Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar

As member of the JRC and as visual thinker, I was invited to capture visually the main insights of the JRC senior management seminar. During two days, I listened to a few hundred managers taking stock after one year of the launch of an innovative way of working in transversal modes in our organisation, the so-called JRC portfolios. The program was a fair balance between keynotes, informative presentations, exchanges, and conversations in world café mode. My challenge was to create the graphic recording of all this in order to provide a visual but also emotional memory that would be useful to the participants and those who were not present.

Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar

On the substance

Overall, the results after one year are positive. There is a deeper understanding among the managers of the benefits of collaborating and working together on cross-cutting themes to “do even better science to support EU policies”. There are of course issues to resolve, while navigating a complex organisation and world, but by working together, everyone agreed that we would be able to overcome it all.

Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar

How I worked

Aware that I would not have been able to capture the essence of extremely technical, dense and tense conversations over two days, I put together a small team of volunteers to help me. They were instructed to write down points and insights that were important to them on post-its (when they wanted and if they could) and bring them to me. This is how dozens of post-its arrived at me at the end of each intervention. Thanks to them I was able to refine my live visual notes by confirming or correcting my own notes, or by covering what I had missed.

Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar

Personal take-aways

The intensity of the program spread over three days, and the exhausting trips to and from the hotel which was very far away, should not have impacted my concentration and my ability to listen. So I relied on a few small moments of meditation during the days, whether it’s a walk outside the conference center or stacking stones in balance inside. This is really what allowed me to keep my concentration and manage my mental fatigue.

Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar

I was moved when some of the colleagues who helped me with the harvesting said at the end that they had listened to the speeches with much deeper attention than usual. They experienced the basics of harvesting, this technique in the art of hosting which first consists of listening at different levels. Without them I would not have been able to create such rich and deep visual notes. Harvesting important events can only be done correctly with and as a team.

I want to express them my gratitude and to the other colleagues with whom I had the privilege of working closely, for their support, their help, their kindness, for the coffees brought, their smiles, for their comforting looks, for who they are. Beautiful people.

Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar Graphic recording of the JRC senior management seminar

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StartSketch, the very first Sketchnoting course in the European Commission

The importance of harnessing the power and benefits of visual thinking has never been more evident. It’s a valuable skill for enhancing our listening abilities, concentration, memory retention, and visually reimagining information processing by summarising and filtering it. As a colleague told me recently, “you do knowledge synthesis in its most practical form!“. Moreover, visual thinking is a critical tool for gaining clarity in the face of complexity, helping us tackle intricate subjects.

It had been over a decade since Catherine Focant and I rekindled our discussion on introducing visual thinking and sketchnoting within the European institutions. In October 2023, we achieved a significant milestone by delivering the first-ever internally offered course on sketchnoting and visual thinking at the European Commission. The initial 20 spots filled up rapidly, and we were pleasantly surprised to find the waiting list for future sessions grow daily, eventually reaching over 350 eager colleagues.


For the enthusiastic participants, it was a transformative journey. Many of them began with the misconception that “I cannot draw“, but they left the course with newfound confidence, now able to create simple visuals combined with lettering. They also discovered that drawing skills are closely linked to active and deep listening.

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The overwhelmingly positive feedback and their commitment to practicing visual thinking were the most cherished gifts for us. Starting tomorrow, we invite them to join a newly established community of practice on Sketchnoting within the European institutions, and we encourage them to explore the global community of practitioners worldwide. If our motto is “Draw and share,” I genuinely believe that I received far more from them than what I imparted during the course.


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Why is it so difficult to deliver feedback?

I read an article about the importance of giving feedback and the difficulty of giving feedback. I couldn’t stop myself from drawing the 4 rules of thumb:

  1. Feedback says more about the giver than the receiver
  2. Feedback is a gift
  3. Feedback is only useful (and used) when it is asked for
  4. Once feedback is asked for, it is often no longer needed
Why is it so difficult to deliver feedback? A sketchnote

The original article is worth reading

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How can meditation help decision makers?

I had the immense privilege of listening to two prestigious experts in their field, with a common research object and practice, meditation. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche who is a Tibetan Buddhist master and meditation teacher, and Dr Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry who is well known for his research on the brain and meditation, and is a friend of the Dalai Lama.

They talked us about meditation, how it can help decision makers. The conference was a pleasant dance between teachings about meditation, small meditation exercises, and scientific facts that confirm the importance of the meditation practice for more awareness for better decision-making. My visual notes:

Sketchnotes of “how meditation can help decision makers”
Conference “how meditation can help decision makers”
Conference “how meditation can help decision makers”

Big thank you to my colleagues Carles Blas Chloé Dengis who invited these two persons and organised the conference so well.

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Sketchnotes and drawings from Phuket, Thailand

Sketchnotes and drawings from my travelbook during our trip to Phuket in Thailand. Everything was drawn on site even if not always finished or colored at the same time.

This way of collecting moments, places, people, food in a travelbook has become precious to me. Because I take the time to observe, listen, feel before opening my travelbook and drawing. Then because looking at these memories after my return, and even years later, takes me back vividly to the moment I experienced with the same emotions and the same feelings. Much more than photos can do. And I say that as an amateur and fan of photography. Besides, you can look at my photo album of Thailand.

Sketchnotes and drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand Sketchnotes drawings from Phuket, Thailand
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From stardust to galaxies, stars and constellations

“Each story is like a star. It is bright, shiny and grabs our attention. Stories find their home in narratives, like stars in constellations, and each individual story makes sense and is believable only if it attaches to a narrative. Stories bring narratives to life, while narratives infuse stories with deeper meaning. Taken together, stories and narratives shape our culture.”

Stories, narratives, and cultures

I really love this metaphor used by Nayantara Sen and other cultural strategists. I could only sketch it so that it was even more part of me. It gave meaning to a quest I carried out for 10 years. Today it guides me in many work projects and helps me to better understand the societal changes around cultures.

This is the story of how this metaphor came to me. It all started with stardust, with a tagline.


Somewhere in 2012, I asked my Director-General “- Walter [Deffaa], how would you explain to your daughter who knows nothing about it, what the Directorate-General for Regional Policy you lead does, in a tagline?”. He slumped in his chair and replied “– Claudio, I’ll never do it. What we do is far too complex to be summed up in a single sentence.

I remember my confusion. As internal communicator, I was always looking for ways to motivate colleagues in DG Regional Policy, to put stars (12) in their eyes and make them proud of their work. I expected from my Director-General a motto that expresses our purpose and our activities. Something easy to remember, in which each of us could identify, could draw pride and motivation from it. Kind of like the motto a janitor of the NASA space centre gave President JFQ in 1962 “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”


If a tagline is too short to sum up the complexity of what we do, maybe a story would do, I thought. Not only can a story convey information but it does much more than that. A story activates our imagination, involves our senses, triggers our emotions, transmits values and social principles, connects us to identities. Also our brain fundamentally structures and relates our human experiences through stories. That’s why people love and remember stories. As Jung Chang told me in 2013 “- If you tell your message through a story, people will remember your message. Because they will remember the story“.

Convinced of this, I worked for a long time with my colleagues in the communication unit to write the story that tells our organisation, the DG Regional Policy.

The fact is that we never managed to create The perfect story that tells what DG Regional Policy does, and why, in a comprehensive, inspiring, and memorable way. Even just a good story, in my opinion, despite the efforts of my colleagues1 . In my quest, I came to question my idea of one story that would tell everything. And because nothing comes by chance, I watched “The dangers of the single story” TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I suddenly had the conviction that we were, I was on the wrong track from the beginning. From the TED talk: “I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of their stories of that place and that person.“, and also “when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.


How could one story be the entire story? We had to think of a collection of stories rather than a single story. Not only did we have to tell stories, lots of stories, but above all not to create them ourselves, we the communication experts. These stories had to be told by those who lived them, by the protagonists.

This is how we, Eva Maria S. and I, created the “Our stories” internal video series, the first narrative. Within two years, we interviewed more than 130 colleagues. We asked them to tell us their little big stories of what they do in their work, which we filmed and published internally. The series was a source of inspiration and motivation for all staff to do more, to do things differently, with joy and together. The series made it possible to understand the narrative of what we were doing and how, but it still lacked the narrative of why we were doing it, the meaning.

With Agnès M., I then imagined a new collection of stories, for another narrative. “An aggregate of similar stories that produces a meaning-making pattern” to better understand who we are, and why we do what we do. It was time to leave our walls and our colleagues to go to the field to collect other stories. The little big stories of the beneficiaries of the European funds for which we worked. As I explained to my colleagues in the vision paper for the launch of the series in 2019 “this collection of stories constitutes the compelling narrative that will broaden our spectrum of vision to the meaning of what we all do together for the ultimate benefit of the citizens of Europe.” You can watch and listen to these little big stories on Youtube in the “Stories from the regions” playlist.


With great humility, I don’t believe that these constellations of stories have brought about any cultural change in DG Regional Policy. That was not the objective. At most, the colleagues who have taken the trouble to listen to the stories hopefully better understand the deeper meaning of their daily work, as well as the culture of our organisation. That was the objective.

According to Nayantara Sen in Stories for change: “to transform our culture, we begin by changing the stories that we tell. Because each story has the power to shift narratives, and by extension, change belief systems in our culture“. The objective was not to change our culture in DG Regional Policy, so we collected and told the stories that supported our current narratives. To instill a culture change in the organisation – useful for any organisation that wants to evolve and adapt – it would take humility and audacity to collect other stories, to use other storytelling models, in order to shift the current commonly accepted narratives.
This is the biggest lesson I learned on my journey from stardust (a tagline) to galaxies (cultures).

Stories, narratives, and cultures


My colleagues in the communication unit of DG Regional Policy continued the reflection and came up with this motto that you can read on the Regional Policy website: “Regional policy is the EU’s main investment policy. It supports job creation, competitiveness, economic growth, improved quality of life and sustainable development, leaving no one and no region behind.” Well, my former Director-General, Walter Deffaa, was right in 2012. It’s impossible to sum up the complexity of who we are and what we do in a single sentence, however elegant and punchy it may be.

Useful links

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