Seasonal calendars

Seasonal calendars are useful for evaluation as they can help analyse time-related cyclical changes in data.

A calendar allows people to visualise patterns of variations over particular periods of time - such as across weeks, seasons, one or several years.

By seeing these patterns, calendars offer a simple and effective method to understand links between different indicators, stimulate discussions, plan for change, and monitor and evaluate it. Seasonal calendars are often used as a participatory tool to find out community perceptions on time-related variations in indicators such as weather patterns, time spent on labour and other activities, level of food security, nutrition, illness (in people, crops or livestock), cash availability, and production patterns and yield. This method has been used effectively for a variety of purposes (from learning and awareness-raising, to participatory research, project planning and evaluation).

The calendar is either based on a table with a horizontal linear time-scale with indicators along the vertical axis – or as a circular representation of time, such as in a 24-hour clock to show daily routines. Fill the calendar in with symbols representing indicators such as activities, weather or crop seasonality, or labour activities. Calendars can also provide quantitative information by for instance asking participants to distribute a fixed number of stones (or other object) over a year or season to represent relatively weighted levels of availability of an indicator such as food, cash or water; or to represent expenditure of labour hours on a particular activity. This information can then be traced into a graphic representation of the data. Dividing the participants according to gender or age, and asking them to complete their own calendar can provide even more insights into how different groups function within a community (or household).

Seasonal calendars lead to insights into processes and needs at a local level, and help to stimulate discussions on patterns of variation over time. They provide baseline information useful for planning. The data are however not necessarily accurate as they are based on perspectives and memory, and could even be biased because of hidden agendas. If greater precision is required, supplement the participatory data with larger-scale information such as meteorological records. Repeating seasonal calendars at different intervals in a project cycle helps to identify problems that need addressing at particular moments, and also to indicate evidence of project impact. Seasonal calendars offer a simple participatory tool that does not require a high level of expertise (or literacy). 


    FACT/ADPP Jatropha Project

    The FACT/ADPP Jatropha research project (archived link) in Northwestern Mozambique sought to improve small-scale farmers’ livelihoods through the addition of an oil-tree (Jatropha curcas) to provide cash and bioenergy for the household (De Jongh & Nielsen 2010). Based on observations, the project assumed that labour peaks for jatropha would not coincide with those of the current crops produced.

    After three years, this hypothesis was tested. Different farmers’ clubs made two seasonal calendars, showing labour demand over the season for both types of crops. These calendars indicated that the labour peaks did in fact coincide (see graphical representation of their two seasonal calendars to the left).

    With this information, the project then tested whether the jatropha harvest could be delayed until after other crops had been harvested. This turned out to be feasible. However, the farmers decided after some experimentation to harvest jatropha at the same time as other crops after all. They stated that harvesting jatropha is a relatively relaxing task that they liked to mix with more heavy duties.

    Example line chart showing seasonal fluctuations

    The seasonal calendar was a helpful tool for decision-making because:

    • It was a simple way to get farmers’ perceptions on the labour hours spent on the different activities.
    • By finding out that the labour peaks coincided, the project could find other ways to combine the two types of crops.

    The seasonal calendar was a limited tool because:

    • Farmers work on many activities at once and it was difficult to keep an accurate record of the time spent.
    • It did not provide a clear measure of the relative difference in labour hours for each crop.
    • To get more accuracy, the project took direct measurements of activities such as harvesting and shelling.
    • These measurements provided more quantitative data on relative labour hours and profitability. 
    • Farmers have their own agenda which may lead to biased information. For example, some farmers knew about mechanical shellers, and therefore might have exaggerated the time involved in shelling by hand to increase the chance of shellers being donated.

    Advice for choosing this method

    Choose to include seasonal calendars in your M&E systems:

    • to be able to visualise time-related patterns of change, and links between different indicators.
    • to have a simple visual tool to help stimulate discussions – particularly helpful for shy and reluctant people in groups.
    • to get insight into how time is used relatively (ie, by comparing different activities; by comparing different population groups; by weighting time spent).
    • to understand local perceptions on changes over time.

    Do not rely on seasonal calendars:

    • to provide accurate data as participants rely on their memory and they may mix issues (e.g. weather and crop yields).
    • Supplement or cross-check with larger-scale external data: for example, measure directly time used to fetch water or harvest a particular crop; check veterinarian records for incidence of livestock disease; or check meteorological data on weather patterns.
    • to look at local patterns over long intervals of time.
    • Use a historical timeline to analyse changes and trends over many years and to uncover underlying issues. The two options can also be combined (e.g. See the Rain calendar in Awuor & Hammill, 2009 - and Figure 5).

    Advice for using this method

    Before making the calendar:

    • Explain the linear line-scale calendar format as it may be unfamiliar to some participants.
    • Or use a circular format (e.g. for daily routines), but it becomes messy to read if many indicators are included. This format is not suitable for multi-year trend analysis.
    • Build on the logic of the community: they may prefer to begin with a month other than January because of how they think about their seasons.
    • You may need to organise two sessions: one for calendar construction, and the other for discussion (Warrick, 2009).
    • Clarify the time period and indicators with the community before starting to make the calendar.

    Make the calendar

    • Guide the discussion to bring out the most precise information possible.
    • Agree on a standardised set of symbols to ease comparisons of calendars over time.
    • If consensus cannot be reached on a “typical” or “average” calendar, ask participants to make individual calendars (particularly when it comes to daily routines).
    • Ask different groups in the community (e.g. women, men, old, young, farmers, landless labourers) to fill in their own calendars, to understand specific issues each group confronts.
    • Comparison of calendars drawn up by different population groups may reveal differences in responsibilities and perception that can lead to useful discussions, new information and ideas on making changes.
    • Formulate the indicators to get the information you want.  For example, quantitative data is more easily derived from asking people to indicate relative weightings to their responses, rather than simply a “yes or no” type of symbol.

    Use the calendar:

    • Cross-check results of a group’s calendar with information on other group calendars.
    • Use the calendar as a recording format to gather information on indicators at regular intervals in the project cycle.
    • Supplement the locally-derived information found in seasonal calendars with larger-scale quantitative data such as from meteorological records for project planning and evaluation.
    • Convert these data into graphs for official reports.
    • Use a standard template (including symbols) for recording gathered information. This makes it easier to understand conditions quickly and to harmonise such information.


    De Jongh, J., & Nielsen, F. (2010). FACT/ADPP Jatropha Project, Mozambique. Banana Hill.

    Geilfus, F. Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), (2008). 80 tools for participatory development. Retrieved from website:

    Guijt, I., & Woodhill, J. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Office of Evaluation Studies. (2002). Managing for impact in rural development: A guide for project M&E, Annex D. Retrieved from website:

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