis for my doodles.

Why doodles?

The reason I tried doodling for Blurt was that I knew firsthand how hard it can be to read and take in any information when you’re struggling with a mental health problem. I thought that if I could capture some ideas in a few simple images, it might help to get some messages across in a more accessible way – for example, showing some of the unseen aspects of depression.

It occurred to me that poverty is similar to mental health problems when it comes to communicating – both are complex, and both can be unseen, misunderstood or disputed – so maybe doodles would help to explain poverty too. Armed only with an A4 pad, a pencil, some felt tips and a thin-nibbed black pen for the outlines, I set about trying to visualise some messages about UK poverty that have been tested with members of the British public.

Doodles in action

I’ve been really pleased to see how people are using the doodles since I shared them on social media. They’ve been used in workshops with people who have experience of poverty, both in York and Hartlepool, where they’ve helped people to understand our framing and the work we’re doing, and to start thinking about their own metaphors and messages. My colleagues working in policy and research have been taking the doodles out on the road in their speeches and presentations.

I’ve been approached by the Poverty Alliance in Scotland, the Trussell Trust, and a food poverty project in Lancashire, all of whom saw potential in the doodles for their own work and audiences. My favourite use of the doodles so far was in a Glasgow secondary school, where students used them as a resource to deepen their conversation and understanding of poverty. We’ve since used them in other presentations in schools, and find that children relate to the simple images and themes.

Here are the doodles.

Currents

We use ‘currents’ as a metaphor for how poverty works. It helps to explain how poverty reduces options and makes it extremely hard for people to simply change their situations. This doodle highlights that redesigning the social security system is one way of helping people to stay afloat when they’re struggling.

 

Locked in poverty

The idea of people being ‘locked in’ poverty by circumstances outside of their control is another powerful metaphor. This doodle shows some of the main factors that combine to restrict and restrain people, locking them in poverty.

Loosening poverty’s grip

As shown in the first doodle, a social security system that’s functioning well can support people when they hit hard times. In this image, benefits are shown as a key that can unlock poverty’s constraints.


Benefits are part of the solution

When we talk about benefits, it’s common to start thinking about who is deserving or undeserving. Benefits can then be seen as a problem – not part of the solution to solving poverty. Benefits are part of a wider system of public services that we all rely on, to ensure that everyone in our country has a decent standard of living.

The economy can be redesigned

Poverty can seem like a huge, unsolvable problem. Similarly, the economy is seen as big, unmovable, inevitable and complicated. As a society, we believe in compassion and justice, but the way the economy has been designed is not benefiting everyone.

The idea of this final doodle is to help show that systems like the economy can be changed – they can be redesigned to work for everyone.

If you or anyone else you know would find it useful to include these doodles in your work, please let me know.

Since publication JRF have shared a new animated doodle looking at how people get locked into poverty:

About the Author
Paul Brook is chief copywriter at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He also writes a blog on mental health and wildlife, called Dippyman. His JRF doodles focus on making sense of UK poverty, while his doodles for Blurt have illustrated his experiences of depression and anxiety. Some of his mental health doodles are available to buy on various products at Redbubble.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @PaulBrook76

Want to get doodling? Join us at the Social Media Exchange on Monday 11 February at Resource for London for a day of interactive and practical masterclasses, lunchbites and talks. Anu Liisanantti, Communications at Hibiscus will be facilitating a lunchbite to get you doodling. She’ll be looking at different examples and creating your own doodles, using basic techniques to make even complex messages more accessible.

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