Written by: Kirsten Williams; Edited By: Gioel Gioacchino and Ani Hao
Can we understand others without ‘seeing’ their experience? Try painting an image you can’t see! This is an experiential learning exercise that helps participants become aware of our biased and limited awareness as researchers.
Our experience using this technique:
Researchers observe reality and abstract it. This is a really hard (and sometimes dangerous) task. This exercise is a great metaphor of the research process. Working in pairs, one participant is asked to describe a painting to the other partner. Just like a researcher tries to make sense of the reality of another person, the partner is tasked to re-paint an image they can’t see. This exercise sometimes can be very frustrating, but it is a powerful reminder that as researchers we need to be aware of our limits and our bias.
Stepping into a community, there is so much that we don’t see. If a painting is so hard to describe, imagine describing a personal experience of another person! We need to be humble, listen carefully, and communicate effectively.
At the Recrear House-Office we organize lots of ‘painting nights’: we hang out with our friends and paint together. Afterwards, we recycle the painting for different exercises. We adapted this exercise based on a workshop that Cuso International utilizes to train their international volunteers to be conscious of their limited perceptions of a community when working in different country.