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The Charting Method

Self-Consciously Ordering Life Experiences

Book Charting, Timelining & The Wall of Wonder


The Charting Method was developed by the Ecumenical Institute/Institute of Cultural Affairs around 1968. It provides a visual picture of study material emphasizing structure and rationality. It is used to make sense of written material such as a book, a complex set of data, an article, or even a paragraph or sentence. See Timeline & The Wall of Wonder for additional applications. It has been shared and used extensively across the globe and has been effectively used by the ToP Trainers Network in book studies held at each annual conference. It is taught in the ToP Approaches to Environmental Scanning course as a way to quickly get on top of an enormous amount of data. 

Historical Information


Charting, Joseph W. Mathews, November 29, 1968 

Charting, Charting As a Decision Making Process, Methods Paper, Joseph Pierce, 1969 The Institute of Cultural Affair. Date unknown (late 60’s)

Charting as a Life MethodRobert Shropshire, Chicago Centrums Methods Paper, Spring, 1971. 

The Ecumenical Institute, Chicago  The Institute of Cultural Affairs,Collegium C, July 26, 1970 

The Theology of Charting Methodology, Gene Marshall, The Global Academy, Imaginal Methods course (IM-A)October 16, 1971, Checking archive files

Charting as a Life Method in the Transformational Methodologies document p. 13

Classroom Dynamics – Gene Marshall, Research Centrum, ICA Chicago, November 1973

The Charting Method, Global Academy, Gene Marshall, November 1973

A paper with instructions on how to chart – The Global Academy Curriculum.

Methodologies and Insights of Timelining  Collegium C, July 26, 1970


  • The Charting Song video below is sung to the tune of a traditional Christmas song, this item summarizes the main steps of the “charting method” developed by the Ecumenical Institute as an aid to rapid and effective study. Adapted to music by Doug Druckenmiller sung by Jim Wiegel.

Book Charting



 Detailed procedures and an explanation of book charting from the ICA Associates training course manual: Art and Science of Participation, contributed by Jo Nelson. It includes a sample chart by Brian Stanfield of the paper Facilitation from the Inside Out by John Epps. 

The Art and Science of Participation ©The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs 2012 


The most important thing about studying a paper or book is to get hold of the patterns and structure that the author uses. This is to move beyond the content to what actually is in the author’s mind.










Below is another example of charting a book, Getting to the Bottom of ToP,  from a session at the ToP Network Annual Gathering in New Orleans, LA, January 2019. 

Chart of Getting to the Bottom of ToP

Click on the image for larger view.

Other Current Examples

Chart by Nelson Stover of The Great Work by Thomas Berry (complete study guide available)

Chart of A Compassionate Civilization by Robertson Work.

…an opportunity for self-consciously bringing order to life