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Evolution lines

Posted by Jutta Goldammer from Visionautik Akademie


Group size

2 - 30

Subgroup size

groups of 2 - 4

Is participant experience relevant?

It's okay if participants haven't seen the inside of a classroom in years.

Physical trust needed

Mental trust needed


Material Description

-A wooden board of about 1m length and at least 20cm width (We use wooden shelves which you can get cheaply in DIY shops.)
-A big lump of clay for each team/individual
-Little signs on a stick (We use skewers or dental sticks and glue little file cards to them. It is nice to have some signs prepared with symbols on them, e.g. a sun or a lightning bolt. Make sure you also prepare at least 10 signs per group with nothing written on them so they can write milestone events on them or draw their own symbols. If you do the outdoor version with sand we recommend using moderation cards on chopsticks (you can get cheap chopsticks in Asian takeaways restaurants.)
-The original method uses sand in long boxes. We found it easier with clay: you just need a board to put the clay on instead of a big box; it is easier to transport; and you don't have the sand crumbling in the seminar space. But we also did this once with a team of kindergarden teachers in a big sandpit in the garden and once in winter with snow outdoors in the park. If you have any of those possibilities use them - it is great if your participants can expand and have a lot of space to make a full body experience out of this exercise.

Create materials quick and dirty

30 min

Create materials with love and care

4 hours



60 minutes - 10 minutes

Experience level of the facilitator

routine as participant OR professional facilitator

Number of facilitators



Level of activation


Hidden curriculum

There's no such thing as a sudden idea coming out of the blue.
The history highly influences the innovation's development, it is worth making that transparent and building on that knowledge.
Visualizing helps understand complexity-
Using the hands helps to express intuitive knowledge.

Woo-Woo Level - How touchy-feely is this method?

From 1.Rationalist-Materialist "No feelings here, folks." to 5.Esoteric-Shamanic Bleeding Heart:

Innovation Phases:

3 Fostering New Perspectives & Ways of Thinking
7 Implementation & Diffusion

Method Category:

Awareness raising
Collective Intelligence
Group communication
Strategy / Planning
Understanding complexity


This is a multisensual facilitation method that helps you understand complex patterns in a process flow. It helps you understand the history of a situation and develop from an understanding of the past an organically developing future scenario.



A team works together with clay and shows how the situation/team/company has developed by forming evolution lines showing ups and downs, aspects leading together and aspects that separate during the process of development up until now. The moments where something important has happened are labelled with little signs. The purpose of this method is to come to a deep (common) understanding of important milestones that led to the current situation. The assumption behind this approach is that you can influence future developments more smoothly from a point of understanding the past and present and from a point of view of processes and development flows instead of looking at a collection of single events. The common forming of the evolution lines also offers the opportunity to talk about different perceptions of the same situation. From that point of common understanding it is easier to agree on how to deal with that situation in future.


This method presented here is slightly changed by Visionautics, the original was developed by Stephan Otto, Evoco GmbH.



PREPARATION (excluding materials)

Get clarity on how many teams/individual projects you will host. Prepare the material accordingly. Make sure things are prepared and set up nicely. This strengthens the participants' confidence in the process you are leading.

Get clarity about your own intention with this exercise: What do you want the group to take away/learn/experience? What will be the most important thing to keep an eye on in order to achieve this?

1 Introduction

Introduce the basic idea and purpose of the exercise to the group.

2 Clarifying the goal

Make sure each person/team knows what topic they want to work on. Mostly it is clear already by the purpose the group gathered, but if it is not clear yet, give the participants space to clarify this (either individual reflection time or, if it is the work in a team, host a group discussion/brainstorming about the topic.) The central question in this phase is "What is it you want to develop further?" It can be an issue in society, a company, a team, a project, an aspect of a project, or an aspect of one's own life.

3 Getting started

Encourage your participants to form the clay and do storytelling about important milestones. Fresh clay is a great material to easily reshape, so make them shape their evolution line while they talk to each other. Tell them to use two thirds of the board's length to show the history of the issue/project. Be sure they include the ups and downs with different kinds of shapes becoming broader or thinner. When they're done with that, use the last third of the space to draft the future development.

Here is a list of questions that help get things started. Give each group a printout of these questions.
-When did it start and what lead to that start?
-What influenced the start? Were there role models, forerunners, sources of inspiration that lead to the start or ideas, big thinkers or doers that influenced the beginning?
-Were there crises, turning points, important moments in the development?
-Were there moments of success, happy times, highlights in the process?
-Was it developing in a straight line or in meandering curves, with ease or with a lot of effort?
-When did things lead together that were separate before?
-When did things that were together fall apart or divide into separate paths?
-Were there phases with a lot of power and strength, phases of silent and invisible development on the inside, phases of shallow ripple?

Tell them to mark special moments by sticking the sings into the clay at the specific places. They can either use the existing symbols or create their own symbols. They can also write special dates or milestones on the signs.

4 Developing phase in small teams / individual work

(1-1,5 hours)
Leave them work on their own but be available for questions or help if they need it.

5 Outside perceptions & reflections

(15 minutes per project)
If you are just two or three teams, you can do a tour around all the evolution lines. If you are more, we recommend you pair up teams and let them do their exchange self-facilitated.
All members of one (or all) other teams gather around one evolution line (=guests). One person takes notes of the discussion to harvest new insights. Encourage the guests to freely describe what they see. They probably don't know much about the project and very often those impressions from outsiders are very valuable. Make sure the authors of the project keep silent for a moment and listen to perceptions from the guests.

Questions that could help get this dialogue going could be:
-What do you see? What does it remind you of?
-What atmosphere does it emanate?
-What seems interesting, unexpected, important to you when you look at this evolution line?
-Can you find repeating patterns or on overall characteristic, a typical DNA of the evolution line?
-How could the things you see influence the future of this project?
-What insights from the past might help shape the future more successfully?

After hearing some associations and assumptions from the audience, the authors can say what the evolution line is about, what they found out during their process and from their dialogues along the formation of the evolution line, etc.

Host a dialogue around new insights about this project and about the direction in which it would/could naturally develop.

Take photos with the evolution line together with its team and place the evolution lines somewhere where they can be seen and appreciated for a while.


In case you have done the harvesting in paired teams, come together in the plenum and give the opportunity to share the most important experiences and insights they gathered. Make it short.



1. A company, organization or team that wants to develop further their organization as a whole or a specific project. Sometimes people joined the organization/project team later. Here the evolution lines are very helpful for the elders to do some storytelling about what has happened at the very beginning. It also offers the possibility to appreciate what has been achieved so far and to see where problems started.
2.There is a specific problem or challenge in society a team wants to tackle. Here the evolution lines help to bring together different views and knowledge about important developments that led to the current challenge.
3. In a workshop where different people work on the development of their own project, company or life, the evolution lines can be used to introduce to one another on a very profound level.

Trainers for this method can be hired here:

Visionautik Akademie, Evoco GmbH www.visionautik.de; www.evoco.de

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