The Historical Timeline

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Every organization or community develops its own set of cultures. Sometimes aspects of those cultures can be welcoming, hopeful, liberating, trusting while other aspects of those cultures can be exclusive, fearful, controlling, and divisive. This exercise enables a diverse group of people who are not in frequent contact with one another in everyday life to begin to hear, discuss and take in different histories, perspectives and experiences as a method to shift into practices of shared narrative-telling. As participants detail to one another the historical experiences shaping their individual and collective identities, there is a broadening and depth of life shared that underlines the intricate complexity, nuance and human dignity each community shares.

The focus of this exercise is to identify and discuss events, developments, policies or decisions that either build healthy and trust building cultures between different groups of people or have the reverse effect, and create fragmented, violent and unequal cultures.

Some of the guidelines for The Historical Timeline include:

  • Participants take part in a safe space of support where people can speak honestly and openly without harming one another.

  • There should be a public agreement among members about maintaining parameters of confidentiality.

  • Participants draw on their historical experiences as individuals or as members of collective identity groups (race, religion, language, politics, gender, sex and class for example). Participants should be prepared to also experience that someone may interpret the same events differently from others.

  • As  participants add significant events on the timeline, it is also important to understand these circumstances within the context of history, i.e. national and global events that are connected and can either exacerbate or improve conflicts experienced within local communities.  

  • The historical context also provides an opportunity to look at the difference between intent (individually focused) and impact (collectively focused), a crucial tool for any trust building work.


The Historical Timeline is an evidence-based exercise model that can be used to understand, discuss and enact conflict transformation within community and civic groups, faith-based communities, non-profit organizations, small businesses and corporations, as well as government and educational institutions.