Rich picture

Tool 3- Download here

Aim of the tool
To help participants understand the complexity of an entire situation

When to use it?
At the connection stage, when you want stakeholders to explore the issue at stake. It can also be used to review a situation with an established MSP.

What is a Rich Picture?

A rich picture is a drawing of a situation that illustrates the main elements and relationships that need to be considered in trying to intervene in order to create some improvement. It consists of pictures, text, symbols and icons, which are all used to illustrate graphically the situation. It is called a rich picture because it illustrates the richness and complexity of a situation.

Why develop a Rich Picture?

A rich picture helps us to understand the complexity of an entire situation. It is a way of thinking holistically. It is based on the idea that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’. It also builds on the fact that our intuitive consciousness communicates more easily in impressions and symbols than in words. Drawings can both evoke and record insights into a situation.

A rich picture helps us to see relationships and connections that we may otherwise miss. It helps identifying one or more themes participants may want to further explore and address. Rich pictures are therefore always used in the pre-analysis phase.

Developing a rich picture is a good group exercise, as everyone can add to it and explain their particular interests or perspectives. Besides, a rich picture can also be a non-threatening and humorous way of illustrating different perspectives and conflicts.

Rich picture – Step by step

The following steps guide groups of 5-7 people in developing a rich picture. Allocate at least 1 to 1,5 hours.


  • Have a large piece of flip chart paper or brown paper.
  • Put the paper on a table or on the ground around which everyone is sitting or standing in a way that each person can easily draw on the picture. Make sure each person has a marker (within the group different coloured markers).
  • One person should facilitate the group work. It is essential to encourage everyone to contribute and make clear drawing skills are not important.
  • Choose a case. As a group you will develop ONE rich picture about that case.


Draw in the centre the problematic situation, as the key issue of the MSP case. You draw the current situation.

  • Start drawing, don’t start talking or discussing. Explain as you draw!
  • Who are the stakeholders and how do they relate to the problematic or the issue?
  • Draw the relations of stakeholders to each other.
  • Draw the context, the causes and effects and any other relevant social, economic, political, environmental features or issues.
  • Make sure your drawing includes both facts and subjective information.
  • You can use a legend or some words to explain stakeholders or problems, but do not use too many words.

Wrap up

Write down on cards the 5 main challenges of the MSP case arising from your rich picture.


The photo shows a rich picture displaying a wetland management situation, made by course participants of CDI’s yearly MSP course. Actors (donors, NGO, local government, fishermen) and factors (power issues, overfishing, conflicts, money flows) can be recognized.


A creative presentation of a relatively simple rich picture is given by Flomella S. Alilio-Caguicla,  from Quezon, the Philippines. In 2012 she attended the CDI course on “Transition to sustainable production systems” (find her powerpoint here).

Learn more

The Open University (UK) created ‘rich picture about rich pictures’. It also shows the possibility of asking individual participants to first draw their own rich picture and use these as the basis for group discussions. Comparing the different rich pictures will reveal different perceptions and assumptions and might bring issues to the surface which might otherwise be left unspoken.

The Open University also released a series of 8 videos that explore the concept of rich pictures and the many ways in which images have evolved into communication tools.