Creating an Historical Timeline
Background and Purpose:
The River of Life is a reflective tool that helps you describe the history of your partnership or engaged-research
project, and how this journey has shaped where your partnership is now. In this exercise, you will document critical
moments of your partnership’s history that direct you towards your future work. With this tool you will reflect on:
- History and influences that motivate partners to work together.
- The goals, processes, and results of your partnerships’ work.
Facilitation Instructions for Creating a Partnering River of Life,
UNM Center for Participatory Research
Using the River of Life As a Tool. Blackfeet Community College, Browning, Montana
River of Life Facilitation Guide
To facilitate partnership (or organizational) reflection regarding:
- The history and influences that motivate partners (as individuals or from organizations) to
together in their partnership and/or participatory research projects, coalitions or organizations to
community empowerment, social participation, and changes in health.
- The processes, results and goals of your partnership/empowerment work.
Few minutes for individual team member reflection (Step 1)
45 minutes for team work (Steps 2 through 4)
15 minutes to reflect and report back (Step 5 and 6)
- Sheets of paper
- Plenty of colored markers
- Scissors, magazines, construction paper and glue
- Flip chart or butcher paper
Explain that a river is an important symbol in many cultures; it
life and change and for many people, it is stimulating to think about the river, about nature, and about
represents. Every river has headwaters or springs,
(beginnings of the partnership, or organization) and times or places where the river is flowing well
are working well together). Sometimes partnerships have a calm period where the river smooths out into a
pool. Other times the partnership has obstacles or challenges, which can be represented by boulders, rapids,
waterfalls. There are times when bodies of water join through tributaries (new resources, mentors, or new
members), and or a stream branches off from the main river (members leave or new separate partnerships are
Each member of the partnership reflects independently about yourself and the partnership in terms of a river:
How and why did you join? What is important to know about your community and how and why you started working
together? What have been important events and changes you’ve seen?
Lay out a long sheet paper (or two flip charts taped together) and other art supplies (markers, crayons,
construction paper, glue) so that together you can draw your partnership river of life. Construction paper can
be used to cut out images ((ie. hearts to show positive moments or good river flow, and boulders/rocks to show
Draw the river of life for your partnership. Discuss the beginnings, the influences, the obstacles and the
moments as these are key aspects for the work and the commitment to change in the communities and across
partnerships and coalitions. Start where you think it’s important to start, which could be before the
began or historical moments that led to the formation of the partnership.
If it helps, write these instructions on a flipchart:
- Start where you think it is important to start, such as before the partnership began, a
moment, when you received funding, etc.
- Fill in life moments of the partnership and key influences that were important motivations
continued involvement in community work.
- Draw important or influential stages.
- Draw key tributaries coming in.
- What were factors that facilitated the work?
- What were obstacles that were challenging?
- Where are you headed?
Make a historical timeline with dates of months, years (or decades) below the river of life. Relate important
historic events within the community, region, state, or nationally that might influence what is currently
in your partnership (or coalition, or organization), and consider whether this has had an impact in your
Stand back and admire your River of Life, and
answer the following questions:
- What stood out for you while doing this collective process? (Any general thoughts about what
learned or feelings this exercise raised?)
- What were/are some of the facilitators you identified that were important for your
- What were/are some of the challenges or obstacles you have faced in terms of moving forward
good way with your partners?
- Were there important external events that made a difference?
- When do you think you could use the river of life tool in your own work?
If there are multiple teams or partnerships (or individuals) creating Rivers at the same time, you will need
time for the sharing of journeys and and discussion of similarities and differences within different contexts