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Expanding Time

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This method is used to disrupt participants’ default experience of time, supporting them to look at a case study or a specific issue from multiple perspectives.


Too often, our modern perception of time is limited to a very short horizon, and our choices and actions are motivated by near-term goals. By taking a different and even surrealistic time frame as reference, we are forced to think in totally new ways. In this method, participants focus on the lifespans of various non-human beings or entities, imaginatively relating to their different experiences of time. Elements or ‘characters’ that represent different time horizons can be linked to a specific case or the issue at hand. The empathetic experience of this exercise can be emphasized by combining it with Inviting Non-Human Stakeholders.


  1. Introduce the exercise and give examples of different time horizons (sample script):
    • This exercise is intended to help us think in multiple
    time scales when we are considering a case or a project. As humans, we inhabit the Earth for a maximum 100 years, and our modern world emphasizes short-term goals and quarterly returns. This can limit our ability to prioritize actions that could have positive impacts beyond our lifetime. What if we tried to disrupt this perception completely?
    • The length of our lifespan acquires a different significance when we see it in relation to the lifespan of non-human elements. Some exist for far longer than we do. For instance, a mountain (more than 30 million years) or a building (2-300 years); conversely, some have a much shorter life, like a wolf (7 years), or a butterfly, that only lives for a month.
  2. Ask participants to focus on one character that they feel connected to and to spend 5 minutes reflecting on what can be learned from both the character and their alternate time horizon (sample script):
    • Choose the time horizon of one specific character that is related to your project or the issue at hand. It can be one from the examples given or another that you feel connected to;
    • Close your eyes for a minute, imagine that your character is in front of you, and ask them what advice they want to give you or what insights they can offer to your project. Also, think of what they might request from you. Take 5 minutes and silently write down thoughts, images, and ideas that occur to you. It doesn’t have to make rational sense, just jot down whatever comes to mind;
  3. Participants share reflections in pairs first, and then, if time allows, in the table group.

Place on U
10-30 minutes
Materials Needed

Paper and pens; (optional, but recommended) powerpoint or hand-made timeline with different non-human elements and their respective time frames.

Climate Change
Future Visioning
Online Engagement
Cognitive Frames & Mental Models
Deep Time
Ecological Mindsets
Tip and Experiences
  • If you are using a visual timeline, place the “now” in the middle, to give a sense of past and future;
  • Choose characters that have dramatically different life-spans.

Relevant References & Resources

How perceptions of time affect our approach to sustainability: Fofiu (2015). Perceptions of Time in the Sustainability Movement: The Value of Slow for Sustainable Futures.

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