Historical Scan

A Historical Scan is used either to review a group's evolution over time or to set the scene in which a project is to be undertaken. It is a variant of the Focused Conversation (Stanfield 1997), so let us review that process first:

Focused Conversation
A group (which could be students in a course, a grass roots activist organization, or a business) addresses some challenging or difficult situation by proceeding through four stages:
  1. Objective (getting the facts)
  2. Reflective (eliciting feelings and associations)
  3. Interpretive (considering the meaning and significance)
  4. Decisional (formulating a decision, an action, or a shared picture)
Participants who tend to jump quickly to a decision or an interpretation are encouraged, instead, to spend more time on the earlier stages, to be careful to separate facts from feelings, and to recognize at each step the range of assessments put forward by all the participants. The result of a Focused Conversation is not necessarily a consensus. Yet, because the group shares a common pool of experiences of the situation, the result is larger than what any one person had beforehand. That provides a firmer basis for the group's work to be extended, either by the group or by group members in other settings.

In a Historical Scan, as in a Focused Conversation, the facilitator should, as neutrally as possible, lead the group through a series of questions. Answers should be telegraphic, so as to allow for as wide a pool of contributions as possible. To give the four-step process a chance to have its effect, participants should try to answer the question asked and not jump ahead to give their overall conclusion, even if others do jump ahead.

Sample scripts

At the end of a group project or course
“As this project (course) draws to a close, let's look back at the experiences we've had, from the time you heard of this project (course) on [insert project (course) topic] until today.
1. Take a moment to jot down specific concrete things that struck you, e.g., [insert range of examples],....
Now choose five* of them and write them in on the large Post-its in as large block letters as will fit. [* Adjust this number to ensure 40-60 Post-its for the group as a whole.]
Select one from early on in the period. [Put them on the board, consulting the group to keep them in order]
... from the middle... from the later part of the project (course)... others [including those covering the whole period]
2. When were you excited?... discouraged?
What do these experiences remind you of?
3. When were there transitions?
If this were a book, what name would you give for the “chapters” between the transitions?
...name for the whole “book”?
4. What have you learned about a diverse group of people coming together to “read this book”? [Remind participants to be telegraphic—no speeches.]
What have you learned about facilitating planning, or action, or thinking and learning as they relate to [insert project (course) topic]?
How shall you translate the learning to future situations?”

When setting the scene in which a project is to be undertaken
“As you consider your involvement in this project, let's paint a picture of the context in which we will be operating. Let's think about this context having a past and a possible future and operating on three levels: local, regional, and global [see note below].
1. Take a moment to jot down significant events at each of the levels over the past xx years or a future event that you hope will be in the yy years ahead.
[Then continue as in the script above, replacing “events” for “experiences” and “what you will do in the project” for future situations.”]

Note: As described in Tuecke (2000), the global is the largest view relevant to the project, which may be the world, but may also be the profession. The local is the personal perspective gained in the immediate unit (family, workplace, etc.). The regional is the specific arena in which the project operates, e.g., the management of water resources (in an environmental context) or the state educational system (in the context of improving school outcomes).

Stanfield, B. (ed.) (1997). The Art of Focused Conversation. Toronto: Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs.
Tuecke, P. (2000). “Creating a wall of wonder with the TOP environmental scan.” International Association of Facilitators, Toronto, Canada, April 27 - 30. http://www.faculty.umb.edu/peter_taylor/tuecke00.pdf (viewed 6 Jul 2011).