Qualitative Methods in Monitoring and Evaluation: Seasonal Calendars and Timelines

Awareness of seasonal or cultural events and the daily activities of project stakeholders is crucial to crafting projects that are appropriate to the local culture and population. We oftentimes use seasonal calendars and timelines, in conjunction with participant observation, to help us map out and identify seasonal or other events that could impact project activities and create potential bottlenecks. As participatory tools, seasonal calendars and timelines help us to compare qualitative data over time, so that we can analyze project activities and outcomes in relation to seasonal and other events.

Usually, we draw up a seasonal calendar or timeline as a participatory process. For example, we might meet with a group of farmers to map out various agricultural activities, compared to weather patterns and cultural or social events, over the course of the year. We would engage the farmers as they draw up the calendar, asking probing questions and paying special attention to the discussion amongst group members. Drawing up such a calendar or timeline would give project planners insight into when seeds are purchased, when harvests take place, when school fees are due, or when labor is scarce, for example.

Using Seasonal Calendars for Monitoring and Evaluation
Project planners, managers, and evaluators use seasonal calendars and timelines for a number of reasons, including to analyze outputs and outcomes in relation to events; record the daily activities of stakeholders; analyze and predict income and expenditure flows; and track project spending (US Peace Corps and IFAD).

  • Analyze outputs and outcomes in relation to events: Seasonal calendars and timelines help us to record data over time, so we can analyze project outputs or outcomes in relation to seasonal and other events. Calendars and timelines can also help us pinpoint where potential project bottlenecks might occur, and relate these to seasonal changes. For instance, sometimes a project might slow down during the rainy or dry season, or increase activities during the harvest season. Also, annual events such as the start of school or various cultural events could also impact project activities. Mapping these events out on a calendar can be helpful for project planners as they craft project timelines and activities.
  • Record the daily activities of stakeholders: We might also use timelines (perhaps disaggregated through the seasons) to show the daily activities of individual project stakeholders. This would help us see the time commitments of stakeholders, which is especially important in the planning and implementation of projects. For instance, timelines help us to see how many hours a day women in a village spend collecting water, or how many hours are spent in agricultural activities. This gives us insight into work burdens, in addition to the amount of time stakeholders might have to devote to a potential project. Timelines can also tell us the relative importance a person or a community places on a particular activity.
  • Analyze and predict income and expenditure flows: Another use for seasonal calendars and timelines is for income and expenditure flows, so that stakeholders can discuss their income and spending needs throughout the year. This is important when planning for periods of high expenditure, when school fees are due or when farmers need to purchase seeds, for example.
  • Track project spending: Oftentimes we also use calendars or timelines to help us track spending on a project in relation to project activities. For instance, if we are running an election monitoring program, our spending will increase dramatically around the time of the elections.

When used as part of a wider evaluation design, seasonal calendars and timelines can provide insight that is useful as we plan, implement, and evaluate projects.

Read more from Beverly Peters on Qualitative Methods.

International Fund for Agricultural Development, "Method 23: Seasonal Calendars," in Methods for Monitoring and Evaluation, Rome: IFAD, undated, pp. 31-32.
US Peace Corps, "Seasonal Calendars," in Using Participatory Analysis for Community Action: Idea Book, Washington DC: Peace Corps, 2005, pp. 37-39 and 103-111.

About the Author
Dr. Beverly Peters has more than twenty years of experience teaching, conducting qualitative research, and managing community development, microcredit, infrastructure, and democratization projects in several countries in Africa. As a consultant, Dr. Peters worked on EU and USAID funded infrastructure, education, and microcredit projects in South Africa and Mozambique. She also conceptualized and developed the proposal for Darfur Peace and Development Organization’s women’s crisis center, a center that provides physical and economic assistance to women survivors of violence in the IDP camps in Darfur. Dr. Peters has a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. Learn more about Dr. Peters.

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