Visualising perspectives with rich pictures

In dealing with a wicked problem like transport, it is sometimes difficult to have all parties involved seeing eye-to-eye and having a common understanding about the issues involved. The ‘Rich Picture’ methodology goes some way to attempting to make some of the perspectival differences clearer to those involved in the process.

A ‘rich picture’ is a soft-systems thinking tool. Participants are given some sort of framing issue or concern – in this case, transport. Then, they draw a picture of their perspective on this concern, paying particular attention to the different stakeholders involved and how they relate.

In a way, what’s being drawn is the relationship between different parties. This is useful because when the pictures are compared, the different perspectives each stakeholder brings to the table when examining an area like transport can be highlighted. Common themes and ideas can also be identified.

The stakeholder must also draw themselves in the picture to show where they come in. By placing yourself, you realise you have a particular perspective on the problem and that every person and party involved has a necessarily skewed view. There is no ‘one’ neat definition of the problem that can be agreed on by everybody.

We ran a ‘rich pictures’ workshop to garner understanding about the different places our stakeholders were coming from, with each stakeholder thinking about issues around transport as the subject of their picture. What became apparent was that parties were thinking about transport in entirely different ways – some with a broad, all-encompassing view and others focusing on a particular issue. The examples below are some of the rich pictures we collected.


Architect’s View: this shows a categorisation of journey types and expectations that the individual has for each of them, expressed through an architect’s written language. The thinking develops from the top of the page down, concluding at the bottom.


Traveller’s View: this displays a designer’s perspective on the transport system. It shows that their expectations are influenced by what they’ve previously experienced in other places. The drawer’s situated in the centre of the page, with their past and current experiences of transport shaping what they desire from the system and their thoughts on how it could be changed.


Late Night View: this view comes from a manager responsible for late night transport in particular. This means the rich picture shows only the complex issues of getting out of King’s Cross late at night. On one side the ‘dream’ is shown, with clear signage allowing passengers to access a range of transport options. On the other side is the reality – clusters of people waiting at a taxi stand and becoming angry at their wait, possibly leading to criminal activity which lands someone in jail.

The act of drawing is a synthetic exercise – in that it forces you to decide what are the most important parts to visualise and can become expressive through visual language such as attributions of size, relationships and emotions. We have found this tool very useful to initiate workshops to give everyone an artefact that represents their own unique perspective.

For more information on Rich pictures visit

Or read the original literature:

Checkland, P. & Scholes, J., 1999, Soft systems methodology in action : a 30-year retrospective, illustrated, reprint ed. Wiley, Chichester, Eng. ; New York