Timeline mapping

Generate, discuss and synthesise different knowledge about changes over time.

This method involves building an annotated timeline. A timeline map exercise uncovers what different people know and understand about a subject. It arranges what are considered important events, activities, actions in chronological order, enabling insight into how things relate to and influence one another, and building up a picture of the big picture.

It is a way to generate and discuss knowledge from different sources and synthesise the information and is useful to understand the context that your research is working in. For example, if your research is on plantation forestry in a particular region, this method may be used to map the events, trends and developments that shape the way the issue is viewed. It can also reveal differing perceptions between groups and allow these to be considered

It is best developed in a group workshop where there can be discussion between participants.

The following steps are a guide to developing the timeline:

  1. bring a group of people together who have relevant knowledge to the subject matter
  2. Choose an historic start point, relevant to the subject and draw on a whiteboard or long paper.
  3. Invite each participant to fill the timeline with what they consider relevant information, events, decisions etc
  4. Once participants have put up all their relevant points, invite all participants to reflect on the other participants' contributions. Add any additional entries.
  5. A facilitator goes through the timeline, allowing time for discussion. Different interpretations and new events can be added. It isn't necessary to only have a single consequence of an event for example. An event might impact on different groups differently.
  6. Capture timeline, e.g.photograph and make into a usable resource.

Example timeline Key milestones and events that had impacted the early childhood educational landscape in southwest Michigan. From New Systems Thinking Tool: Timeline Mapping, FSG.

This is best used in the early research phase to build understanding of research context, and to elicit relevant knowledge for the research.

This tool can also be used as an ongoing strategic planning tool.

More information

New Systems Thinking Tool: Timeline Mapping, FSG.

Trendline overview, Wageningen University and Research.

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