Participatory research method: neighborhood timeline activity

Click the photo for a larger and clearer image

This is a photo of a really nifty participatory method for collecting data or information in a community-based setting, for example the history of a neighborhood. I saw this particular time line in use at a recent community stakeholder meeting in a local Memphis neighborhood, where community members filled out sticky notes of the things they felt were most important to add to the time line. The photo only shows a portion of the time line, which was the length of the table it was on, or perhaps about 6 feet long (or more). 

I believe the idea of this specific time line was to present major events within the city of Memphis as a whole (the top of the time line), and to have neighborhood residents fill in the bottom portion with events, people, places, etc. that are part of the neighborhood’s history. Such a method allows participants to be a part of defining their own history and prioritizing important aspects of it, which often gets written by the powerful/those at the top (history is written by the victors, as they say). It also allows community organizers and officials involved in neighborhood development efforts to get a better sense of the values, priorities, and individual and collective memories of those who will be affected by such efforts, and to appropriately incorporate these into plans to make them as localized as possible.

Ideally, participants would represent a range of ages so that the time line was proportionately filled out instead of responses clustering more toward recent years, but of course that depends on who is in attendance. This method could also be used in other contexts, including focus group/market research, guerrilla-style research on the streets, in participatory museums, PTA meetings (and the list goes on).

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