Timelines, scenarios, stories

All systems are dynamic, and static network diagrams have one big drawback: they do not describe the dynamics of the system properly. Therefore, timelines are needed as a central part of gigamapping.

This article presents some timelines and scenarios. There is a blurred distinction between descriptive timelines, generative and future-oriented timelines, and scenarios in general.

Timelines are useful for short workshops where there will be unstructured conversations. They have been used extensively by Andreas Wettre, a leadership consultant who is a long-term collaborator in SOD. He uses this approach with the leaders of companies and organizations immersed in change processes. In such processes, the misalignment of perceptions of their shared organization is often a problem that hinders good communication.

Timelines provide a natural sorting device that allows for conversations to jump in a very flexible way back and forth along the timeline. It makes it possible to have open-ended, unstructured and emergency meetings that are focused and generate a better overall shared understanding.

Timelines are not only good for describing processes but also for designing and projecting possible futures. They also can serve as a seamless bridge to building scenarios and narratives (storytelling). These stages are needed for systems oriented design to develop new interventions and innovations and to imagine how they might work. This is also crucial for preparing the system for extreme scenarios to test the system’s resilience and to hopefully avoid counterintuitive and unwanted effects from the system change. In systems theory, the behaviour of the counterintuitive system is a well-known problem. As designers, we need to avoid solving problems just to create new ones.

Complex timeline showing the situation of caregivers

Caring for Caregivers network map

Heringstad and Sælensminde 2014

Swimlane diagram

A swimlane diagram is good for sorting processes over time. Marius Stenersen USN 2022

Map describing typical the everyday life of today’s elderly people

Johansen HIOA 2016

Project timeline derived from Gantt diagram

The timeline shows research projects at the institute of design AHO. The map is both descriptive – looking back – and prescriptive – looking forward –for planning purposes.

Time does not necessarily need to be depicted in linear ways.

From a workshop with architecture students of Hasan Firat Diker, Professor at the Fatih Sultan Mehmet University, Istanbul. The workshop was at AHO in 2018.

Circular timeline indicates a repetitive process – implementation map

Terese Charlotte Aarland, AHO 2009

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