Historical Scan: Review a group’s evolution or set the scene in which a project is to be undertaken

A Historical Scan is a variant of Focused Conversation used either to review a group’s progress or evolution over time or to set the scene in which a project is to be undertaken.
In Focused Conversations (Stanfield 1997) a group, which could be a class, 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 (consider the meaning and significance)
* 4. Decisional (formulating a decision, an action, or a shared picture)

Participants who jump quickly to a decision or interpretation are encouraged to spend more time on the earlier stages, to be careful to separate facts from feelings, and to recognize at each step the differing assessments other participants have. The result is not necessarily a consensus, but because the group shares a common pool of experiences of the situation, the result is larger than what any one person had beforehand, and there is a firmer basis for extensions of the group’s work, either as a group or, in the case of a class, 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, to allow for as wide a pool of contributions as possible. To give the 4-step process a chance to have its effect, participants should try to answer the question asked and not jump ahead, even if others do, to give their overall conclusion.

For the end of a group project or course a sequence of questions appropriate to a Historical Scan might be:
“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.
Take a moment to jot down specific concrete things that struck you, e.g., insert range of examples,….
Now choose 5* of them and write them in on the large post-its in as large block letters as will fit.
Select one from early on. [Put them on the board, consulting the class to keep them in order]
… from the middle… from the later part of the project/course…. others [including those covering the whole period]
When were you excited?….discouraged?
What do these experiences remind you of?
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”?
What have you learned about a diverse group of people coming together to “read this book”? [Remind participants to be telegraphic — avoid speeches.]
What have you learned about facilitating planning and action/thinking and learning as they relate to project/course topic?
How shall you translate the learning to future situations?”

(* Adjust this number to ensure 40-60 postits for the group as a whole.)

For setting the scene in which a project is to be undertaken a sequence of questions appropriate to a Historical Scan might be:
“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.”*
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.
Now choose 5* of them and write them in on the large post-its in as large block letters as will fit.
Select one from early on in this period. [Put them on the board, consulting the class to keep them in order]
… from the middle… from the later part of the period…. others [including those covering the whole period]
When were you excited?….discouraged?
What do these events remind you of?
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”?
What have you learned about a diverse group of people coming together to “read this book”? [Remind participants to be telegraphic — avoid speeches.]
What have you learned about the context in which your planning and action/thinking and learning will take place?
How shall you translate the learning into what you will do?”

(* 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, …). 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].)

Extracted from http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/HistoricalScan, a section of a book manuscript, Taking Yourself Seriously: A Fieldbook of Processes of Research and Engagement, also on the web.)

References
Tuecke, Patricia. 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/pjt/tuecke00.pdf).

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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