Exploring Facilitation Competencies with IAF Romania – free facilitation webinar

What skills, knowledge, and behaviours must facilitators have in order to be successful facilitating in a wide variety of environments? To what extent do these vary, if at all, when working online rather than face-to-face? What can we do, individually and together as peers, to develop our own facilitation competence?

Thank you again to IAF Romania for the invitation to lead yesterday’s online session Facilitation Competencies, to Bogdan Grigore in particular for also co-facilitating with me and of course to all those who attended and participated.

Here below you will find the session recording and other outputs.

The session was adapted from the format of the new ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series: Taking time to connect, learn and reflect.

The aim of all these sessions is for participants to connect, share and learn with others sharing their interest the topic, while experiencing ICA’s ToP Focused Conversation method. Each 60-minute session in Zoom consists of a facilitated conversation followed by a brief introduction to the method used.

In this session we used break-out groups and JamBoard to get acquainted with the IAF Core Facilitation Competencies and share experience of their application, both online and face-to-face. In plenary we reflected on the extent to which these competencies vary when working online rather than face-to-face, if at all. Participants also reflected on what they could do, individually and together as peers, to develop their own facilitation competence.

For more on ICA’s Technology of Participation and facilitation online, register now for these further upcoming training & learning sessions:

  • Free facilitation webinars – next up “How engaging can your online session be?” and “When is online better than face-to-face?”, both in June
  • Introduction to Facilitation OnlineIntroducing the role of the facilitator and the ToP approach, plus some key tips & tools, 2.5 hours, starting in June & July
  • Group Facilitation Methods OnlineIntroducing the foundations of the ToP approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus – a series of 6 x2 hour sessions in June/July.

See also Brian Stanfield’s ‘Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace and Jo Nelson’s ‘The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools: Over 100 Ways to Guide Clear Thinking and Promote Learning‘.

For details of additional sessions with other ICA:UK lead ToP trainers, and to register for those, please see the ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series.



See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

Register now on Eventbrite also for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels, and now also online.

Facilitation in different languages – #IAFpodcast FS18

#iafpodcast

This week’s episode of the #IAFpodcast Facilitation Stories features a fascinating conversation on Working in Different Languages in facilitation – I am grateful to podcast co-hosts @PilarOrti and @HeleneJewell for the opportunity to join in, this time also with Simon Wilson CPF|M  of @WilsonSherriff.

Listen now, or see the show notes below first for what to expect – and do check out the previous episodes and subscribe for the next at Facilitation Stories – or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts


Pilar Orti writes in the FS18 show notes…

Helene Jewell, podcast co-host and freelance facilitator based in Bristol, Martin Gilbraith (CPF facilitator and trainer and consultant based in London – who also took part in Episode 7 on facilitation values), Simon Wilson has been running facilitation company for 20 years CPF working internationally and in the UK, based in the Peak District.

The podcast starts with some examples of working with people who speak different languages.

Simon shares a story about working with a UN agency 5 years ago doing a mix of facilitation and training over 20 sessions. Virtual sessions using Webex platform in English, French and Spanish and Simon co-facilitated all of these. He talks about his different levels of competence in these languages and the different dynamics and energy. He used Google Translate to help him and when he was speaking in English which was often not the native language for many participants he had to keep his language simple and avoid too many metaphors.

Helene talks about her time in Nepal as a VSO volunteer Speech and Language Therapist where she delivered lots of different training sessions. She explains that although she had learnt Nepali she initially lacked the confidence to use it initially and how she got through that. And the difficulties of there being “side talk” in another language in the room (Newari).

Martin talks about a Middle East regional gathering for a global NGO – 60 people over 3 days. Martin began his career as an international volunteer for ICA and learnt Arabic in Egypt so still enjoys joining in conversations when he can.  He explains why even though he could speak Arabic he had to hold his tongue so as not to exclude the non- Arabic speakers.

Working with interpreters

Simon talks about how developing a relationship with interpreters is a key part of facilitating and how he has a relatively relaxed attitude to losing nuances in translation. He describes how getting interpreters involved in the processes can be helpful and shares an example of a large event he facilitated in Istanbul with 7 different languages that involved interpreters and how it felt a but chaotic but ended up being very collaborative.

Martin talks about whether the interpretation is needed for the facilitator or the participants. He describes a conference in Switzerland which had several different languages that often had interpreters in booths and mediated by technology. The parts that he facilitated were much more participatory and encouraged people to work together at tables, even if they didn’t understand each other’s languages. He notes how this allows communication and connection at a human level even without any language in common.

Helene talks about her experience of being an interpreter with the ICRC for delegates during the conflict in Nepal. She talks about translating every single work (or not) and how as an interpreter it enabled her to concentrate on the spoken words and not get too emotional about the content. She also observed how much the delegates would begin to pick up for themselves even when they didn’t understand the language.

Martin comments that in training facilitation, working with interpreters who don’t understand facilitation is problematic and conversely working with interpreters who are facilitators can sometimes give their own explanations which can also be problematic.

Martin gives a shout out to Mikhael Rossus from Personal Image in Moscow, he is a facilitator and know the ICA’s ToP facilitation really well, and is really good at translating what is said and not giving his own interpretation.

Simon comments on interpretation in virtual and how he has had experienced where it often looks like the participants aren’t there as they are sat to the side of the interpreter who is visible on the screen. He also talks about text translation closed caption text in Googlish which is “almost communication”.

Martin talks about having ideas written in both languages and how you need to be careful in mis-translations when they are written down that they mean the same thing.

Helene talks about working in Devanagari script and how writing and training and facilitating was not something she could efficiently do, so she involved participants to help her.

Simon talks about co-facilitation and working with Jean from FormApart mainly in French and discovering new words in another language that might not be present in your own language. He has also brought the warmth he discovered from Anna in Peru to his English sessions – he has never net her but has developed a connection nonetheless.

Martin recalls working in Russia and how certain phrases don’t mean what you want them to mean if you are not careful – “I want to break you into small groups” can sound painful!

Simon talks about having good French but not having the facilitation words so bringing your language up to date is important.

Pilar herself has learnt all her professional language in English but has been working recently in Spanish (her native language) but doesn’t necessarily have the words.

Helene and Martin both gave examples of when words do not exist in different languages.

Pilar returns to Helene’s comments about working in groups where two languages were spoken and she only understood one (Nepali and Newari) and how she didn’t ever really resolve the difficulties they presented but somehow got around them.

Martin talks about being quite relaxed about not understanding side conversations and that if he misses something he encourages participants to draw his attention to it. And the fact that a lot can be understood without being able to speak the language. He shares an example of working with ICA in Bosnia and how although he didn’t know the language he was able to work out what was going on as he was familiar with the materials and approaches.

Simon recalls some early IAF conferences running facilitated development sessions with different language groups. and that checking with the group that everything is okay is often enough. But when the objective is developing a common understanding then different language groups can be a barrier and how it’s harder to push across language barriers but this is the role of the facilitator.

Martin reminds us that the role of the facilitator anyway is to know when to step in and push people across their comfort zone and when is better to help people stay in their comfort zone.

Helene comments on how even when people don’t share a common language they will usually find a way.

Martin talks about helping a group of different language speakers to come up with a mission statement in English but that for it to make sense in different language (25/30 different languages in this case) they closed the session with coming up with versions in their own languages.

What have these experiences taught us?

Helene talks about how when everyone has to work hard to understand or help others understand a language there can be a feeling of being all in it together. And about confidence and getting on with it.

Simon talks about how co-facilitation being a joy and how it reinforces and challenges his practice and that language barriers can usually be transcended. This is harder in the virtual world.

Martin talks about the fact that there are joys and struggles with working in different languages, but that language and culture are just two different dimensions of diversity. As a facilitator our job is to accommodate diversity as best as we can all the time.

Get in touch via email podcast@iaf-englandwales.org – Send us some text, or even an mp3 audio! Find out more about us over at the England & Wales page on https://www.iaf-world.org.


See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

Register now on Eventbrite also for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels, and now also online.

From the Archive: a 2001 online Focused Conversation on ICA:UK values

ICA:UK AGM, December 2000 at Wick Court Centre

This piece ‘From the Archive’ is reprinted from ICA:UK Network News #15, November 2001 (p18). Around 30 ICA:UK members participated in this early application of the ToP Focused Conversation method to the emerging practice of online facilitation.

The conversation took place asynchronously over several weeks in November 2001. Also reprinted below are the questions used and a summary of responses. Members attending the annual Network Gathering in Ludlow in December 2001 drew on these responses to articulate a values statement that was approved by the ICA:UK Board in January 2002. That statement has stood the test of time, and remains current today – see About ICA:UK.

The new 2020 ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series offers a series of taster sessions led by different ToP facilitation trainers, examining and exploring different topics and also demonstrating the application of the ToP Focused Conversation Method online. See my own May session Taking your event online: what could possibly go wrong?, and register now for my June session How engaging can your online session be?

ICA’s Focused Conversation method began life as the Artform Method of the Ecumenical Institute in the 1960s. Historical documents are now available in the Facilitation Methods Collection of the ICA Social Research Center, newly unveiled this week by the ICA USA Global Archives project.

See also the importance of values in facilitation – #IAFpodcast FS7.


On-line conversation: ICA:UK values

Duncan Holmes in Toronto & Martin Gilbraith in Manchester

As a member of ICA:UK, you are being invited to participate in an online participatory process to discuss the values ICA:UK needs to hold as it moves into the future. This discussion has been initiated by the Board of ICA:UK. We will be using the ToP-on-line tools developed by ICA Canada. This will be an opportunity to explore these tools as well as discuss an important topic. We hope the on-line tools will promote discussion between members during times when we are not meeting face to face.

Duncan Holmes of ICA Associates Inc. in Canada is facilitating the online process. ICA Associates Inc. has a suite of tools to use. The process we will be using this time, asks you to go to the ToP-on-line web site and answer the questions that are there. You can go to the site as often as you want. You can add answers any time you want – either because you have thought of new ideas or you want to respond to something that has been said by another person.

Context for the Discussion

ICA:UK was incorporated last year. As ICA:UK becomes an employer and prepares itself for further growth and development, there has been a concern expressed on a number of occasions that we articulate what values we hold as ICA:UK, in order that these may guide our growth and development and so we may be careful to stay true to them.

In deciding to become an employer, the Board expressed a concern that new employees recruited from beyond the membership be expected to share and adhere to ICA:UK’s values. At the recent ToP programme strategic planning event, ToP Associates identified an ‘ethic of participation’ as distinguishing ICA:UK from other proponents of participatory methods, but felt that this was poorly understood or appreciated within ICA:UK, and especially among clients & partners. On both occasions it was felt that ICA:UK has values that are distinctive and important, and that it is time to articulate them for our own benefit, and for that of ICA:UK and its development.

The rational aim of this discussion is to elicit perspectives of ICA:UK network members on what values they discern and appreciate in ICA and its work; ultimately, to articulate a values statement to guide ICA:UK’s organizational & programme development, and against which to be held accountable. In participating in this conversation you may find yourself considering your relationship to ICA and to each other at a deeper level than programme or even policy. We hope to plumb the depths of what ICA means to members and what it stands for.


What values do we hold as ICA:UK?

Summary of responses, November 23rd 2001

1. What first attracted you to become involved with ICA or to become re-involved if your interest lapsed?

Most members were first attracted to ICA by the opportunity to volunteer overseas in a grassroots community development project. Others were attracted by the participatory facilitation skills or referred by someone they knew well. Members stayed involved because of the emphasis on Civil Society, Participatory Values and the global mission and spirit dimension of ICA. The quality of the training, the opportunity to stay connected with like minded people, and the opportunity to learn about life are also contributing factors to members continued involvement.

2. What have been some most meaningful events or experiences for you, in your involvement with ICA?

The most meaningful events and experiences have been Volunteer Training events and the international volunteer experience; visiting other ICAs and attending global ICA events that broadened one’s understanding of ICA; taking facilitation courses and being able to immediately use the tools; being part of an ICA training team; being welcomed at other ICA UK network events and being involved in a network/team of people who are making a difference in many different ways. Members also appreciated events that have grounded their understanding of ICA and its role.

3. When have you felt ICA addressing something of great importance to you? Describe it briefly.

Members felt ICA was addressing something of real importance during programmes that challenged their life direction or reminded them that they individually and collectively could make a difference; during ICA training and facilitated events where people realize the value of their own wisdom and potential; and when talking about real life issues and the ICA approach to those issues.

4. When have you discerned a fundamental characteristic of ICA that distinguishes it from other organizations or networks that you have known?

The fundamental characteristic of ICA that distinguishes it from other organizations or networks are: the consistent focus on Process and Participation; ICA’s focus on the personal responsibility and the development of the individual; and the belief that each individual has a valid contribution to make. There is a movemental feel to the organization. The values and beliefs are aligned in every aspect of the organization. The spirit dimension and understanding allows the organization to focus on asking the right questions and not just on having the right answers

5. When have you felt a fundamental tension or mismatch between you & ICA?

A fundamental tension or mismatch was felt between the members & ICA around ICA’s language, the cost of the VFC; and when we spend time on policies and procedures. There is also a tension when we consider working in areas that appear to be in conflict with our values and when I feel out of alignment with the values I know ICA holds. As a new person on the journey of development, a member experienced tension.

6. What is there fundamental about ICA that it is important not to lose?

As ICA UK goes forward it is important not to lose the fundamentals of: Value based methods and approaches that provide people with effective ways of working together; individual and personal responsibility within the larger collective whole; recognition of the uniqueness of each individual; maintaining a global & historic perspective as a context for our actions at the local and international level; the valuing of individual and organizational honesty and trust;the engagement of the spirit dimension in life; and the sense of belonging to a team.

7. What are other key words or phrases that describe the uniqueness of ICA:UK and you would like to see included in a statement of values?

Other key words and phrases to describe the uniqueness of ICA:UK are: Participation Concerned with the human factor in development Local and international network Addressing the spirit of people Learning, sharing, questioning A commitment to tackling injustice and inequality in a way that values and welcomes diversity The individual and collective responsibility, within the group and in life.


See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

Register now on Eventbrite also for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels, and now also online.

Taking your event online: what could possibly go wrong?

Taking your event online

Thank you again to the 100 attendees who participated in yesterday’s free facilitation webinar, and especially to fellow ICA:UK ToP facilitation trainers Megan Evans and Dawn Williams for co-hosting with me.  Apologies to anyone intending to join who found the meeting room full to capacity!  Here below you will find the session recording and other outputs.

This was the first of two sessions scheduled in partnership with ICA:UK as part of its new Online Focused Conversation Series: Taking time to connect, learn and reflect.

The aim of all these sessions is for participants to connect, share and learn with others sharing their interest the topic, while experiencing ICA’s ToP Focused Conversation method.

In this session the method was adapted to accommodate the number attending, using only the basic tools within the Zoom platform – audio, video, text chat, break-out rooms, screen sharing and polling.

For more on ICA’s Technology of Participation and facilitation online, register now for these further upcoming training & learning sessions:

  • Free facilitation webinars – next up “How engaging can your online session be?” in June
  • Introduction to Facilitation OnlineIntroducing the role of the facilitator and the ToP approach, plus some key tips & tools, 2.5 hours, starting in June & July
  • Group Facilitation Methods OnlineIntroducing the foundations of the ToP approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus – a series of 6 x2 hour sessions in June/July.

For details of sessions of this series with other ICA:UK lead ToP trainers, and to register for those, please see the ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series.


Your long-planned meeting, workshop or event, or that of your client, can no longer be held face-to-face. So it is decided to hold it online instead. What could possibly go wrong? What are some tips & tools that can help you – not to just make the best of it, but to make it the best?  More inclusive, engaging and productive than ever before?

The recording and the slides with chat transcript follow here. Thanks also to Dave Hider for the lovely feedback on LinkedIn!


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

Register now on Eventbrite also for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels, and now also online.

Join me for ToP facilitation training in 2020, now also online!

I am excited to share details of my updated public schedule of training and learning opportunities for 2020, including now more than ever online – and of course, due to COVID-19, somewhat less face-to-face.

Read on for details and dates for:

  • Free facilitation webinars – next up “Taking your event online: what could possibly go wrong?” in May and “How engaging can your online session be?” in June
  • Introduction to Facilitation OnlineIntroducing the role of the facilitator and the ToP approach, plus some key tips & tools, 2.5 hours, starting in June & July
  • Group Facilitation Methods OnlineIntroducing the foundations of the ToP approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus – a series of 6 x2 hour sessions in June/July

Register now on Eventbrite for these and remaining 2020 courses in London and Brussels, and please share these details with friends, colleagues and networks who might be interested.

IAF members enjoy a special 10% discount – see Exclusive Offers for IAF Members. Additional online sessions will be published here and on Eventbrite as the year unfolds.


Group Facilitation Methods Online

6 x2 hours, 3-5pm UK time Mon 22 June – Thu 2 July

I shall be joined for this course by Jo Nelson of ICA Associates Inc. as guest trainer. Jo is the main designer of Group Facilitation Methods Online and co-author of Getting to the Bottom of ToP – exploring the foundations of ICA’s Technology of Participation. She is a founding member of the International Association of Facilitators and was inducted in 2014 into the IAF Hall of Fame.

IAF endorsed training

Preparing for CPF certification? Group Facilitation Methods is one of three courses that comprise the ICA Associates ToP Facilitation Essentials Program that has been endorsed by the International Association of Facilitators for those preparing to become an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF).

The course introduces the foundations of the ToP facilitation approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus.

The Focused Conversation method provides a structured, four-level process for effective communication which ensures that everyone in a group has the opportunity to participate.

The Consensus Workshop method is a five stage process that enables a facilitator to draw out and weave together everybody’s wisdom into a clear and practical consensus.

Note that this course does not teach online facilitation – it uses online technology to teach the same Group Facilitation Methods that are taught in the face-to-face course (regularly scheduled in London & Brussels), so that you can use them either online or face to face.

This course is strictly limited to no more than 12 participants, and five are already pre-booked – register now on Eventbrite to ensure your place!


Promoting Inclusion in Online Facilitation

Introduction to Facilitation Online

Thursday, 4 June 14:30-17:00 UK time

Wednesday, 8 July, 10:30-13:00 UK time

Introducing the role of the facilitator and the ToP approach, plus some key tips & tools (2.5 hours)

This online training session draws on elements of standard ICA:UK ‘ToP’ courses including Introduction to Group Facilitation, Meetings That Work and Group Facilitation Methods, adapted to an online learning environment and to application in online facilitation.

You will experience some key facilitation tools and methods in the context of an online session, including Zoom, Mentimeter and Jamboard and the ToP (ORID) Focused Conversation method. You will explore three dimensions of the role of the facilitator in online meetings and workshops, in relation to your own experience and challenges. You will be able to identify opportunities for your own further learning, and gain confidence to apply key insights in your own practice.

I shall be joined for this session by fellow ICA:UK ToP trainer Órla Cronin, designer and lead trainer of the ICA:UK introductory Virtual Facilitation Training.

Each session is limited to no more than 25 participants – register now on Eventbrite to ensure your place!


Free Facilitation Webinars

These free facilitation webinars offer an opportunity to learn more about facilitation, and ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) in particular, in a free, one-hour, interactive online session that offers an experience of virtual facilitation as well. These two upcoming sessions in May & June are scheduled in partnership with ICA:UK and its new Online Focused Conversation Series: Taking time to connect, learn and reflect.

free-facilitation-webinar-taking-your-event-online

Taking your event online: what could possibly go wrong?
Tuesday, 5 May, 11:00-12:00 UK time

Your long-planned meeting, workshop or event, or that of your client, can no longer be held face-to-face. So it is decided to hold it online instead. What could possibly go wrong? What are some tips & tools that can help you – not to just make the best of it, but to make it the best? More inclusive, engaging and productive than ever before?

How engaging can your online event be

How engaging can your online session be?
Wednesday, 10 June, 12:00-13:00 UK time

Our meetings, workshops and events, our world, are increasingly moving online – now more than ever! So as leaders and facilitators we must be prepared to move with them.

Virtual sessions can have advantages over face-to-face, but disadvantages too – not least, shorter attention spans and greater potential for distractions. How can we keep people engaged and focused when meeting online?

These sessions are limited only by the Zoom room capacity of 100 participants. Join us to connect, share & learn – register now on Eventbrite!


See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

Register now on Eventbrite also for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels, now also online.

Taking your event online: what could possibly go wrong?

Taking your event online

Tuesday, 5 May 2020, 11:00-12:00 UK time

Your long-planned meeting, workshop or event, or that of your client, can no longer be held face-to-face. So it is decided to hold it online instead. What could possibly go wrong? What are some tips & tools that can help you – not to just make the best of it, but to make it the best?  More inclusive, engaging and productive than ever before?

Join us to connect, share & learn – register now on Eventbrite.


How engaging can your online session be?

How engaging can your online event be

Wednesday, 10 June 2020, 12:00-13:00 UK time

Our meetings, workshops and events, our world, are increasingly moving online – now more than ever! So as leaders and facilitators we must be prepared to move with them. Virtual sessions can have advantages over face-to-face, but disadvantages too – not least, shorter attention spans and greater potential for distractions. How can we keep people engaged and focused when meeting online?

Join us to connect, share & learn – register now on Eventbrite.


These two sessions are scheduled in partnership with ICA:UK as part of its new Online Focused Conversation Series: Taking time to connect, learn and reflect.

ICA:UK, in collaboration with lead trainers of it’s ToP facilitation training, is pleased to offer this series of taster sessions around different topics – both to examine and explore the topic, and to demonstrate the use of the ToP Focused Conversation Method.

All the sessions will be online, for 60 minutes, and will consist of a facilitated conversation followed by a brief run through of the method used. The sessions will be run by different trainers in their own style, around topics they have chosen.  In these sessions, the method will be adapted to accommodate whatever number attend.

In addition to participants learning more about the topic, the sessions will serve as an introduction to the method for those new to ToP facilitation and will be a useful reminder of the method for those who have already attended our popular Group Facilitation Methods course. Participants may opt to go on and take further training (either online or face to face) and/or to learn and share as part of a community of people using facilitation.

All the sessions will be recorded, with the recording being publicly available after the session is over. Participants will also be “signposted” after the session to opportunities on how they can build on their experience. You may opt out of receiving further communications at any time after the session.

For details of sessions with other ICA:UK lead ToP trainers, and to register for those, please see the ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series

For more on my occasional series of free facilitation webinars, including recordings and other outputs of previous sessions, please visit free facilitation webinars.


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

Register now on Eventbrite also for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels, now also online.

Evidencing facilitation competencies – CPF | Master

This is the essay that I wrote and submitted for my IAF Certified Professional Facilitator | Master (CPF | M) re-certification in December, which has just now been approved.

The requirement of the essay was to “link lessons learned since your last re-certification to the IAF Core Competences, demonstrating changes in your facilitation style / behaviour, and indicating what growth you have experienced as a facilitator during the period since your last certification”.

As in 2008, 2012 and 2016, I use the IAF competencies as a framework by which to reflect on and illustrate some of my professional experience, learning and development – this time in the four years since 2016.


A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships

I have continued to deliver around 20-25 contracts per year for around 15-20 clients, most face-to-face and some virtual or involving some virtual component – see Reflecting on another year of freelance facilitation. In recent years the balance has shifted from around two thirds facilitation and one third facilitation training to about half and half.

I have continued to work with international NGOs, foundations, associations, networks and alliances, and a few others, largely in Europe and the Middle East and particularly in London and Brussels. However, this past year has seen the return of UK local authorities and multi-sector partnerships, after many years working with such clients on behalf of ICA:UK in the 2000s. New fields for me this past year include agile coaching, software development, Results Based Management and remote team working.

After working mostly with other facilitators in my early career, I continue now to work mostly solo. However, I have enjoyed being stretched by new co-facilitation experiences in recent years. These have included working as lead facilitator for one of 6 teams of 3 (lead, co-facilitator & graphic recorder) each with a sub-group of around 35 delegates at a two-day conference of over 200 – with Lorensbergs for the New Shape Forum of the Global Challenges Foundation (featured image, above); and as a remote virtual co-facilitator supporting a few remote participants to an otherwise largely face-to-face meeting – the latter was one of many topics I covered in a recent interview with SessionLab published this month.

Much of my work in recent years has been relatively short-term and small scale, involving a single event of one or a few days or a series of two or more over a few weeks or months. One recent example of a multi-session process was with Oxfam OPTI, involving design and facilitation of a series of consultation & consensus building workshops to engage over 100 staff of 4 Oxfam affiliates based in Jerusalem, Gaza & Ramallah in operationalising a new One Country Strategy and Country Operating Model – see case study.

A longer process and more complex multi-session process was with Eurochild, involving process design and facilitation over 6 months to help to engage around 170 member organisations in developing a new strategic plan, including with around 100 member representatives at a General Assembly meeting and with 20 Board members and Secretariat staff at a 2-day planning retreat in Brussels – see case study & video.

Since 2018 I now offer the ToP Facilitating Client Collaboration course, one of the IAF-endorsed ‘ToP Facilitation Essentials’ series, which covers this competence in some depth.

For many years I have routinely gathered participant and client feedback at the close of each workshop, course or project. In 2017 I reviewed and analyzed such feedback from ToP facilitation courses, taster sessions & webinars over the previous 5 years since I went freelance – 47 training courses, 13 conference & meetup taster sessions and 7 webinars reaching a total of 1,089 participants – and began routinely to invite feedback from training participants and facilitation clients also 3-6 months after each event or project. This has resulted in 71 online survey responses received so far, and a number of client recommendations:

Neil Mehta of Water Wisdom UK wrote in July 2019: “Martin is a highly experienced and professional facilitator whom I’ve worked and collaborated with over several years in two of the charities I have led. Martin has facilitated a number of strategy retreats for our teams. He helped us think through how to successfully design and document a 3-year strategy as a collective resulting also with a clear 12-month KPI to execute for the executive/operational team. A real star.”

B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes

A regional team retreat for an international non-profit, for 60 staff of 5 country offices in Sicily in 2018, was to be held in a venue provided in-kind by a partner organisation in the old city of Syracuse.

Syracuse Institute

It turned out to be a beautiful and inspiring venue, entirely appropriate in terms of the group and the content of their work – but less so in terms of facilitation process. The Institute is housed in a restored 16th century church, a listed building with peeling walls filled with precious art and whose only large plenary room is a lecture theatre with fixed rows of seats facing a raised stage with a giant and immovable oak table in front of a screen.

It was clear that there would not be an option to use any alternative venue, so I began to wonder what sort of process could I use to turn to advantage these features that I might otherwise consider disadvantages for the sort of team-building, learning & planning that was called for.

I had recently been introduced to the Interview Matrix method at the IAF Ottawa conference, so decided to use that for a vision workshop where I would otherwise have used the ToP Consensus Workshop method with a sticky wall. I find that the Interview Matrix is not as powerful for consensus-building, but it was quite adequate for this occasion. It allowed the group to work half the time interviewing each other in changing pairs, in and between their fixed rows of seats, and the other half discerning patterns in the interview data in groups of 10-15 in smaller breakout rooms.

I had also been recently introduced to Mentimeter, at the IABC EMENA Copenhagen conference, so I decided to use that for group introductions and brainstorming in the opening and other plenary sessions. There was no alternative to sitting in rows facing a screen, so the group made use of the screen and their own smart phones, where they were sitting. We kept the plenaries to a minimum, but were able to use them well for whole group reflection & learning in-between smaller break-out sessions in other more conducive rooms.

Gnanam Devadass, Deputy Director, Campaigns, at Amnesty International wrote in December 2017: “Martin supported the design and development and also facilitated Amnesty International’s four-day Global Activism Hackathon, held at the International Secretariat in London in October 2017 and attended by 60 participants and resource people. His participatory approaches, methodologies and tools enabled the fullest participation of multi-lingual delegates from diverse backgrounds from across the globe. His facilitation was excellent and greatly appreciated by the participants. He worked well with the organising team and the steering group. His professional and flexible approach was very impressive and helped to achieve the intended outcomes of the Activism Hackathon.”

C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment

Reflecting on another year of freelance facilitation

In 2019 in facilitated a two-day team retreat for the 20 or so staff of an international association. I was referred by a previous client who had recommended me because it was expected to be a difficult meeting and was being approached with trepidation by all concerned. I was advised that were trust issues and difficult relationships within the staff, not least between a new management team that had been recently appointed to replace their predecessors that had left under a cloud, and who were keen to establish their leadership and new ways of working, and long-established staff who felt threatened and insecure and in some cases were suspected to be in ongoing, friendly relations with the ousted leadership.

I agreed to take on the project as a 9-day contract to allow ample time for individual telephone interviews and an online survey in advance, to consult on issues and concerns and to build support for the process and my facilitation. I coached the new Director and management team on their roles in the meeting, and consulted with a number of key stakeholders that would not be present – notably the external consultant whose investigation and report had led to the change of management. The meeting was held in a beautiful countryside retreat centre with good facilities for meeting and for more informal interaction. We used a variety of methods and approaches and we allowed plenty of time for each session and took everything slowly and surely. For the most sensitive and risky session we sat in a circle of chairs and made extensive use of silent individual reflection.

I think everyone found the meeting difficult, and probably the Director and management team most of all, but I think that they all were relieved and pleased that they had been able to talk to each other constructively and begin to address some of their real issues together. I was reassured that a slow and careful, inclusive and collaborative approach seemed to have been enough to enable them to do so.

Barbara Hintermann, Secretary General at CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation wrote in September 2017: “Martin facilitated our Caux Reference Group meeting in June 2016 held in Caux/Switzerland. The Caux Reference Group is an international advisory group to the CAUX-Initiatives of Change (IofC) Foundation, composed of about 50 persons from the International IofC network. Martin facilitated the meeting with the necessary calm and used various facilitation tools to engage the group actively. While there were some rather emotional moments, Martin managed that the participants delivered the key elements for a variety of changes that needed to be reviewed by the foundation.”

D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes

The Oxfam & Eurochild case studies referred to above in (A) and the recommendation of the CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation were among a series of six examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method that I shared in a series of weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week in 2017 – Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop.

Another of these examples helps to illustrate how I have managed small and large group processes to draw out data and insight from a group, helped the group synthesise patterns and guided the group to consensus and desired outcomes – this was the 5-day International Council Meeting & Conference of the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists (ICUU) in Mennorode, the Netherlands in 2016.

This was the culmination of a 9-month strategic planning process, involving also a series of online sessions and a ToP Participatory Strategic Planning retreat in Boston in the spring with a focus group of around 25. At the Council Meeting of 140 we used a series of ‘World Café’ style table conversations in changing small groups to discern learnings and implications from the strategy development process, following a few short presentations from those involved and drawing on documentation. In the afternoon we used a ‘super-sized’ Consensus Workshop process to answer the Focus Question ‘“What are key elements of the mission and purpose of ‘ICUU 2.0’, for the next 20 years?”.

At the end of the day volunteers were invited to join a working group to discern and articulate the emerging consensus concisely in a revised mission statement for approval by vote of the formal Council Meeting at the end of the week. The final statement was strengthened further by some minor revisions suggested during the formal Council Meeting. Once approved, the new mission statement was verbally translated as it was read aloud in all of the 25 or so languages spoken by those present, to symbolise global consensus and commitment: “The Mission of the ICUU is to empower existing and emerging member groups to sustain and grow our global faith community”.

Osama Saeed Bhutta, Director of Communications at Amnesty International wrote in February 2018: “I attended a meeting facilitated by Martin and was so impressed that I had him do the same for my directorate’s annual retreat. He has a singular ability to get people talking and dreaming freely, but to then to pull it together for a focused action-oriented conclusion. The meeting he held for us yielded a bonded team and a new comms strategy, a legacy that will live on for a long time to come.”

Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General at Eurochild wrote in September 2017: “Great that we had structure, but also great that we could think on our feet to adjust the planning according to what we were hearing from members. All in all we got a huge amount of raw material for development of the strategic plan. The methodology clearly helped.”

E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge

ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) methodology continues to serve me well as the basis of my practice – I wrote in 2014 that I regard the ORID framework of ToP as something of a universal principle of facilitation. However, I continue to explore and apply other methodologies and approaches as well. In addition to the Interview Matrix and Mentimeter mentioned above in (B), other examples include Liberating Structures and Agile.

I discovered Liberating Structures by buying the book and downloading the app, and explored the toolkit further by hosting demo sessions at IAF England & Wales meetups and by attending the London LS Users Group. I applied and adapted 1-2-4-All structure (with ORID questions) as co-facilitator for one of 4 table groups in a workshop of 60 senior leadership of an international tech company in 2019.

After meeting many agilists through IAF E&W meetups and attending the IAF EME conference on Agile & facilitation in Milan, my interest was piqued further when I facilitated a 2-day team retreat for a partnership of eight agile coaches. Subsequently I took Certified Scrum Master training. While I learned that I have no interest in working as a scrum master, I gained valuable insight into how & where facilitation is so widely used in such approaches; and how the CSM certification process works and how very much it differs from the IAF process.

With ICA Associates Inc of Canada in 2017, I attended and trained as a trainer in each of the new IAF-endorsed ToP Facilitation Essentials courses, Facilitating Client Collaboration and Meetings That Work. Since 2018 I have been offering this series of courses in Europe, including also ToP Group Facilitation Methods – see Join me for ToP facilitation training in London, Brussels & elsewhere in 2020!

I have continued to tweet, blog and host free facilitation webinars, and to host and attend IAF and other meetups and conferences – particularly as chapter lead and now Board Chair of IAF England & Wales. In that capacity I have been excited to support the launch of a new IAF E&W podcast in 2019, Facilitation Stories.

E. Model Positive Professional Attitude

#iafpodcast

For the January 2020 episode of that new IAF E&W podcast I was interviewed on The Importance of Values in Facilitation. Helene Jewell wrote in the show notes:

Martin talks about the importance of values – both personal and IAF values, which talk about the collective wisdom of the group. He says that what you believe has an enormous impact on the group. Martin talks about defining values and how the IAF values resonate with him and his involvement with developing the ICA UK values. Values are what is important to people and what drives them, and are important to be able to define what is meaningful and important to them.

He told us about taking decisions not to do work that conflicted with his values, mostly around contracting with the client.

Martin started working with ICA as a volunteer and his first workshop involved creating a personal timeline as a personal reflection tool. He talked about a book by John and Maureen Jenkins (founder members of IAF) – 9 disciplines of a facilitator – leading groups by transforming yourself. All about understanding your own values. A phrase from Maureen that resonated with Martin “however good a facilitator you are […] your most powerful tool as a facilitator is your own interior condition”.


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