IAF Methods

Backward Mapping

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Standing in a projected future, then walking step by step back to the present

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To imagine the future all ready arrived at and to walk backward from that future and to experience a realized future by standing in it. This can be the idea creation part of a workshop or as the whole planning approach. This can be a tactical, operational or project planning situation.


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  • Paper for wall chart
  • flipcharts
  • markers.



Setting: This can be done is different ways. A large timeline can be put on the wall. It can be put on the floor and the group (necessarily a smaller one) walks back from the end date to the present date.

Types of participants: any

Time needed: one to three hours

Ideal conditions: any

Pre-Work Required: The project needs to be defined. A focused question session could be used for this.

Type of Facilitator-Client Relationship: any

Facilitator personality fit: any

Level of Difficulty to Facilitate (to be deleted during review): Facilitation skills required



1. In this session we want to use a technique called Backward Mapping or some times Back Casting.

2. This will take a couple of hours to do.

3. Make any administrative announcements here.


1. We want to begin with taking a look at the future we want to have in two years time. At this point we are not interested in how to get there but it will look like.

2. Please imagine that we are taking a video film of what we see. Try to make this as practical as possible.

3. Take a sheet of paper and write down what you imagine the new department to look like. Write down at least 25.

4. When the group is done ask for the 3 most important ones form them.

5. Organize them into categories.

6. Take the next 3 that are most different from the ones that are ready up.

7. Continue until all the cards are up (there are a number of ways this can happen).

8. Assign each category to a team of people.

9. We want to use these as the basis of the rest of the workshop. Each team will:

a. Write a paragraph describing the future of the department. Please write this as though it already exists. So it is not written like ?We will have?.? But ?We have?? Write this on a flipchart.

b. Write the key points from your writing at the end of your timeline.

c. Starting at the quarter just before the completion date, answer the question, ?What activities will need to be happening during that quarter?? Write when you have agreed write them on the time line.

d. Moving backward in time and describe what activities will need to take place during that quarter. 

10. You will have 30 minutes to do this. Are there any questions?

11. When the teams are done ask for reports.

12. At the end of each report ask:

a. Are there any questions of clarity?

b. Are there any comments or suggestions?

c. Do we have agreement at this point?

13. When the reports are complete ask:

a. Do we have any conflicts or mismatches between teams that we need to correct?

b. Make adjustments as necessary to the timeline and actions.

14. Ask for volunteers for each action arenas.

15. Ask for volunteers to type up the results.


1. What practically have we done this session?

2. What did you enjoy?

3. What could be improved?

4. What did you learn?

5. What needs to be done now?


1. The length of time required to do this depends on how complex the issues are.

2. This is for changing a department but it can be used in other ways: project planning, tactical planning, etc.

3. We are using a two-year timeline but it can be shorter or longer. A sheet needs to be created for each team and for the plenary session. The plenary sheet will need to be big enough to handle all of the sub teams.

4. This first step is effectively a vision workshop.

5. A shorter and less complex workshop can be done in a small project by just having people list a few items and organizing them. Don?t break into smaller teams.


Follow-Up Required: None

Usual or Expected Outcomes: A list of actions on a timeline and a definition of the end results of the project.

How success is evaluated: The plan is implemented successfully.


Derived from: There is some connection to NLP

History of Development: Martin Leith’s “All Know Idea Generating Methods” Backward Mapping at http://www.ideagenerationmethods.com/methods/backward-mapping.html

Alternative names: Backcasting Working Backwards Timeline

Comments (1) ( 4.0  avg / 1 ratings)

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  • A bit complicated, but can be illuminating. I especially like the timeline on the floor, so that the group can physically walk back from the future. Could be used with a Consensus Workshop method to pull together the shared future. Do ask what people want to see in the future, not just what will be, in order to get a positive future.

    over 2 years ago