Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek -4

This is the 2nd of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting just 4 weeks from today. Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


Example 2 – ICUU, Mennorode

In July of last year I facilitated the ‘”Essex 2.0″ Large Group Process’ on the first day of the 5-day International Council Meeting & Conference of the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists (ICUU) in Mennorode, the Netherlands. This was the culmination of a 9-month strategic planning process, involving also a series of online sessions and a Participatory Strategic Planning retreat in Boston in the spring with a focus group of around 25. The Focus Question for planning process as a whole was: ‘21 years since its founding [at Essex Massachusetts], how does ICUU need to change or stay the same to respond effectively to the global Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist community of the century ahead?‘.

The original design had envisaged that we would use a large group process at the summer Council Meeting to involve the 140 or so delegates, of around 40 national member churches and networks, to consult on a draft strategy developed by the spring focus group. In fact the focus group concluded that there was likely not sufficient clarity and consensus on ICUU’s role in the wider movement to gain broad consensus on a new strategy so soon. Instead it was agreed to use the summer council meeting to build consensus on the mission and purpose of the global body, in order to consult further on strategy after that.

In the morning of the first day 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?”

Participants sat at 16 tables of 8 by country and continent, in order to amplify the voices of regions less represented or otherwise less heard relative to others. Whole A4 sheets were used for sharing ideas on the sticky wall instead of half-sheets, for improved readability for the large group, and ideas were clustered in columns to make best use of sticky wall space with the large sheets. In order to keep the process fast-paced and engaging, all 16 table hosts were invited to come to the front at once and take it in turns to read their table’s ideas, and post them directly in the relevant cluster as they did so. Having a queue of table hosts waiting to share ideas helped to ensure that each was brief and focused. Participants then self-selected into 13 table groups to name the 13 clusters that emerged.

It was clear that meaningful consensus would not be possible with such a large group in just an afternoon, so the workshop was framed as consultative and the cluster titles were accepted as drafted unless any minor revisions could be agreed quickly in the plenary. 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.  A team of half a dozen or so met that evening to do that, mostly members of the ICUU Executive Committee. Some of the 13 named elements they found to represent values and principles that were already agreed and articulated elsewhere, or elements of vision, strategy or implementation that could better contribute to those later stages of the planning process. Remaining elements were distilled into a succinct new mission statement to be submitted to the vote of the Council.

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”.

Read on for example 3…


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek -5

This is the first of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting just 5 weeks from today. Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


So you have a great facilitation tool or method, and you’re keen to apply it. But what if your group is too large or too small, or you have too little time or nowhere to put a sticky wall, or you’re just not sure that it is going to be what your group needs?

Tried and tested “off-the-shelf” facilitation methods can be enormously powerful, and there is no point in reinventing the wheel if you have one that will serve the purpose. There are hundreds of tools and methods available in the IAF Methods Database and in online resource libraries such as Participatory Methods and Participation Compass, and in popular books such as Liberating Structures and the Handbook of Large Group Methods.

However, if the only tool you have is a hammer then there is a risk that every situation you approach will look like a nail – or at least that you’ll be spending more time and energy searching for problems in need of your solution than in crafting creative responses to real groups and their real and changing situations and needs.

The IAF Core Facilitator Competencies framework makes clear that good facilitation requires more than just using a great tool or method and using it well. To be successful facilitating in a wide variety of environments, facilitators must be able to “select clear methods and processes that… meet the client needs” (competency B2) but also, among other things, be able to “design and customize applications” (A2) and “adapt processes to changing situations and needs of the group” (D3).

So what of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitation methods, my own speciality as a facilitator? Developed and refined over 50 years, by countless practitioners working with communities and organisations worldwide, ToP methods can appear at first to be somewhat rigid and inflexible because of the great detail and rigour in which they are demonstrated in training and described in writing. As a ToP trainer myself I advise less experienced facilitators to find appropriate opportunities to practice the methods first as they are detailed in the course workbook, before adapting or customising them, in order first to best understand the underlying principles that are key to successful adaptation. For skilled and experienced facilitators, however, the greatest potential of ToP and other facilitation methods is in their creative application in service of a particular group and its particular needs and context.

For an overview of the ToP Consensus Workshop method and its key elements, click on the image for an excerpt from the ICA:UK Group Facilitation Methods course workbook. See also Brian Stanfield’s ‘The Workshop Book and my own earlier and more in-depth case studies of applying the method – with Manchester Primary Care Trust, Connect In The NorthWigan Borough Council and, more recently in the context of strategic planning, with Oxfam Lebanon.


Example 1 – Initiatives of Change, Caux

A good example an application involving minimal adaptation was the annual meeting of the Caux Reference Group that I facilitated in Switzerland in June of last year. The group of about 35 included key staff and Board members of the CAUX-Initiatives of Change (IofC) Foundation plus diverse representatives of Initiatives of Change International, the global movement ‘working to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves‘.

The ‘rational aim’ for the afternoon session was to ‘share ideas and develop practical approaches for what it might mean for the Foundation and IofC internationally to address the root causes of violent extremism, at Caux‘.  The ‘experiential aim’ for the day as a whole was ‘to build shared trust, agreement and ownership, and gain inspiration, support and feedback from [our] diverse perspectives‘. Two and a half hours with a break allowed ample time for a Consensus Workshop with the Focus Question ‘What can we do to address the root causes of extremism of all kinds, and what role can Caux play?

In a minor departure from the textbook approach, the workshop was preceded by a short presentation from IofC International leaders on prior work and conversations that had led to this particular topic for this particular meeting. The opening Focused Conversation in the Context stage was used to reflect on that in relation to participants’ own contexts and experience, and implications for the group and the workshop. Participants then brainstormed individually at first, then shared their ideas at seven cabaret-style tables of 5 and and wrote some of their best together on half-sheets of A4 paper. In plenary I posted their half-sheets a few at a time on the sticky wall, and invited clarifications before taking suggestions to cluster similar ideas.

Nine clusters finally emerged, and were named by the group to represent their best collective wisdom in response to the Focus Question. The clusters were titled: Campaign for change; Offer/ become a space to explore root causes; Review & influence policy; Education & training; Engage ‘the other’; Faith in action; ‘Start with me’ – IofC approach; Create resources; Promote economic justice.

Barbara Hintermann, Secretary General at CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation, wrote this September:

“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. Martin was appreciated by the audience but also by the Foundation management.”

Read on for example 2…


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

A welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer

This June completed my fourth year in business as Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd, and in October it will be 5 years since I went freelance from ICA:UK. Following what has been a bumper year for client work, for the first time in probably 15 months I am looking forward to several consecutive weeks of desk time, free of delivering client contracts – and a holiday in August after that!

In the last 12 months, it turns out, I have delivered 26 contracts for 18 clients in 9 countries, involving 32 face-to-face and 3 virtual events and 24 facilitated processes and 11 facilitation training courses. That has involved 73 nights away from home, 18 in the UK and 55 abroad. No wonder it felt like a bumper year – that represents an increase of around 70% in client work compared to my first four years of freelance practice, and the contracts on average were larger too.

I have been fortunate and grateful to enjoy a diverse and stimulating, often inspiring, range of groups and contexts to work with this past year. Recent client contracts for facilitation have included large and multi-event, multi-stakeholder strategic planning processes with international NGO networks such as ICUU, Girls Not Brides and Eurochild (above), and smaller, relatively simpler strategy and planning retreats such as with CENTR, Wells For India, Lorensbergs and the Peel Institute. Also large and relatively complex and challenging international team meetings such as with Amnesty International and Oxfam OPTI, and a small but complex and challenging closed Ministerial Forum with the International Union on Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Also a conference of activists on refugee and migration issues with Amnesty UK, and facilitated leadership development labs, face-to-face & virtual, for managers of Astra Zeneca. Facilitation training has included courses with civil servants of Ofgem and the Care Quality Commission, for agile finance software project managers of Santander and bereavement counselors of the Dove Service, and for diverse groups on public courses in London, Brussels, Geneva and Moscow. I lost some bids for work, and had to turn down some opportunities as well, but I wouldn’t have wished for any other workload.

It is no wonder then that I have spent less time on other things. My volunteer time has reduced since I completed my four year term as ICAI President in December, although since then I have somewhat increased my time growing IAF England & Wales‘ activity and leadership team and partnership with IABC.

Readers may have noticed that I have managed fewer blog posts (only 20 this past year from an average of 32 the past four), and only one of my “bi-monthly” free facilitation webinars – plus in May What does it take for people to align behind change? with Michael Ambjorn, published today by MILE Madinah on YouTube.

So, what do I hope to make of this opportunity to pause and reflect?

Mostly, I hope to take the opportunity to reflect and learn from this recent experience, and share some insights here on my blog – so watch this space!

I hope to review my recent years’ ToP facilitation training end-of-course participant evaluations, and launch an online survey to invite past participants to share something of what they have applied of their learning and how, and what difference their training has made to them and the groups they work with. I hope to draft and begin to post some more facilitation case studies from my facilitation work of this last year, and request further client feedback.

I hope to schedule one or two more free facilitation webinars for the autumn, and share a recording of one already scheduled for this month with IAF India – with Martin Farrell of IAF England & Wales, on the topic of co-facilitation (below).

I hope to catch upon some reading – next up after Penny Pullan CPF’s Virtual Leadership, Responsible Facilitation by Jim Campbell formerly of ICA Belgium.

Also, I have some advance preparation to do for delivery work in the autumn, including for my new IAF-endorsed Meetings That Work courses in London & Brussels in September, with Bill Staples of ICA Associates (book here). And I hope that my calendar for the autumn will continue to fill itself – so do feel free to contact me if you’d like to help with that!

In the meantime, I am hoping also to enjoy some more summery good weather, and all that goes with it – at home in London, at the WOMAD music festival later this month and in Sitges in August.

Wishing you an opportunity to pause and reflect as well when you can…


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.