Constructing a Historical Timeline


An exercise to surface and reflect on events related to the network’s purpose that have influenced the current system. 

Group Size

This activity can work with any group size; participants will be broken into small groups of 4-7 people each.

Time Required

75-90 minutes. This includes 10m for framing, instructions, and setup (including getting people into groups and at their tables), 35m in small groups to develop and reflect on their historical timelines, and 15m for full group reflections. We recommend holding an additional 15m of buffer time in case the reflections need more time. Optionally, you can also hold an additional 15m for gallery walk (a gallery walk is when groups take time to view each other's timelines).


Understanding our past can help us make sense of the present and identify where we can intervene in the systems to create change. Developing a historical timeline gives us an opportunity to reflect on the events related to our network's purpose that have influenced the present day system. We will be considering not only what those events are, but how they have affected the present, and what they mean for our future.


Start by breaking people into small groups, with 4-7 people per group. Each group should have their own table and 2-3 sheets of large post-it flip-chart paper laid flat on the table, connected horizontally to create an extra long piece of paper. Each table should also have a stack of post-it notes, as well as one black marker per person (something that is easily visible but still easy to write with, such as a fine-point sharpie).


If you are convening virtually, have each group meet in a separate breakout room, and provide them with a shared virtual whiteboard (such as Mural or Jamboard) that has been prepped for the session.


In small groups, reflect on the following questions: 

  • What are the significant events related to our purpose that have affected the present system? 
  • And what is it about these events that we need to consider as we work to advance our purpose?


Begin by drawing a horizontal line down the middle of your flipchart paper, lengthwise. This is your timeline. Feel free to go back as far as you want in history, and up to the present day. Your first conversation as a group may be where the timeline begins.


Each person should have a short stack of post-it notes and a black marker. When you think of an event you’d like to write on the timeline, describe the event as concisely as possible on a post-it note, and place the event chronologically on your timeline as best as possible. As you place the event on the timeline, share it aloud with your group. You’ll have 25m to create your timeline as a group, and then we’ll step back to reflect.


(After 25m have passed) In your small groups, take another 10 minutes to review the timeline you’ve created and reflect on the following questions: 

  • What stands out? What common themes have emerged? 
  • And what implications do these have on our work moving forward?


Return to the full group and debrief this exercise together: 

  • Which of the items on your historical timeline generated the most discussion in your small group? What common themes emerged? 
  • And what are some of the primary considerations for our network moving forward? 

(If time allows, you can invite participants to go on a gallery walk prior to the full group debrief to view each other’s timelines. If you are meeting in person, this opportunity for movement will help participants to see and begin to integrate more ideas prior to the debrief.)  

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License