ICA International Board update, February 2014

Global BuzzThis post was first published in ICAI’s monthly bulletin the Global Buzz.

In January the ICAI Board began to develop its Business Plan for 2014, based on the strategic framework and budget included in the 2013 plan that were re-affirmed by the General Assembly in December. We aim to finalise this and circulate it to members for information in February.

We are grateful to 40 respondents so far who have offered their feedback by our online survey on the December online regional gatherings and GA, and particularly the 21 who had not participated in those meetings. This was designed to help the ICAI Board to make this year’s gatherings and GA more inclusive and more effective. Our conclusion at the January Board meeting is to keep doing the Adobe Connect meetings this year, because those who attend appreciate them and are increasingly familiar with the technology. We will try to make them more inclusive by looking into free-phone audio options and by supporting people to improve their internet access or to attend the meeting from somewhere where access is better. However we will do this format of adobe meetings only twice in June and twice in December, instead of three times in each of March, July & December, to allow extra time to support the regions to experiment with other approaches such as google hangout, Skype or simple tele-conferencing.  For the GA we will use adobe for the meeting but do the voting by surveymonkey over 10 days to allow everyone to vote.

The Board has announced a special General Assembly meeting to be held 1-2pm UK time on Wednesday 26 February.  This special meeting will be to discuss and vote on a resolution to revise the ICAI Bylaws, as discussed at the GA in December.  Some minor revisions are needed in order to comply with new requirements under Canadian law  for all Canadian-registered non-profits such as ICAI to obtain a ‘Continuance” in order to continue. The one hour meeting will be held online using Adobe Connect, to allow for questions and discussion as needed, and representatives of statutory ICAs in particular are encouraged to attend.  For the voting we will use surveymonkey, and allow 10 days for responses from the time of the meeting, so that all statutory ICAs are able to vote even if they cannot attend the meeting. Please ask for details if you are interested and have not received them.

I was in New York last week attending a conference, and was able to take the opportunity to collect a UN grounds pass and attend a briefing session on behalf of ICAI for NGOs with consultative status. Also I was glad to meet with Larry Philbrook and Seva Gandhi on Monday, as they were there also to deliver a course.

We have been shocked and saddened by the sudden and unexpected death last week of Wayne Nelson of ICA Associates in Canada. Our thoughts are with Jo and his family, and also his close ICA colleagues in Canada.  Wayne has been greatly involved and supportive of ICAI over his long years with ICA globally and in Canada, and will be sorely missed.

Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation


I used this great little 4 minute video in a Group Facilitation Methods course in Brussels yesterday (to be repeated as a public course in Brussels in November), to launch a conversation on the role of the facilitator and to demonstrate the ToP Focused Conversation method in the process. The group of 18 were mostly staff members of a variety of European-level social NGO networks, supporting their member NGOs to learn, collaborate and campaign together. It produced a rich conversation and a great demonstration of the method, and many insights that we were able to refer back to again and again during the remainder of the course.

I shall certainly use the video and my conversation questions again, so I thought I would share them here for others to try as well. If you use them, please do let me know how it goes for you!  I allowed 20 minutes for the conversation, which worked well for us. We pretty much followed the sequence of questions as shown below, although by the interpretive level the conversation has taken off such that I used the questions to steer the conversation rather than to stimulate it.

The video is by the International Institute of Facilitation and Change (IIFAC) and is now available also in multiple languages.  For more on the ToP Focused Conversation method, see the ICA:UK ToP method overview (pdf) and Brian Stanfield’s ‘Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace‘. When I first shared the video in an earlier post, I quoted John Miller of ICA Associates on his experience of using the video for a Focused Conversation with a high school class in Canada.


Objective level questions

1. What words and phrases do you recall from the clip?

2. What images do you remember?

3. What people or characters?

4. What else about the clip did you notice, such as sound, colour, design?

Reflective level questions

5. What particularly surprised or intrigued you in the clip?

6. Which ideas were most familiar to you?

7. What reminded you of your own experience of meetings that you have designed and facilitated, or participated in?

8. What other metaphors for facilitation come to mind for you?

Interpretive level questions

9. How well do these three metaphors capture the role of the facilitator in your experience? What would you add?

10. Which of these three dimensions is best understood and appreciated in your own situations?

11. What aspects of the facilitator role would you most like to learn and practice more? How?

Decisional level questions

12. What is one insight from this clip or conversation that will you take away and apply in your own work?

13. Who would you like to share this clip with?

See also Facilitation, and how it can add value. and my 2017 free facilitation webinar:


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

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

Move beyond ‘seat of the pants’ facilitation

“Move beyond ‘seat of the pants’ facilitation and reliance on instinct, and use the most powerful facilitation methods and processes available in the world today.”

Well done and thank you to Bill Staples and ICA Associates in Canada for another great little video in their series introducing ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitation approach – see also Introducing the Technology of Participation on Vimeo and How I work.

This new 3 minute video (above) previews ICA’s flagship 2-day ToP Group Facilitation Methods training course. This course introduces the foundational ToP Focused Conversation and ToP Consensus Workshop methods, through demonstration, theory, practice and application.

This course, and others building on these two foundational methods, are available from ICAs in all continents worldwide – including ICA Associates and of course ICA:UK.  For links and further details, please see ICA International or contact me.

Online ToP Group Facilitation Methods training – I am convinced!

ICA AssociatesI was pleased to have the opportunity to join one of the new online ToP Group Facilitation Methods courses of ICA Associates of Canada the other week. I had been sceptical of the value of online training for face-to-face facilitation, but I was impressed and came away convinced!

The Technology of Participation, pioneered and refined by ICA in over 40 years of experience worldwide, is a proven system of facilitation methods and tools that can be adapted and applied to help all sorts of groups accomplish a wide variety of tasks together. It has been central for many years to how I work myself. Today’s Group Facilitation Methods course was first piloted in the early 1990s, and is now delivered by national ICAs and their local partners all over the world to many thousands every year. In my own 20 years of experience of the course I have become familiar with many variations in how it is and has been delivered, not least which of the core ToP methods are included in the standard two days of training – only Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop, or also Action Planning. Tailored, in-house courses vary even more widely in their formats than scheduled, public courses.  Additional courses cover additonal tools and methods, and support learners to gain the skills and competencies they need to apply them effectively in their own situations.

The basic structure of the course, however, has proven remarkably powerful and resilient across time and context. First, demonstrate each method. Second, talk through the theory of how and why it works and how to use it. Third, give every participant and opportunity to practice the method in safe and supported small groups with expert and peer feedback. Fourth, support participants to plan how they will use the method for real in their own situation in the near future.  End-of-course participant satisfaction ratings on ICA:UK Group Facilitation Methods courses commonly average over 8/10, and 10/10 is not unusual. How could such a tried and tested approach possibly be translated effectively into a virtual environment, I wondered?

One of the keys to the effectiveness of the online course, I have concluded, is the choice of Blackboard Collaborate for the virtual training room.  While many ToP practitioners have adopted Adobe Connect as their platform of choice for virtual ToP facilitation, the whiteboard facility in Collaborate does seem to work better for virtually replicating the real-world sticky wall, such a valuable tool for the ToP Consensus Workshop method.

Perhaps more important is the advance preparation that is expected of participants before the course, including advance scheduling of homework and practice time inbetween the virtual sessions. While the face-to-face course is commonly delivered in full in two consecutive eight-hour days, the virtual course is delivered in six two-hour sessions spread over two weeks or more, with considerable homework expected as well. Participants receive the same GFM course workbook, but by email in advance, and also e-books of the Art of Focused Conversation and the Workshop Book.  They are expected to review the workbook and at least the introductory chapters of the two books in advance of the course, meaning that they arrive with a good overview aleady and some considered questions to ask. This makes a considerable difference to the depth of discussion achieved online.

The first week of the online course covers the Focused Conversation Method and the second week covers the Consensus Workshop method, while face-to-face courses most often cover one method per day. Session one of each week demonstrates the method and introduces the theory, and is followed by homework to embed the theory and raise further questions to address in session two.  Session two completes the theory and supports participants to plan their own real-life practice of the method. Before the course begins they have real-life group sessions scheduled to enable them to practice for real, rather than with each other as on the face-to-face course. Session three debriefs the practice sessions, and looks at further applications for the method in particpants’ own situations.

The course I joined, with sessions timed for North America and Europe (at 6-8pm London time), was attended by six ­­participants from various locations across the US and Canada, plus me and Bill Staples of ICA Associates as guests. Another parallel course was running the same days with sessions timed for North America and Asia, and was being attended largely by a group in Korea.  Both courses were being led by veteran ToP trainers Jo Nelson and Wayne Nelson, with focusing on technical support.

The group were a mix of independent professional facilitators and managers and internal consultants within large organisations – not so different to groups I am familiar with from face-to-face public courses.  I was very impressed with how much value they were clearly getting from the course, and how much they were appreciating it. It was clear to me that the virtual demonstrations of the methods did not provide an equivalent experience to face-to-face demonstrations.  For participants with sufficient experience of group work, however, and with their advance reading on the methods, they clearly provided a perfectly adequate basis for the theory and practice to follow. Moreover, that theory and practice seemed to me to be no less rich and insightful than in face-to-face courses of my experience.  What was lost by not spending intensive face to face time together seemed to be more than compensated for by having considerably longer study and reflection time over the whole two week period of the sessions. What was lost by not practicing together with each other, and sharing peer feedback based on direct experience of each others’ practice, seemed to be more than compensated by practicing in participants’ own real-life contexts and working with real groups to address real issues. While I was fascinated by the many comparisons I was able to make between the online course and the many face to face courses I have led, the group were clearly not burdened by how the course might have been in a face-to-face version but were engaging with it and appreciating it just as it was.

I have no doubt that many learners will continue to prefer face-to-face training, and that many will gain more from that than from its online equivalent – not least those who might for any reason fail to give due time and attention to the homework that is such an essential element of the online course. Equally, however, I am now convinced that there may be many learners for whom the online course might be a perfectly acceptable alternative when face-to-face not possible for travel, cost, timing or other reasons – and that there may be some for whom a virtual environment may suit their learning style better, even when learning methods and skills of face-to-face group facilitation.

I think the key for learners will be to select the type of course that best suits their learning needs and style, and their context and preferences as well. This innovative new online course of ICA Associates is doing a great service to learners by making the ToP Group Facilitation Methods course available online for those that might benefit from it more than face-to-face, and for those that otherwise might not be able to benefit at all.

Future courses are scheduled for August and November/December 2013 – for details visit ICA Associates. Online training in virtual ToP facilitation is available from ICA USA.

What do facilitators do, really?


This great little 4 minute video was published by the International Institute of Facilitation and Change (IIFAC) a few weeks ago.  Beatrice Briggs of IIFAC is IAF Director for Latin America & the Carribbean, based in Mexico.  It is now available also in multiple languages.

John Miller of ICA Associates in Canada has commented:

Muchos Gracias Beatrice! I USED your video in a high school classroom to good effect in less than 25 minutes!! (I was “show and tell” …a guest speaker).

1) Context that models facilitation (topic, importance, purpose, process/agenda, roles…)
2) Show the 4 min video
3) Led a Focused Conversation about the video. Each question was pre-written on cards and posted one after the other on the wall, when asked.
4) Q&A. Briefly answer questions that arose (actually this is still part of the ORID started in #3)
5) Present a method. Briefly show the 4 levels of thinking (ORID) beside the list of questions stuck on the wall. (Used printed pages from a simple overview created years ago with bullet points and edited MS Screen Beans.)
6) Wrap-up. Distribute 1-page summary (created with the student who invited and introduced me) that resembles the 4 PPT pages stuck to the wall. And Thanks.

Wish I had 5 more minutes to reflect on what I did to model what’s in the video. The Focused Conversation got everyone involved, even the ones at the “back of the class.” Almost “fun” for them. Certainly grounded it in their experience. Very cool to see. THANKS for the resource.

What do you think of how the role of the facilitator is presented here, and how might you use the video?

Nb: see also Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation posted 2013, and my 2017 free facilitation webinar:

Transformational Strategy: Facilitation of ToP Participatory Planning

Transformational Strategy - coverNow available worldwide from Amazon, as well as directly from ICA Associates in Canada.

Author Bill Staples gave us a sneak preview of this new book from ICA Associates at the ICAI Global Conference on Human Development in Kathmandu last October.

The Art of Focused Conversation and the Workshop Book, authored by Brian Stanfield of ICA Associates, covered the two foundational methods of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitation methodology.  This new book covers the ToP Participatory Strategic Planning method in similar depth – from the history and development of the method through to the theory and practice, including numerous case studies.

Much anticipated by ToP facilitators everywhere, this book will be of immense value to all those who are looking for ways to mobilise the transformational power of shared commitment to create their desired future.

And if reading the book is not enough for you, it is not (quite!) too late to register for the ICA:UK Participatory Strategic Planning course that I shall be leading myself next week in London.  See you there!

Introducing the Technology of Participation on Vimeo


Well done and thank you to Bill Staples of ICA Associates in Canada and the team at Youth Empowerment Studios in the USA for this updated video introduction to ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitation methods.

Readers with long memories may remember the original VHS video produced in the 1990s. This covers the same ground, but has been updated for the digital age last year.  Bill gave us a preview at the ICA International gathering in Nepal last October, and I am pleased to see that it is now publicly available online at vimeo.

The video provides a 25 minute introduction to the ToP Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop methods, the foundations of the ToP approach.  If you have taken ICA’s Group Facilitation Methods course you should find the content familar and may find the video a helpful refresher.  If you have not taken the course, then watch the video and maybe consider it – the video is a useful resource, but really no substitute for being there!

Alternatively, ICA Associates are now offering Group Facilitation Methods online, in case being there in person is really not an option for you….