Facilitator certification – what’s it like, and is it worthwhile?

Free facilitation webinar: Facilitator certification - what's it like, and is it worthwhile?Are you interested 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? Register now on Eventbrite for this next in my series of free facilitation webinars.


Facilitator certification – what’s it like, and is it worthwhile?

Wednesday 7 February 2018, 15.00 UK time 

In this session we will look at what it takes to achieve professional certification as a facilitator, and what are the advantages of doing so. We will explore the two leading and internationally recognised, competency-based certifications – IAF Certified Professional Faciliator (CPF) and ICA Certified ToP Facilitator (CTF).

I shall be joined for this session by Lindsay Sumner CPF, IAF Director of Certification Operations; Alexey Svetlichny CTF, Director of ICA Ukraine; and again by Sunny Walker CPF CTF of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative.

Lindsay was among the first to gain the CPF designation, in the UK in 1998, and she has managed the CPF programme for IAF since 2006. ICA Ukraine is the first ICA in Europe to offer CTF certification, and Alexey became one of the first CTFs in Europe in 2014. Sunny is an assessor for both CPF and CTF programmes, a founding member of IAF and one of the founders of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP).

We will invite you to share some of your own experience of certification, and to respond with us to questions that are raised.

Each session in this series is hosted in Adobe Connect for a highly interactive learning experience. Each topic is addressed by a short case study or other presentation, with links to further online material for later reference. In the sessions we apply tools and techniques of virtual facilitation to help participants to engage with the material and the presenter, and with their own and each other’s experience on the topic. A short technical orientation directly before the session introduces the features of the virtual meeting room, and the tools to be used. A brief closing reflection at the end of the session invites reflection and learning on the facilitation process and virtual tools, as well as on the content of the session.

Register now on Eventbrite. To whet your appetite, check out this short 2014 video clip from US ToP trainer and CTF & CPF assessor Barbara McKay of Northstar Facilitators, and this new 2017 clip from IAF on it’s forthcoming, diversified ‘Propath’ approach to certification:


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 for my free facilitation webinars, and for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels.

Join me for ToP facilitation training in Brussels & London in 2018!


ToP facilitation training in Brussels & London in 2018Register now on Eventbrite, and please share these details with friends, colleagues and networks who might be interested.

I am an ICA Certified ToP Facilitator (CTF), and a licensed provider and experienced lead trainer of ICA ToP facilitation training. I offer these courses in partnership with ICA:UK and ICA Associates Inc, and in Brussels with Social Platform. I am excited to extend these partnerships now to offer more and new public courses, dates and locations for 2018.

Looking for accredited learning? Group Facilitation Methods, Action Planning and Participatory Strategic Planning are accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management for an ILM Development Award.

IAF endorsed trainingPreparing for CPF certification? Meetings That Work, Group Facilitation Methods and Facilitating Client Collaboration together comprise the new 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). These three courses plus Action Planning and Participatory Strategic Planning cover most of the competencies required for Certified ToP Facilitator (CTF) assessment. To learn more, join my next free facilitation webinar Facilitator certification: what’s it like, and is it worthwhile?

Interested to join IAF? Participants in all these ICA:UK ToP courses are eligible for a 50% discount on their first year’s IAF membership, a requirement for CPF certification.

Most courses are scheduled in pairs to allow 1, 2, 3 or 4 days of training at once.  Follow the links for details and to register for each course.


Group Facilitation Methods – introducing the foundations of the ToP approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus – 2 days

“I found it really helpful. Martin established a really good group learning process and displayed mastery of his subject. I am very glad I went on it and very glad he ran it!” – Mike Pounsford, Employee engagement, communication and change specialist

“As a diverse, transnational, multilingual membership network, successful meetings are key to our internal and external successes. Many of our staff mentioned Martin’s training as a highlight in their end of year reviews – several said it was the most useful training they had ever attended.” – Eve Geddie, Deputy Director at Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM)


Action Planning – participatory planning for short-term projects and events – 1 day

“Martin is a very inspiring trainer, he is very skilled and knows how to facilitate facilitators in a structured and insightful way. I have been able to succesfully use his personal advice and facilitation techniques straight away!” – Miriam Elst, Facilitator Design Thinking and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, Lead UX researcher & strategist, Service designer


Meetings That Work – practical tools to design and lead effective meetings – 2 days

“Meetings That Work ticked all the boxes. It was very interesting to hear the theory and useful to have to put it in practice during the many exercises. I use the templates and ideas from this course on a weekly basis. It improves planning and preparing for our 20 meetings (annually). Feedback on the improved meeting format is excellent.” – Peter Van Roste, General Manager CENTR


International Facilitation WeekFacilitating Client Collaboration – practical tools to design facilitation approaches with your client – 2 days

“I got confidence in how to deal with my clients. I had not expected that this course would boost me up to be more open to the customers and speak with them more freely, but it did. The methods and processes will not only be helpful in my regular work, but also in solving my family, community and society problems.” –  Neha Shrestha

Bill Staples of ICA Associates Inc. CanadaI shall be joined for this new course for 2018 by Bill Staples of ICA Associates Inc as guest trainer. Bill is one of the founders of ICA’s Technology of Participation, a principal partner of ICA Associates Inc. and the main designer of Facilitating Client Collaboration.


Participatory Strategic Planning – bringing people together to create strategies for action – 2 days

“Martin created a good atmosphere in an international group. His presentations were crispy clear, illustrated by carefully chosen, practical examples from his rich facilitator experience. Martin helped me to understand countless details of preparation and running a successful Participatory Strategic Planning session for various customers.” – Marzena Dębska-Matuszak, Experienced Trainer, Facilitator and Coach


For early bird rates, register by 10 January on Eventbrite.

Register on two or more courses at once to enjoy a 10% discount on all additional courses. Register on Eventbrite for any course, then add additional courses before you check out.

Additional discounts are available all year to members of Social Platform and other European NGO networks, and to members of ICA, IAF & IABC. If you have not received a promotional code directly from them, please contact me. Enter your code for your chosen course on Eventbrite to reveal your discounted rates.


For in-house and tailored training see ToP facilitation training at your place – and free places for you! and please contact me. 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.

See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies.

Evidencing facilitation competencies – four years on

CPF pinThis is the essay I wrote and submitted for my IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) re-certification in October, which has just now been approved. The requirement of the essay was to “link lessons learned since your original certification date 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”.


In my 2012 recertification essay Evidencing facilitation competencies – reflecting on lessons learned I wrote “I have learned that I need to become more methodical in maintaining a record of my professional development in order to more easily and effectively renew my CPF in four years from now!”  Soon after that I established a spreadsheet to track contracts and events delivered and bid for, and clients and other relationships maintained, and I began a blog to publish and archive recommendations, case studies and other writing. As a result, I can now write with some confidence that, in four years since recertifying and going freelance in October 2012, I have delivered 62 contracts to 41 clients in 16 countries, involving 77 face-to-face and 13 virtual events and 52 facilitated processes and 38 facilitation training courses.

I shall use the IAF competencies again as a framework by which to reflect on and illustrate some of my professional experience, learnings and development in these past four years.

A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships

Beirut seafront 525x296I have continued to design and deliver longer and more complex processes with increasingly diverse and international clients groups. Increasingly these have involved virtual as well as face-to-face facilitation. Examples include a 9-month programme of member engagement and strategic planning with the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists (see UUA blog); a ‘One Country Strategy process’ with Oxfam in Lebanon (see case study) engaging around 150 stakeholders and multiple Oxfam affiliates; and an online conference “Economics of Climate Change Mitigation Options in the Forest Sector” with FAO for over 1,600 international experts (see case study).

Increasingly I find I am contracting remotely with overseas clients for multi-event processes that enable a launch event to include an element of co-design for later phases, for example in strategic planning with the Nansen Centre for Peace & Dialogue in Norway and with SSCL in Lebanon. Increasingly also I find that I am undertaking more complex contracting processes with more complex configurations of stakeholders. For example, collaborative design of a team retreat with the 60 staff of the Amnesty International Europe & Central Asia Regional Office this year engaged a fluid and semi-virtual working group of from 6-12 self-selecting group members over several meetings over several weeks. John Dalhuisen, my client for that retreat, wrote in a recommendation “Martin… will help you structure a meeting and think carefully about what you want from it.  Then he will get it for you.”

case study: Celebrating 20 years with the European Training Foundation in Turin – #ETF20I continue to work solo with my clients very often, but also as appropriate with a co-facilitator, as with Our ETF, a Journey Together in Turin, or with a larger team. I was one of 6 international and 14 Ukrainian facilitators to co-design and facilitate the Ukraine PEACE Summit with ICA Ukraine in 2014, for 250 delegates from local government, business and civil society from the 27 regions of Ukraine to “dialogue on ways to solve issues locally, restore goodwill among all peoples of Ukraine and establish greater regional and city control while strengthening the country of Ukraine”. With Initiatives of Change I provided design and facilitation support to the international conference team of around 8 for the Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business conference at Caux, Switzerland (see recommendations).

B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes

I think the size as well as the diversity of my clients and groups has grown in the last four years. One of my aspirations for going freelance was to work more internationally, and now in fact most of my work is international. My clients have begun to include larger international NGOs, UN & EU agencies and global corporations as well small charities, social enterprises and consulting firms. I have worked much less with the UK public sector than before, perhaps in part as a result of public spending cuts in recent years.

My clients tell me that they appreciate my capacity work effectively with diverse groups. Eve Geddie wrote in a recommendation  “As a diverse, transnational, multilingual membership network, successful meetings are key to our internal and external successes. Many of our staff mentioned Martin’s [facilitation] training as a highlight in their end of year reviews – several said it was the most useful training they had ever attended”.

This week for the first time I facilitated with an international group of nine Health Ministers and ministerial representatives plus key advisors, in a one-day, closed and off-the-record Ministerial Forum as part of the 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health. In preparing the processes, time and space to be appropriate to this group and its needs I found myself departing significantly from my more typical facilitation practice. The meeting was not documented, and involved no writing or visuals except one wall poster and copies of the aims, agenda & delegate list.  The room layout and process allowed half of those present to attend as observers and advisers to individual participants, rather than as participants themselves, and protocol was carefully observed in the seating arrangement and speaking order.  The process involved several series of brief presentations followed by questions and discussion and interspersed with short breaks and opportunities for country delegations to confer among themselves. Participants remarked afterwards on the high level of interaction, hard work and accomplishment they had achieved together.

C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment

Case study: How engaging can a large facilitated online session be?In a blog post titled How engaging can a large facilitated online session be? I reflected on that question relative to my experience of an online conference designed and facilitated with FAO, involving over 1,000 participants in six 2-hour sessions over a  four week period. This turned out to be a steep learning curve for all of us in many respects, but the conclusion was largely very positive. My FAO clients joined me in sharing something of our experience in one of my free facilitation webinars.

I have found myself working more and more confidently with conflict in the past four years. This had been an explicit goal for myself in the previous four since my initial CPF assessment in 2008. The Ukraine PEACE Summit is an obvious and extreme example where conflict was front and centre in context and design, but many strategic planning and other processes I have facilitated in recent years have involved a more or less explicit element of conflict to be addressed. Several others have also involved conflict very directly in the context and content of the facilitation, for example working on strategic planning with Oxfam and SSCL in Lebanon in the context of the Syria crisis, with the Nansen Centre for Peace & Dialogue in Norway and with the Initiatives of Change Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business conference at Caux, Switzerland.

Working with interpretation in multi-lingual groups in recent years has stretched my communication & listening skills and my capacity for developing rapport with groups. I have found working with consecutive interpretation in Russia and Ukraine to be less of an obstacle to understanding and rapport than working with simultaneous translation between multiple languages, such as at IofC’s Caux conferences in Switzerland.

D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes

ORIDICA’s Technology of Participation methodology continues to serve me well as the foundation of my facilitation approach, to the extent that I have blogged and presented on the ORID model of ToP in Is there a Single, Universal Principle of Facilitation?  The presentation, shared at several IAF conferences & meetups, includes examples of how I have applied ORID in session design to produce a naturally flowing, focused and productive process, often in conjunction with other methods & tools of ToP and other approaches including World Café, Open Space and twitter chats.

E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge

Since 2012 I have attended 14 international conferences & regional gatherings of IAF, ICA & other Associations. In 2014 I led a six-month collaborative process, online and face-to-face at IAF conferences, to develop a collective story of facilitation as IAF celebrated its 20th anniversary –  Celebrating the development of facilitation – world-wide and history long. I have tweeted for International Facilitation Week @FacWeek since its inception in 2013.

What does it take for people to align behind change?I have organised IAF England & Wales free facilitation meetups since 2015, and I have attended, hosted and facilitated at dozens of IAF E&W free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere since 2013.  I have pursued and promoted interdisciplinary learning and collaboration among facilitation, communications and change management professionals, and between members of their Associations IAF, IABC & CMI – see What does it take for people to align behind change? and Power to the People, and the power of facilitation and communications in partnership.

Cast Study: IAF Facilitation Impact AwardI was awarded ICA Certified ToP Facilitator status in 2016 after an extensive process of reflection, documentation and assessment to evidence my ToP methods competencies in addition to core facilitation competencies. I won an IAF Facilitation Impact Award in 2015 for Our ETF, a Journey Together. I was inducted into the IAF Hall of Fame in 2014.

F. Model Positive Professional Attitude

I have practiced self-assessment and self-awareness through my blogging and through my CTF certification, as for example in Facilitation ethics and values – where do you draw a line?  In that blog post I gave examples of when I have declined opportunities to facilitate where I felt my integrity required it.

On my website and routinely in proposals I declare that “As a Certified Professional Facilitator, my clients are assured that I uphold the IAF Code of Ethics and that I demonstrate the full range of core Facilitator Competencies.”


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.

Become a Certified Professional Facilitator in the UK this year!

ToP facilitation with a group of people with learning difficulties

Are you interested in taking the Certified Professional Facilitator assessment of the International Association of Facilitators in the UK this year, likely in London or Birmingham in December?

I and other CPFs have found the process a tremendous learning experience, and the designation itself a valuable professional distinction. Now is a great time to take the plunge yourself, as a group of around a dozen prospective candidates already is beginning to form to support each other through the process and get assessed together locally – and because the fee, which has remained unchanged for many years, is about to rise significantly in the new year.

The IAF CertifiedTM Professional Facilitator (CPF) is the professional designation for IAF members who demonstrate having Core Facilitator Competencies.  The Core Competencies represent a fundamental set of skills, knowledge, and behaviours that support effective facilitation in a wide variety of contexts.

The CPF designation benefits both facilitators and their clients. Facilitators achieve a formal certification and undertake valuable self-reflection and learning. For clients, working with a CPF provides an assurance that the facilitator has met the internationally recognised standard for effective facilitation of group processes.

To learn more about the CPF and its principle advantages, please visit Benefits of the CPF. To learn more about the CPF assessment process, please visit Becoming a CPF. For scheduled CPF assessment events worldwide, see CPF events.

There is no need to make any immediate decision or commitment, however you can help to make it possible to be assessed in the UK this year by expressing an interest now.

If you are interested, please:

  • email the IAF office <certification@iaf-world.org> to express an interest in registering for a CPF assessment event in the UK this year – this is what it takes to ensure that an event is scheduled and available for registrations
  • RVSP for our IAF E&W Certified Professional Facilitator assessment meetup (dates & locations to be confirmed) in order to connect with other prospective candidates and to join the online conversation on how to support each other through the process
  • respond to the doodle poll to indicate which dates would suit you best for a one-day assessment event in the UK – so far mid-December dates are most popular

For an indication of the type of documentary evidence that is required prior to the assessment day, and for re-certification each 4 years, see my own Evidencing facilitation competencies: planning with people with learning difficulties and Evidencing facilitation competencies – reflecting on lessons learned – and watch this space as I am due to re-certify again later this year…

For more on why you might want to get professionally certified as a facilitator, and on which certification process to follow, see also this short clip from IAF CPF and ICA CTF assessor Barbara MacKay of North Star Facilitators in the US:

If you are interested in facilitation, regardless of whether you are ready to consider certification or whether you are an IAF member, do join IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups to meet, network and learn with others near you:


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 IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere, and by joining my free facilitation webinars.

Evidencing facilitation competencies – reflecting on lessons learned

Building a future together: Broadening ownership in corporate planningThis ‘from the archive’ post is the essay I wrote for my IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) re-certification in 2012. I was reminded of it as I am now preparing a portfolio for my ICA Certified ToP Facilitator (CTF) assessment. This requires up-to-date evidence of all the IAF core competencies (broadly speaking), as well as of mastery in applying the core facilitation methods of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP). The requirement of the essay was to “link lessons learned since your original certification date 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”.


I shall use the IAF competencies as a framework by which to reflect on and illustrate some of my professional experience and development since my CPF assessment in 2008.

A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships
Since my 2008 CPF assessment I have had the opportunity to lead the contracting and design of my largest client project to date, a 12 month process of facilitation capacity building and facilitated strategic planning delivered by myself and two colleagues [Jonathan Dudding and Ann Lukens] over 60 person days.  The project involved 90 manager trainees and around 400 staff and 1,000 members and other stakeholders of a community-based housing association in South Wales. It was later written up in an article Building a future together: Broadening ownership in corporate planning for the joint AMED & IAF Europe issue of the AMED Journal last year, and presented at the joint AMED & IAF Europe workshop in London in March 2012.

The contracting & design process itself comprised multiple meetings and project drafts over several months, but the investment in developing clarity and trust in advance proved invaluable to later success.  This whole process served to stretch and develop greatly my capacity for creating collaborative relationships with clients, and also with co-facilitators and partners. One key insight was the importance of frequent, regular face-to-face meetings between ICA:UK’s local Associate and the client’s internal project team as well as between myself and the client’s leadership.  Another related insight was to recognize that our intervention was but a small component of a much larger transformation process for the client, to which we could and did make a significant contribution but which we could not and need not fully understand or influence.

B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes
Since 2008 I have facilitated a second ‘Big Meeting’ for a user-led organisation of people with learning difficulties, the first of which served as the focus of my essay for my CPF assessment then (Evidencing facilitation competencies: planning with people with learning difficulties). This second event was conceived by the client as a ‘planning party’, in order to better engage participants than would a straightforward facilitated planning session, so atmosphere and drama were key to success.  This was achieved with the aid of plenty of games, balloons, cakes and craft materials, through a process designed collaboratively with the client.

In working with 60 academic researchers more recently in May of this year, the key was to allow plenty of time and space for participants to engage in lengthy, free-ranging and in-depth discussion in small groups. I was able to achieve this by giving them free reign of the beautiful and sunny botanical gardens adjacent to the venue for their small group sessions.  In spite of some resistance to what some perceived as over-simplification and dumbing down of complex issues, I was also able finally to bring the group to a collective conclusion in order to meet the needs of the client.

C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment
I made a point of developing experience and skills in virtual facilitation since my CPF in 2008, by selecting relevant sessions at each IAF conference attended and also by attending an 8-week virtual training course in ToP facilitation (Virtual Facilitation Online).  I have also had plenty of opportunity to practice virtual collaboration through my roles with the global IAF Board, and through participating in increasingly regular and sophisticated online global gatherings of members of ICA International (eg: ICAI online regional gatherings facilitate peer to peer support and collaboration). As a result I am increasingly proficient in the use of a variety of virtual tools myself, and my raised awareness of what is now possible encouraged me to lead the Board in scheduling IAF’s first online Annual Members Meeting later this year and procuring technical support through an open and competitive tendering process.

I have also made a point since 2008 of further exploring approaches to conflict, including by selecting conference sessions accordingly, by reading on conflict resolution and by some involvement in ICA:UK’s partnership work developing the Kumi method for social transformation in conflict situations on which I presented at the IAF Istanbul conference.  I am not aware that my facilitation practice has changed significantly as a result, but I certainly feel more confident in relation to conflict.

D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes
I have experimented with a number of new tools and techniques since 2008.  In addition to virtual approaches mentioned above, these have included the suite tools of ICA’s Organisational Transformation course, which was new to me when I supported Bill Staples of ICA Associates to deliver it as a pre-conference course at the IAF Oxford conference in 2009. I have subsequently been able to apply some of these with success within ICA:UK and with ICA:UK clients as well.

I have adapted and applied multiple approaches in combination, including for example ToP, Open Space and Solutions Focus with the South Wales Housing Association mentioned above; and ToP and world café with a number or clients. I adapted a well-known ice-breaker to create on the hoof “Just one lie” for use at the IAF Board meeting in London in 2011, and subsequently wrote it up and contributed it to the IAF Methods Database and Global Flipchart Method of the Month [see Creativity in facilitation, and Just One Lie].

E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge
Since applying to join the IAF Board and take my CPF assessment in 2008 I have read through all the back issues of the IAF Journal and the IAF Handbooks and a number of other facilitation titles as well.  I have attended two IAF conferences each year.

My IAF Board roles have helped me to expand my professional network and relationships greatly, which has been enormously valuable for my learning and professional development.  This has also been aided by my increased use of social media in the last few years, particularly LinkedIn and twitter, which I find invaluable sources of new material of interest as well as new personal and professional connections.

In drafting this essay I have learned that I need to become more methodical in maintaining a record of my professional development in order to more easily and effectively renew my CPF in four years from now!  I have plans to start blogging regularly so I hope that will help greatly [Welcome to my new website and blog!].

In my forthcoming freelance career I am looking forward to focusing my professional practice more on the international development and humanitarian sector, and to the opportunities for learning and development that that will afford me.

F. Model Positive Professional Attitude
Since I have begun inviting professional recommendations via LinkedIn, I am proud that values professionalism and integrity have been referred to repeatedly.

I am excited as well as somewhat apprehensive to have given notice to step down from my role as Chief Executive from the end of September, after 16 years with ICA:UK [A new transition for ICA:UK – and for me], with a view to working freelance as a professional facilitator and facilitation trainer for at least some time.  With my IAF Chair role ending soon as well, in December [Reflections on a term as IAF Chair], I am relishing the prospect that my reduced responsibilities might allow more time for reflection and learning, and exploration of new opportunities and new avenues for professional development and service.