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Timeline Analysis

Timeline analysis workshop

Bringing together project participants to reflect jointly on the challenges, successes and lessons from the project is valuable for the project team to identify the causes of tensions, frictions or different understandings among the research project team and stakeholders. The timeline method provides an opportunity to do this. Depending on the length of the project and the number of participants it will take between 2 to 4 hours to run a timeline workshop.
A timeline analysis involves someone collecting information on project events over the life of the project and constructing a draft timeline as a starting point for discussion. The draft timeline is then shared at a participant workshop, or during interviews. It is important to get involvement from all workshop participants as people will remember different events. The aim is to gain agreement by all participants on the key events during the life of the project. Participants then identify key moments, highs and lows within the project, and moments of friction. Events which appear to be interpreted differently are important to focus on and discuss. Discussing these differences of interpretation will provide insights into the causes of conflicts that may have never been expressed.
The completed timeline can help the project manager to prioritise sources of tension among the project team and stakeholders and make choices about follow-up steps, based on what has been discussed.

Conducting a timeline

Pre-workshop or interview:

  • Work with a key project person to establish/identify:
  • The start point of the project (this is often pre-funding)
  • Key activities or events that occurred to date (or for the duration of the project)

During an interview

  • Have the timeline typed up on a one pager (using A3 paper might be easier than A4) (and/or possibly have a laptop that you can input as you go)
  • Explain to the interviewee that a base timeline has been drafted and key events identified. Ask them to:
  1. Check the accuracy of the base timeline 
  2. Have they got any key events to add 
  3. Identify where they felt critical points on the timeline occurred
    • key moments of success  
    • key challenges within the project
    • high and low points in the project 
    • points of friction or tension. 
  • As the interviewee talks they (or interviewer) adds this information into the timeline.
  • Record the discussion either as notes or audio recording the conversation.
  • Pose the reflective question to the interviewee “If you were to draft a set of recommendations for another group embarking on a similar project, what would you recommend in terms of key actions to take to ensure success?” 
  • Record the discussion.
  • For each subsequent interview use the updated version.

During a workshop

  • Write the timeline up on A1 paper hung on the wall (or using a sticky wall) where the complete timeline can be viewed. 
  • Make the timeline as interactive as possible with pictures that link to the key events identified included on the timeline.
  • The facilitator or key participant who drafted the timeline should talk the timeline through to the rest of the group.   Ensure that this is just a presentation of events, not an analysis of these events. Do this by telling the story. E.g. “this happened… and then this…and then this…”
  • Participants make notes during the story of any key event that was missing
  • Once the timeline has been presented, work through the group with each participant suggesting one idea (written on a post-it) and place this up onto the wall/timeline.
  • Review the complete story again once this has been done.
  • Place participants into pairs to discuss the following four items and have them write their ideas on post-it notes (one idea per post-it).
  • What were the key moments?
  • What were the highs? Why
  • What were the lows? Why?
  • When was their friction? Why?
  • Have someone recording notes through this discussion to collect the details described – or back up with audio recording. 
  • Pose the reflective question to the group “If you were to draft a set of recommendations for another group embarking on a similar project, what would you recommend in terms of key actions to take to ensure success?
Capture the answers on post-it notes and put these up on the wall.
Note: This technique has been adapted from van Mierlo et al’s (2010) paper ‘Reflexive Monitoring in Action: a guide for monitoring system innovation projects.'

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