Timelines - Historical mapping

Brief Description
This tool assists with the documenting of the history of the community or beneficiary group. It can do this either in pictures, writing or symbols. A timetable (either every five or ten years) is established, going back as far as people can remember. The timetable is focused on a specific subject such as natural or communal resource management, or village growth and its effect on the surrounding environment.

  • Stimulate discussion of why and how a problem arose
  • Provide community insight into the "root" of the problem

Key Questions:
How to understand and analyse an actual problem by searching for its
roots in the past.

How to facilitate the process:
Timelines are simple listings of events according to date (often approximate).

  • Understanding the origin of a problem can provide both insiders and outsiders with a clean slate on which to start building activities
  • Create a timeline to follow, (every five or ten years) with events to be filled in through group discussion
  • Allow ample time for discussion around each time period. and make sure that all relevant issues are recorded
  • Source: FAO Participation: Timelines/ Historical profiles

Source: Community Forestry Field Manual 2 Prepared by: D'Arcy Davis Case
Printed by: FAO Regional Wood Energy Development Programme in Asia, Bangkok, Thailand;
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Rome, 1990

When to use:
  • To identify interconnected milestones
  • To visualize a sequence of events
  • To understand complex scenarios
  • To make history interesting
  • To plot networks
  • To activate past learning.
(Source: OHCHR)

How to use this method:
1. Set up the space where the timeline will be constructed. In order that shy participants do not feel under scrutiny as they add the contribution, it is preferable to locate the timeline at the side or back of the room. Hang multiple sheets of paper, or stand multiple freestanding boards next to each other.
2. Begin the process by defining the boundaries and scale of the timeline. This stage will be largely defined by the ‘framing’ of the experience on which you are focusing, or the larger context if using it during the Framing step.
3. Draw the scale within these limits of the timeline.

Ask questions such as:
What were the key past developments that have shaped the present?
What were the notable milestones?
Where there any turning points, where events took a decidedly positive or negative turn?
Who were the actors or stakeholders whose actions impacted key developments?
What were the key external factors or events that affected the situation?
What were the major obstacles to success or progress? Are any obstacles recurring?
How were the obstacles overcome?

4. Provide participants with writing materials and ask them to fill in the timeline with relevant information. Different categories can be colour coded by using different coloured post-it notes (e.g. stakeholders, external events).
5. When all participants have added their content, the facilitator should suggest additional points and ask questions, and fix a second period, when participants can add content.
6. At the end of the session, there should be time for plenary discussion of the timeline.
7. The timeline itself should be documented, both with photographs, but possibly also via an online timeline creation tool.

Material needed:
sheet of paper + pen/ stick and ground

1-2 hours

Tips and Lessons Learnt
Sensitive issues from the past may be raised. If this happens, the facilitator can move to the next time period and return to the sensitive issue later on. The group should not get stuck in deep discussion over sensitive issues. Timelines are always developed during group discussions

Examples & Stories
(add your story)

Resources (add your resources)
Source: FAO Participation :Timelines/ Historical profiles
OHCHR Knowledge Sharing Toolkit: Timelines: http://slitoolkit.ohchr.org/data/downloads/timelines.pdf
Online tools for creating timelines

Photo or image credits
Image source:Community Forestry Field Manual 2 Prepared by: D'Arcy Davis Case
Printed by: FAO Regional Wood Energy Development Programme in Asia, Bangkok, Thailand;
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Rome, 1990