How engaging can a large facilitated online session be?

Economics of climate change mitigation options in the forest sectorThis was the question that intrigued me when I was first invited to work with with the Forestry Economics team of FAO, to design and facilitate an online conference this month on the Economics of climate change mitigation options in the forest sector.  The answer, as it turns out, is pretty engaging!

FAO approached me last September for my experience with the Adobe Connect online meeting platform, with which they are also familiar and which they had chosen to use for the project. Their aims for the conference were to connect researchers, practitioners and others to learn from each other on the costs and benefits of various mitigation options in the forestry sector in different countries, to gather data for a forthcoming FAO publication and perhaps also to establish a community of practice among participants for further learning and collaboration in the future.

The team had not before convened such a substantial online conference, however, and were uncertain how many people they would attract to be involved. Our initial design was for a series of six 90-minute sessions for up to 100 people each, involving a keynote presentation and two shorter case studies followed by questions and answers with the presenters and some small group discussion in break-out rooms. As registrations came in from prospective participants and presenters we were keen to accommodate as many of them as as we could, and our ambitions grew.  I was thankful to have partnered on the project with Sheila Cooke of 5Deep, as meeting producer and co-facilitator, for her extensive experience of working with Adobe Connect and with FAO as well.

In the end the conference attracted more than 1,600 registrations from 127 countries, and 126 case studies from 47 counties. Fifty-one presentations on the six conference themes have been shared on the conference website, and over 700 people already have attended the first three sessions.  Our remaining sessions continue tomorrow and next week – see below for how to join.

The design we settled on is for six sessions of two hours, using an Adobe Connect ‘seminar room’ with a maximum capacity of 1,500. Participants engage through submitting typed questions for presenters, and responding to questions themselves by text chat and polls. Pre-recorded presentations are replayed by video, to reduce the technical risks of delivering the presentations live. Up to a dozen presenters and expert panellists respond live to questions put to them, and they discuss participants’ typed responses to questions put to them. We dispensed with the idea of small group discussion in breakout rooms because of the technical challenge of supporting so many people to configure their own audio to be heard effectively.

The conference teamThe FAO team (led by Illias Animon, Forestry Officer- Economics, and comprising Ruth Mallet, Eros Fornari, Sarah Butler, Marcelo Rezende and Johan Trennestam) lead all content-related tasks, select and assign questions for presenters and also provide technical support behind the scenes to participants and panellists.

After a brief technical orienation and introduction, each session begins with a series of questions to participants to help them and the panellists know something of who is in the room and what experience and interests they bring to the session. The keynote presentation then provides an overview of the topic, followed by questions and answers with the keynote presenter. Each of the additional presenters is then invited to introduce themselves and their presentations briefly, before participants vote for one presentation to view together in full during the session followed by questions and answers with that presenter.

A panel discussion follows, where all panellists share and discuss responses to questions raised by participants before and during the session, on all of their presentations. During the following plenary discussion, participants are invited to share what successes they are proud of, what challenges they face and what resources and other support they can share, while panellists respond and discuss verbally.

The session closes with a brief summary of key points raised, and an opportunity for participants to evaluate the session and share feedback, and what follow-up actions they would like to see or take themselves. Feedback has been largely very positive so far, with more than 60% rating yesterday’s session 9 or 10 out of 10 overall.

If you are wondering just how engaging such a large facilitated online session can be, then join us for one of the remaining sessions, or watch out for the session recordings to be posted to the conference website.

If you are wondering how you might engage large or smaller numbers of people through virtual facilitation, then please do contact me – and see Sheila’s Virtual Facilitation Online training course with ICA USA.

In the meantime, for a flavour of the conference and the importance of its content, take a look at the opening remarks recorded for our first session by Dr. Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division:


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.

ICA International Board update, January 2015

ICAI Global Buzz, Sseptember 2014
This post was written for ICAI’s monthly bulletin the Global Buzz, January 2015.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs is a global community of non-profit organisations advancing human development worldwide. The ICAI network comprises member organisations and related groups in over 40 countries.  The role of ICA International is to facilitate peer-to-peer interchange, learning and mutual support across the network, for greater and deeper impact. ICA International maintains consultative status with UN ECOSOC, UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO & FAO.


In December we held two online General Assembly (GA) meetings in Adobe Connect on December 12 (early & late for different time zones), and we conducted asynchronous voting on GA resolutions by Surveymonkey poll between December 12-22.  Full reports were circulated to members before Christmas.

The aims of the ICAI General Assembly, currently held twice per year in June & December, are:

  • to take ICAI membership decisions, including approval of Associate & Statutory memberships
  • to take ICAI strategy & policy decisions, to direct the work of the Board and to guide & support the peer-to-peer collaboration among ICAs
  • to elect the ICAI Board and hold it accountable to the membership, including by receipt of an annual finance report.

A total of sixteen member ICAs were represented by 24 participants at the two online meetings, and 23 of 24 statutory member ICAs participated in the asynchoronous voting.  We are grateful to all who participated.

A full 2013 Financial Statement was presented to the membership, along with summary financial report and Board report for 2014, and a budget for 2015-16 was approved. Two new Associate members were approved for membership, and five new Board members were elected, succeeding four retiring members and bringing the total to eight. The ICAI working group on global conference was extended to work with six potential hosts to recommend a programme and budget for ICAI global conferencing to the GA in June 2015. A revised draft global ToP (Technology of Participation) policy, incorporating feedback from global consultation, was presented by the ICAI global ToP working group for discussion with a view to bringing the policy to a GA vote in the new year.

I take this opportunity now to congratulate, thank and welcome our five new members joining the Board from 1 January – Shizuyo Sato of ICA Japan (a former Board member and President of ICAI), Svetlana Salamatova of ICA Ukraine, Lisseth Lorenzo of ICA Guatmala, Adufu Yawo Gator of ICA Togo and Charles Luoga of ICA Tanzania.  Also I offer warmest thanks on behalf of all the Board and members for the service of our outgoing Board members – Isabel De La Maza of ICA Chile, Shankar Jadhav of ICA India, Gerald Gomani of ICA Zimbabwe and Krishna Shrestha of ICA Australia.  And of course many thanks to my two fellow continuing Board members, Seva Gandhi of ICA USA and Staci Kentish of ICA Canada. At our January meeting this week, the new Board will be joined by outgoing Board members to reflect and learn from the experience of 2013-14 as a prelude to induction, teambuilding and planning for 2015-16.

I am also delighted to welcome now our two new Associate members the Development Institute of Ghana (nominated by ICA Ghana, ICA Zimbabwe & ICA:UK) and Emerging Ecology of USA (nominated by ICA USA, ICA India, ICA Nepal).  Find them now, and all of our worldwide community, on our online Global Network map.

Now we are global: ICAI facilitates interchange in Brussels

This piece ‘from the archive’ was first written for Network Exchange, newsletter of ICA International, in September 1998 when I had first joined the ICAI Board.  ICAI is now registered in Canada and it’s newsletter is Winds and Waves, but ICA Belgium is still going strong and I continue to visit Brussels – this week for client meetings, and next month to deliver ToP Group Facilitation Methods and Action Plannning training.  Click on the photos to enlarge them, and see who you can recognise!

ICAI 1998 General AssemblyPatrick Mbullu and I represented ICA:UK at the General Assembly of ICA International in August. As Vice Presidents elect, Mangla Gavai of ICA India, Edward Mutiso of ICA Kenya and I also worked in advance with Dick Alton of ICAI to design and facilitate the event.

The 45 delegates represented 23 member ICAs and ICAI. Day 1 was devoted to continental and global reporting and interchange. Days 2 & 3 looked at the global work of ICA including global conferences and networking, and ICAI finances, secretariat, Executive Committee elections and new membership applications. Days 4 & 5 looked at local work of member ICAs, particularly in terms of developing standards for institutional structure and strengthening, for new and existing ICAs. As a whole group we took a Brussels ‘pub crawl’ one night, and we celebrated the acceptance of five new member ICAs in a closing ceremony.

ICAI General Assembly 1998The occasion also provided opportunity for much bilateral interchange among participants between sessions – in my case, related to discussing potential volunteer placements and funding partnerships, but also social.

Minutes of the General Assembly

The Institute of Cultural Affairs International held its General Assembly at its headquarters at rue Amédée Lynen 8, 1210 Bruxelles, from 24 through 28 August 1998.

Members present were: ICA Australia, ICA Belgium, ICA Benin, ICA Bosnia i Herzegovina, ICA Canada, ICA Côte d’Ivoire, ICA Egypt, ICA Germany, ICA Ghana, ICA Guatemala, ICA Hong Kong, ICA India, ICA Japan, ICA Kenya, ICA Nepal, ICA Netherlands, ICA Spain, ICA Tanzania, ICA Uganda, ICA United Kingdom, ICA United States and ICA Zambia.

ICAI General Assembly 1998The Board of Directors elected Donald Elliott, USA, as President; Ruth Lukona, Zambia, as Secretary; Myriam Balbela, Venezuela, as Treasurer; Mangla Gavai, India, Edward Mutiso, Kenya, and Martin Gilbraith, United Kingdom, as Vice Presidents.

ICAI General Assembly 1998The General Assembly voted unanimously to change Article 12 of the statutes to read: “The Institute is administered by a Board of Directors comprised of two to fifty members. One member at least of the Board of Directors must be of Belgian nationality.”

The Assembly unanimously accepted ICA Ghana, ICA Nepal, ICA Tanzania and ICA Uganda as statutory members; and ICA Benin as an Associate Member.

The Assembly unanimously approved the financial accounts for the year 1997 and the budgets for the year 1999.

ICAI General Assembly 1998The General Assembly approved plans for ICAI to sponsor a Global Conference in the USA during the year 2000.

The General Assembly set the date for its next meeting in the year 2002.

Participants’ highlights

“Exchange! Honestly, I felt that’s the value ICA should keep! It’s good to be a part of Global Society, community… We thought we were forgotten, it’s nice to be back…” – Nejira Nalic, ICA:BiH

“We really have so much in common re mission & concerns & care even in the midst of our enriching differences. Face to face connection is invaluable. ICA is ready to really release & enlarge its global impact.” – Kathleen Joyce, ICA:USA

“A new knowledge. It was like an “intensive” training which I had expected since I came in contact with ICAI.” – Tatwa Timsina, ICA Nepal

“At this moment in history, this is readiness for reconciliation, rebuilding, and community within and beyond ICA.” – Wayne Ellsworth, ICA Japan

“Desire to reorganise and build our international image.” – Lambert Okrah, ICA Ghana

“Re-emerging global strategies especially in the Americas” – Ray Caruso, ICA:USA

“With all the wonderful diversity it encompasses, we are closer to a common understanding that will facilitate learning.” – Hala El Kholy, ICA MENA

“The people are open to new ideas and to support and welcome newcomers. There’s a lot of willingness and motivation and also possibilities to make things happen and a lot of experience in different fields.” – Adinda de Vries, ICA Netherlands

“Such kind of conference, meeting are important for us, because we learn at anytime – we share ideas, strategies. So a report in French might be appreciated.” – Koffi Nestor Amoin, ICA Côte d’Ivoire

“This is the first Global assembly of the ICA I have been privileged to attend. We used to say we were global when we saw westerners all over the world. Now we are global!” – Julie Miesen, ICA Australia

“I felt power in the room and lots of commitment. In a way I felt that all this globally/widely spread force can make a difference in world development & become more transparent in world development & recognised by other people. Global advocacy campaign?” – Slavica Bradvic, ICA:BiH

Reviewing the past to prepare for the future: #FacHistory in Copenhagen

Facilitating #FacHistory workshop - photo @jppoupardThank you to everyone who joined my session Reviewing the past to prepare for the future on Friday, at the IAF Europe conference in Copenhagen Facilitation Reloaded.  Here I am sharing links to the resources and case studies that I mentioned during the session – both on our topic, which was the history of facilitation, and on the process we used, which was the ICA ‘ToP’ Historical Scan method.

FacHistory Historical ScanFor more on the history of facilitation, and the events and links shared online and at various IAF conferences this year, cick to enlarge the photos here of our own session and of the IAF travelling timeline, andIAF travelling timeline see also:

On ICA’s ToP Historical Scan method, see:

For case studies of real-life applications of the method in different contexts, see:

To join me and other faciliators worldwide in reflecting together on the past and future development of facilitation and our profession, please join our #FacWeekChat twitter chats, October 22 & 23 during International Facilitation Week 2014., or do also share any comments on the post, here below. Thank you!

ICA International Board update, September 2014

ICAI Global Buzz, Sseptember 2014
This post was written for ICAI’s monthly bulletin the Global Buzz, September 2014.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs is a global community of non-profit organisations advancing human development worldwide. The ICAI network comprises member organisations and related groups in over 40 countries.  The role of ICA International is to facilitate peer-to-peer interchange, learning and mutual support across the network, for greater and deeper impact. ICA International maintains consultative status with UN ECOSOC, UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO & FAO.


The ICAI Board at its August meeting reviewed the progress and status of several ICAI working groups which are now underway or getting established.  The Technology of Participation (ToP) global policy working group is now consulting with ICAI members and ToP facilitation & training providers worldwide on the draft global ToP policy paper that it had presented to the June General Assembly.  A diverse and experienced team of ten ICA representatives have now accepted nominations to join the new ICAI Global Conference working group that was agreed at the June General Assembly, in order to work with prospective host ICAs to present one or more strong proposals for hosting a 2016 global conference (or conferences) for vote at the December General Assembly.  Nominations are now invited to join the continuing members of the ICAI Board nominations and elections committee, and/or to stand for election to the Board itself next year, in preparation for an election at the December General Assembly to four Board positions coming vacant from January – Vice President Africa, Vice President Asia Pacific, Vice President Americas and Treasurer.  Staci Kentish, Seva Gandhi and I will continue as VP Communications, Secretary and President respectively.

Since the General Assembly clarified criteria for ICAI Associate membership in June, the Board noted expressions of interest in August from prospective new members in Ghana, Korea, Russia and the Phillipines.  We plan to agree a simple new form and process in September for these and/or other nominations to be made formal in time for vote at the December General Assembly.

No further formal requests had yet been received for ICAI financial support toward member initiatives for peer-to-peer support and collaboration, however there is interest from some ICAs wishing to attend the ICA European Interchange to be hosted by ICA Spain near Madrid in November.   Around 20 representatives of ICAs in Latin America have been able to benefit already from ICAI financial support for online training in Spanish on online ToP facilitation using the Adobe Connect platform.

Aziz Rahman at #UNNGO2014We are grateful to Aziz Rahman of ICA Bangladesh for travelling to New York this month to attend the 65th United Nations NGO Conference on behalf of ICAI, on the theme “2015 and beyond: our action agenda”.  Aziz was one of 4,000 registered to attend from over 900 NGOs in 100 countries.

We are grateful also for the editorial team and contributors to the August edition of ICAI’s Winds & Waves magazine “Back to the Future“, which features a series of articles related to the work of ICA’s Global Archives Project (GAP).

The Board agreed to present certificates of appreciation from ICAI to the more than 20 international ToP facilitators and others who had contributed to the successful and high profile Ukraine PEACE Summit of ICA Ukraine in Kiev in July.

Facilitation Reloaded: Reviewing the past to prepare for the future

Facilitation ReloadedI am excited to be included among an impressive range of international presenters offering no less than 40 workshops at the upcoming IAF Europe MENA conference Facilitation Reloaded, October 3-5 in Copenhagen. It is shaping up to be a fantastic learning and networking event, so do join us – it is not too late to register at www.facilitationreloaded.com!

The conference theme will be explored through a wide range of highly interactive sessions in 12 conference tracks.  In my own workshop, Reviewing the past to prepare for the future, I will demonstrate the Technology of Participation (ToP) ‘Historical Scan’ method (or ‘Wall of Wonder’). This is a powerful tool to enable a group to share and learn from their varied perspectives of a journey through history – to review the past in order to prepare for the future.

IAF 20 year logo 500The session will draw on, and contribute to, a wider six-month collaborative process to develop a collective story of the history of facilitation (past, present and future), as IAF celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. This has included a ‘travelling timeline’ that will be coming to Copenhagen with contributions from IAF conferences earlier this year in Orlando and Singapore, and it will culminate with a series of online and and local events during International Facilitation Week, October 20-26. For more on that wider process, see my recent post How has facilitation developed over time, and where might it be heading?, and see #FacHistory on twitter.

During the Copenhagen session we will plot key events in the unfolding history of facilitation on a timeline, alongside key events in our own lives and work and in the wider environment. We will reflect together to share stories, successes and challenges, to draw insights, and to discern chapters and trends for the future. We will have time to reflect together on the method and it’s applicability to participants’ own work situations, and a method handout will be provided as a resource.

For a recent example of the ToP Historical Scan method in action, with a diverse, international group of around 120 in Turin, see also Facilitation case study: Celebrating 20 years with the European Training Foundation in Turin – #ETF20.

Do join us in Copenhagen if you can, and if you can’t be with us in person then please join us by sharing and discussing online – Celebrating the development of facilitation – world-wide and history long!

Back to the Future with the ICA Global Archives Project

This article was written for ICAI Winds and Waves, August 2014 issue.

ICAI Winds and Waves, August 2014Welcome to this latest issue of Winds & Waves, the online magazine of ICA International.

The theme of this issue is ‘Back to the Future’, and it features a series of articles related to the work of ICA’s Global Archives Project (GAP). The contents are overviewed by W&W editors John Miesen and Dharmalingam Vinasithamby on page 2, and by GAP guest editor Gordon Harper on page 4.

ICA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012. Those 50 years of worldwide engagement in human development and social change have generated an extraordinary wealth of practical insight, models and methods, of which ToP (Technology of Participation) facilitation methods are but the best known and most widely applied today. We are fortunate indeed, therefore, that a small but tireless team of long-term volunteers has been prepared to work so hard for so long to make more of the wisdom of ICA’s global archives available and of practical relevance to the social pioneers of today and tomorrow.

Much of the material of the archives was developed and refined in the annual ICA Global Research Assemblies that for 20 years until the mid-1980s brought as many as 500 practitioners together from around the world, for as long as a month, to share, learn and create together. ICAI has continued this tradition to an extent, by means of its quadrennial Global Conferences on Human Development since 1984 – most recently in Kathmandu in 2012. The upcoming Virtual Global Research Assembly in September (page 39) is a particularly important and exciting initiative, as well as an audacious one, for seeking to translate the participatory process of research and development as well as the content of the global archives into the 21st century and the virtual age.

If you have been involved with ICA and its work of human development during the past 50 years, or if you plan to be involved during the next 50, I urge you to get in touch and get involved with the project and with the research assembly. You will find plenty of material in this issue to whet your appetite. Enjoy!