Civics: How Graphic Artists Facilitate Deliberative Democracy

Democracy next

France’s ongoing Citizens’ Assembly on end-of-life issues is proving that reading isn’t always the best way to soak up knowledge or solve problems. 

As an observer, I’ve watched as a graphic artists have come to play a critical role in the assembly, where 185 French citizen-members are sorting through complex questions relating palliative care, assisted suicide, euthanasia and related issues. 

When taking an important decision – absorbing unfamiliar information, questioning one’s conscience, prioritising options and finding consensus with others – illustrations are proving an excellent assist to the extensive reading materials. It turns out they help with thinking, talking and assembling a final report as well. Perhaps it should come as no surprise: the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual.

The role of the three artists who accompany each assembly session at first seemed mostly decorative, like the cartoonists who enliven conferences and speeches with real time caricatures of what’s going on.