River of Life

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River of Life Exercise

See also the | KSToolkit page on River of Life A method (of about an hour) for introducing oneself in a descriptive and fun way and to sketch one’s expectations (though they will not be reflected in plenary session). Particularly relevant for groups of people that do not know each other or their background.


A drawing is worth 1000 words. Everybody understands drawings. To say a lot more about oneself to others than by expressing it in words; to reflect for oneself about one’s own rationale and expectations re: the event attended.


   * Drawing of the River of life.
   * Experience with the methodology

Topics Any question or issue that puzzles / bothers someone in the group.


River_of_Life, reflection, evaluation, vision, planning

Detailed Description

[the meat of the topic – clearly, crisply communicated summary of the topic. Where relevant, a brief story – no more than 1-2 paragraphs - of how this topic has been turned into practice, ideally from the KM4Dev archives? If the example is long, separate into a separate subsection]

KM4Dev Discussions

From Ewen Le Borgne, KM4DEV Brighton Workshop, July, 2006

Examples in Application

Story We used RoL last week in a F2F 3 day workshop on knowledge sharing. We had a very diverse 15 person group, workshop run in English, interpretation in French and Spanish. We started by breaking the group into four subgroups where they started thinking about the history and possible future paths of KS in the organization. As the groups started sketching out ideas on paper, we invited them up to the front of the room for our large river of life, where they then more fully sketched out their contributions. One group offered a complete rethinking of the river structure, showing tributary streams which, before joining the river, were isolated. At then end of about 90 minutes, we had a vivid depiction of where they had been and where they wanted to head, mostly visual and free of a lot of text (useful in the multilingual environment). We were then able to refer back to it as we worked over the three days. I'll see if I can get permission to share the actual final picture. One thing I noticed is there was little self consciousness about how "artful" it was. We used stick figure drawings, magazine cut outs and sticker. Quite simple. - Nancy

Example of how not to use it

Story I tried to use this approach (very spontaneously)early on in a meeting of the steering group of a networking initiative. I was trying to build up a shared understanding of the history of the initiative amongst that group who had been involved for various lengths of time. This was intended to be a basis for future discussions over the coming days.

I'm not sure it was entirely successful. I was trying to create one river of life picture for the initiative with the paper spread on the floor. Some people seemed quite shocked that I was crouching on the floor shouting "come on - what happened next?" then trying to draw a picture of it...I gave people pens and encouraged them to join in but perhaps unsurprisingly few did... I think it may have helped set the tone for the meeting (big bits of paper and pens are good!) but some people would have preferred me to outline the history more conventionally.

I think this method may be better for personal journeys rather than collective or organisational ones, or if used in a group it should probably be a smaller one so everyone contributes. But I'd be interested to hear if anyone has used it successfully in this way.

Thanks for the great story. You inspired me to add one which shows a slightly different context!

Further Information

River of Life Method story from KM4Dev 2006 Brighton workshop

River of Life in a health care setting

Original Author and Subsequent Contributors of this FAQ

Created Feb15, 2007

Dates of First Creation and Further Revisions

Example added by Catherine Fisher, IDS 22 Jan 05

Example added by Nancy White, Feb 26

FAQ KM4Dev Source Materials

[Raw text of email discussions on which the FAQ is based]