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Brief description Timelines can be useful to identify and explore social change trends in the context.

When to use To better understand the context, and locate the project within an autonomous or organic social and political change process. To see wbere change has happened more quickly and where more support may be needed, and explore the forces which promote changes in people's lives and society.

How to use Timelines can be drawn in many ways. In some cases you may add a time analysis to an existing exercise such as mapping rights. After discussion of how rights are lived and enjoyed by women, men, girls and/or boys at present in different domains (personal, domestic, public) the groups can discuss the differences for their grandmothers/ fathers, and their expectations for their daughters and sons. Then the differences can be discussed.

In another exercise, I asked a group to map out key events and changes which had taken place in relation to the issue (sexual health, school management etc) over the last 5 years. Later, they could place stickers on this 'external' timeline to show where the project or group had had some influence or been involved in some way in that change, or you could choose to identify and discuss points which had an influence on participants' lives.

Alternatively, you can use a graphic like a river to show the timeline or history of a specific project, group or process. A river is a good metaphor because it can grow (or reduce) in size and force as time goes on, you can also represent obstacles, diversions and new inputs or influences. Later, group discussion can draw out some of the key events, issues and influences - and look at where the river goes next.

river graphic from workshop in The Gambia

Examples and stories In a workshop with rural women activists in The Gambia, we rated the differences between women's experience of their rights from previous generations (grandmothers) to the youngest current generation. In this way, we were able to see great advances in women's rights to earn and retain their income, access education and health services, protect themselves from abuse and violence. Advances in participation in public decision making were less. When we discussed where these changes had come about, the women said they were largely due to education and NGO awarenesss raising. This long term view is something difficult to achieve when looking only at a project life, within which time 'NGO awareness raising' may not seem to have had much demonstrable / long-term impact.

In a workshop with advocacy officers for a global health policy advocacy project, we developed a timeline showing key events and policy changes in relation to global health and their objective of health systems strengthening. Later they identified with one colour stickers the moments and changes in which the project or partners had been influential, and those which they considered most significant to their objectives. We were able to use this as the basis for discussion of their achievements and contribution to change towards the project evaluation.

Who can tell me more? Hannah Beardon

Photos/image credits