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….

Changing Lives Changing Societies

Changing Lives Changing SocietiesICA’s experience in Nepal and in the world

ISBN 993725358-1 – Edited by Tatwa P. Timsina and Dasareth Neupane

[June 2013: now available online via Amazon and other retailers]

The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) is a global network of non-profit organisations advancing human development worldwide. This new book, published by ICA Nepal, was launched at ICA’s 8th Global Conference on Human Development in Kathmandu in October.  The book and the conference were among a series of initiatives celebrating ICA’s 50th anniversary in 2012. The Table of Contents and Preface may be downloaded here.

Editor Tatwa Timsina is Chair of ICA Nepal and former President of ICA International, and an Associate Professor of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. Tatwa and his co-editor Dasareth Neupane, and the many ICA colleagues from around the world who have contributed as authors, have done a great service to ICA’s global mission with this book.  It should be required reading for all those involved with ICA worldwide, as we seek to renew and strengthen our global network and extend our global impact through peer-to-peer collaboration.  It should be required reading also for all those who share ICA’s concern ‘for the human factor in world development’.  Facilitators, development practitioners and policy makers alike may benefit from the 50 years of collective experience that have contributed to these inspiring stories – stories of practical approaches that work in changing lives and changing societies, through facilitating change with people, in communities and in organisations.

Bill Staples of ICA Associates in Canada opens the book with an overview of those 50 years of ICA experience in human development worldwide. In doing so he traces the roots of ICA’s ‘Technology of Participation’ (ToP).  This powerful suite of facilitation methods and tools is perhaps the most visible manifestation of ICA’s shared philosophy, values and approach, in what has become a diverse global network with an equally diverse range of programmes and activities.

Robertson Work, former global policy advisor with the UN Development Programme in New York and keynote speaker at the Nepal conference, draws on social philosophy, systems analysis and many years of worldwide experience.  He shares an approach to transformative leadership and innovative governance that builds on Ken Wilber’s integral theory, Jean Houston’s Social Artistry and ICA’s ToP facilitation methodology.

Larry Philbrook, Director of ICA Taiwan and also former President of ICA International, describes awakenment, engagement and formation as three core strategies for human development at the individual level – about living a disciplined life of choice.  He describes facilitation as a pathway to such individual transformation, as well as to organisational and social transformation. Bill Staples goes on to outline perhaps the most powerful of the suite of ToP methods, known as Participatory Strategic Planning, and its human developmental impact at both the individual and social level*.

Following chapters describe the practical experience and profound impact of facilitation and human development around the world, in a variety of contexts representing the diversity of ICA’s global network.  Among these, Ana Maria Urrutia tells the story of ICA Chile’s Participative Leaders Training Programme with young people with and without disabilities in Santiago. Catalina Quiroz and Luz Marina Aponte relate ICA Spain’s experience of virtual facilitation with worldwide religious groups to promote more collaborative planning and working practices. Terry Bergdall of ICA USA draws on experience in Africa and elsewhere to describe ICA’s participatory approach within the contextual framework of Asset Based Community Development.  Jonathan Dudding draws on worldwide experience to reflect on the potential and limitations of ICA’s ToP facilitation methods in addressing conflict, and how this has contributed to the work of ICA:UK and partners in developing the innovative new Kumi method for conflict transformation in the Middle East.  Jan Sanders, Tatwa Timsina et al share the experience of ICA Nepal’s Decentralised Transformative Approach to HIV & AIDS in partnership with UNDP, UNAIDS and others.  Mohammad Azizur Rahman and Md Mohsin Ali of ICA Bangladesh reflect on the experience and implications of ToP methods in learning and research in Bangladesh. Tatwa Timsina and Kushendra Mahat reflect on ICA Nepal’s experience of the Civil Society Index action research project in Nepal, and its role in development and democratisation. Wayne Ellsworth describes ICA Japan’s approach to awareness, education and transformation in humanitarian emergency situations in Chile, Haiti, Cote D’Ivoire, Aceh, Japan and elsewhere.

Even after reading regularly of many of these initiatives in recent years in ICAI’s monthly bulletin the Global Buzz and quarterly magazine Winds and Waves, and after learning of them directly from colleagues at the Nepal conference and otherwise, I was profoundly impacted by reading this book.  After 25 years of involvement with ICA worldwide, I found myself almost as excited by these stories as I was by the stories of ICA’s worldwide network of Human Development Projects that I first encountered as an international volunteer in the 1980s. Certainly the same philosophy, values and approach shine through, although the practicalities of implementation may have changed as much as the world around us has changed since then.  The internet is a case in point. Although there have been numerous books authored by ICA colleagues in recent years*, I think there has been no such global compendium to illustrate the scope and depth of ICA’s experience and approach since Beyond Prince and Merchant – launched at ICA’s 4th Global Conference on Human Development in Cairo in 1996, ‘the Rise of Civil Society in the 21st Century’.  I hope to make it a responsibility of the new ICAI Board to help to ensure that this one is widely read.

That being said, readers should be forewarned that the structure and style of the 20 chapters are almost as diverse as the authors and the contexts of their experience.  The quality of reproduction of the photographs, and some minor typos particularly in the opening chapters, might I hope be addressed in a second edition for worldwide distribution by a print-on-demand service such as Lightning Source.

Read the book yourself, and please let us know what you think!

* Transformational Strategy: Facilitation of ToP Participatory Planning by Bill Staples is also recently published and now available from Amazon, and directly from ICA Associates.

Happy New Year from ICAI

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

ICA International

Happy New Year to ICAI members and ICA colleagues worldwide. I am excited and honoured to begin my term as ICAI President on January 1, and wanted to start the year with a brief message to the ICA global network on behalf of the new ICAI Board.

First of all, sincere thanks to my predecessor Larry Philbrook of ICA Taiwan, and to Kevin Balm of ICA Australia, Sabah Khalifa of ICA MENA in Egypt and Dick Alton of ICA USA, as they complete their terms and stand down now from the ICAI Board. Under Larry’s energetic and inclusive leadership over the past two years, ICA International has been transformed in line with the new ‘peer to peer’ approach agreed by the 2010 General Assembly in India. Also, that meeting’s decision to close the Montreal-based Secretariat has been effectively and responsibly executed. This has been no small or easy task, and I am grateful also to all those members and colleagues who have played their part – not least our colleagues in Canada who continue to provide invaluable financial and administrative support to ICAI, our creditors who have generously agreed to write off the loans they had made to support the Montreal operation, ICA Nepal for delivering an outstanding 8th Global Conference on Human Development in Kathmandu, and the publications team and Sisters of Virtual Facilitation who have done so much to renew and revitalise our global relationships through innovative new online forms of meetings and communications. ICAI now enters the New Year not only with a new President and Board, but with a clean slate and in a very strong position to consolidate and build on these achievements – in order to better advance human development worldwide through the efforts and activities of our members and wider network.

At the online General Assembly in December we presented the roles of the new Board, and a strategic framework and outline budget that were approved by the Assembly to guide the work of ICAI and the Board over the next two years 2013-14.

Shankar Jadhav of ICA India, Isabel de la Maza of ICA Chile and Gerald Gomani of ICA Zimbabwe will continue on the Board and serve respectively as Treasurer, Vice-President for the Americas and Vice-President for Africa, MENA & Europe. Newly elected Board members Saci Kentish of ICA Canada, Seva Gandhi of ICA USA, Krishna Shretha of ICA Australia, and I will serve respectively as Secretary, Vice-President for Communications, Vice-President for Asia Pacific and President.

The strategic framework identifies eight key areas by which we shall structure our own work, and facilitate and communicate members’ contributions by means of ICAI’s decentralized “peer to peer” approach:

  1. Support & encourage existing & emerging ICAs to achieve & maintain statutory membership where possible, otherwise associate
  2. Develop, maintain & promote effective means for online networking & collaboration among members & colleagues, synchronous & asynchronous
  3. Facilitate peer to peer support & collaboration among members, including face-to-face networking, staff, programme & curriculum development, resource mobilization & institutional sustainability
  4. Oversee & support global initiatives of members, eg: global conferencing, ToP worldwide expansion, journal & policy advocacy
  5. Focus the messages & expand the reach of internal & external publications including website, Global Buzz and Winds & Waves
  6. Renew & maintain global relationships on behalf of members, eg: UNICEF, ECOSOC, CIVICUS
  7. Clarify and strengthen inclusive ICAI governance and operations – inclusive relative to geography, language, age, technology etc.
  8. Engage members & colleagues to develop longer-term vision & strategy for global ICA movement & ICAI.

The simple and prudent budget shows income from membership dues rising gradually to $15k in 2013 and $20k in 2014, and basic governance and administration expenses from $5.5k to $5.8k over the two years. Coupled with the small surplus accumulated through very prudent financial management of the past two years, this allows for $11k and $14.2k in 2013 & 2014 to support members’ peer-to-peer initiatives.

The Board is now developing a work plan to translate this strategic framework into priorities and objectives for each Board member’s area of responsibility, and we will share this with the network next month. We would very much welcome your feedback and input as we work on this, so please do get in touch with any of us to share how you would like to see the strategic priorities of ICAI and the Board. I think that ICA International is now again in a position to be bold in its ambition to the extent that our members are ready and able to be bold in their ambitions and contributions.

Finally, a little about me for those that don’t know me. I have been involved with ICA in a variety of roles for most of my career, since first training through the ICA:UK volunteer programme to work with ICA India in 1986-87. After a couple of years involved with ICA’s returned volunteer network in the UK I then spent six years with ICA in Egypt. Since 1997 I worked with colleagues in Britain to re-establish and grow ICA there, and after 16 years I have just stepped down as Chief Executive of ICA:UK in September. I am therefore delighted to have this opportunity to continue to serve ICA and our global mission now as ICAI President. I previously served on the ICAI Board from 1998-2006, including six years as Treasurer. I have since served for four years on the Board of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), and have just now completed a term as IAF Chair. I am now working on a freelance basis as a facilitator, trainer and consultant based in London, and would welcome opportunities to be of service to individual ICAs and to work with ICA colleagues in that capacity as well. To find out more about me, and to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on twitter, please visit

Gaining perspective, world-wide and history-long

Nagarkot, Kathmandu valleyWhat do you do to gain some perspective in the midst of the busyness of your everyday life and work, and what does it do for you?

It is now two months since I became a freelancer (facilitator, trainer &  consultant), after stepping down as Chief Executive of ICA:UK at the end of September. My earlier post explains that decision, announced in July – really a decision to end that, rather than a decision to start this.   In fact I have not yet decided to continue to freelance long-term, but I am enjoying it enough so far that I am certainly tempted.  After 16 years with ICA:UK, however, I am also enjoying the uncertainty and the potential of being open and available to alternatives, at least for now.  Of course it helps that I  do already have a few new and continuing client contracts to pay the bills, but initially at least I have been very happy to spend much of my extra time exploring before I commit myself to pursuing any next big thing.

I have long been used to what I think many would regard as a very reflective approach to my practice as a facilitator, and as a leader more generally. Reflection and learning are deeply embedded in ICA’s values and methodology, and I have been steeped in both for over 25 years now.  I guess that has only raised my aspirations, so it has been a treat for me to have been able start what I like to think of as something as like a sabbatical (although my partner takes care to remind me that I am not on holiday and do have bills to pay).  For a long time I have aspired to blog, but not found the time, so I thought I’d start by sharing something of what I have been doing recently to broaden my perspective, and where it has been taking me. I’d welcome any further suggestions…

A major feature of my last couple of months has been travel, so I’ve been in no danger of ‘freelance claustrophobia’ from working too much from home.  The first trip was to Minneaoplis, birthplace and registered office of the of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), for a rare face-to-face meeting of the Executive Team of the global Board. That enabled me to make a stopover on my way back in Chicago, birthplace of the Institute of Cultural Affairs and home of ICA USA.  The second trip was to Geneva, home to much of the world’s humanitarian movement and venue for the 2012 IAF Europe Conference Facilitating Across Cultures: Unleashing the Power of Diversity. The third was to Kathmandu, for the 8th ICAI Global Conference on Human Development, hosted by ICA Nepal.  I attended the ‘Growing a New Sense of Leadership’ stream of the conference, plus a rare face-to-face Board meeting of ICAI International (I shall begin a term as President from January) and a two-day deliberative Open Space event on the future of ICA globally (in Nagarkot, where I took the photo above). My reflections on the Nepal trip are featured in the latest issue of ICA:UK Network News.

At home, now in London, I have attended events of the RSA including How To Change the Future, Does Africa Need Our Outrage?, How to Govern Intelligently in the 21st Century and the FRSA London City Reboot, and others including Beyond the headlines: UK public opinion on aid and development, and a meeting of the new England & Wales chapter of the IAF.  I have been enjoying tweeting vigorously (follow me at @martingilbraith if you do not already), and having time to jump into and follow all sorts of events and chats remotely, most recently #acevoconf, #drr, #leadership2013 and #charityskillsconference.  It has also been good to have the time to attend many of the 14 online AGM sessions of IAF held in October and all of the online regional gatherings of the global ICA Network held in November, to broaden and deepen those network connections and also boost my virtual facilitation expertise in the process.

Finally, I have discontinued receiving many periodicals that too often prevented me from finding time to read books, and I have begun to keep and work my way through a wishlist of more substantial reading.  So far this has included The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future , Revolution 2.0 , The Road from Empire to Eco-Democracy, the Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century, Here on Earth: A Twin Biography of the Planet and the Human Race, Transformative Scenario Planning: Working Together to Change the Future, The Soul of a Leader: Finding Your Path to Fulfillment and Success – and (most exciting of all), the new book of ICA’s international experience launched at the Kathmandu conference Changing Lives Changing Societies: ICA’s Experience in Nepal and the World. This last one is not yet available online, but I shall try to make sure that it is soon.

Already I’m beginning to wonder how I have had time for directly delivering or developing any paid contract work. However, I have been able to continue my facilitation work with the RSA, now as an ICA:UK Associate, by facilitating a Development Planning workshop for the London Region. I have also put in quite a few days preparing for facilitation of an international cross-sector partnership workshop on Community Preparedness and Disaster Risk Reduction for IFRC in Zurich in December. I have a few other contracts coming up for the New Year, I have submitted a couple of bids for larger contracts (one UK and one global) and I have begun conversations on a couple of partnership opportunities at home and abroad. I have even applied and interviewed for a couple of jobs.

Any more substantial reflections (and book or event reviews) will have to wait now for future posts.  Suffice it to say for now, however, that my efforts to gain some perspective working a treat for me.  I have come to think of my professional expertise and interests, broadly, as leadership in human development, at the intersection of facilitation, management and governance.  I have loved my management roles in ICA:UK all of these years – I learned a lot, and I’m happy to think that I achieved some things too.   I had wondered how I would miss the management role, and I expect that I shall in time.  Fow now though, I am more than happy to focus on facilitation and governance, and to have some extra time for personal and professional development.  I am already feeling that I can make more sense of all that I have been doing with ICA:UK these last years, and how it and I have contributed in some way to fulfilling the responsibility that life in this world demands of us at this time in history.  I am feeling newly enthused and inspired by connecting and reconnecting will friends and colleagues around the world, and with ideas, old and new.

I’m also feeling pleased a little with myself for finding time to blog again at last.  Hopefully it won’t be as long until the next post. And hopefully that won’t be as long, either.  What do you think?

ICAI Revisited and ‘Growing a New Sense of Leadership’ in Nepal

This post was first published in ICA:UK Network News #48 and it was reprinted in ICAI’s Winds & Waves #3.

Nargarkot viewOver 350 people gathered from Nepal and around 30 countries around the world for the 8th Global Conference on Human Development, and the preceding Youth Conference and pre-conference training courses.  The programme was convened by ICA Nepal on behalf of ICA International, following the pattern of ICAI global conferences every four years since 1984.  Having missed Japan in 2008 it was eight years since my last in Guatemala in 2004, so it was great to be back.

A keynote presentation from long-time ICA colleague Robertson Work set the tone of the conference, with depth spirit and a comprehensiveness that was world wide and history long!  I attended the ‘Growing A New Sense of Leadership’ stream of the conference, along with ICA:UK Associate Kate Organ, and also a pre-conference ICAI Board meeting and a post-conference ICA global gathering – but more on those later.

The other five concurrent conference streams focused on Education, Environment, Peace-Building, Community Development and Resource Mobilisation.  Each stream developed its own learning community for the best part of three days, including site visits, between the opening & closing plenary sessions. There was also an element of virtual participation before and during the conference, but not as great as hoped I think. In our Leadership stream  of about 40 we shared perspectives on leadership and a series of presentations of our practical experience from which discerned signs and signals of ‘a new sense’ of leadership; we used this data as the basis for a workshop to articulate eight dimensions of this new sense of leadership; we tested our new model at our site visits to a forest meditation retreat centre and a rural women’s savings & loans co-operative outside the city in the Kathmandu valley; and we presented our model to the closing plenary along with recommendations and personal commitments to action.

In spite of and perhaps because of the inevitable challenges of working in such a diverse group, we had some great depth conversations and I thought a powerful product – our eight dimensions of New Leadership (beyond attributes, qualities competencies to a ‘way of being’), were:
1.    An outlook of possibility
2.    A capacity for boldness and innovation
3.    Awakening people to their significance
4.    Inciting an inclusive vision for sustainable life
5.    Building uplifting relationships of shared power
6.    Mobilising for deep collaboration
7.    Action aligned with internalised values
8.    Celebrating diverse and widespread leadership

dancing was everywhereMusic, song and dance were ever-present throughout the conference – on stage as cultural performance but also among  the group as an every-day means of expression, when language was not available or just not enough! Every meal seemed to be a gala buffet, coffee breaks were served outdoors in the sunshine, and we had some tantalising glimpses of distant snow-capped peaks from the conference hotel.

I was impressed by the very energetic and professional team of ICA Nepal, by the range and quality of their programme activities as well as their conference organisation, and by how very well embedded they seem to be into national civil society and even national life.  Another keynote presenter was a former President of Nepal, and every hotel and street lamp post in the city seemed to be flying a banner to welcome distinguished guests to the conference.  Several people I spoke with were profoundly moved by their experience of the conference, one describing it as the most important thing they had ever done!

You can find a wealth of material on the conference online, including programme and participants at, video and audio at, hundreds of photos at and a record of conference tweets at  At least some of the conference streams intend to continue as learning communities of practice, so I’d be glad to put you in touch if you are interested in connecting and getting involved.

The ICAI Board took advantage of the very rare opportunity to meet face-to-face by meeting for a whole day prior to the conference, including both outgoing and new-coming Board members.  Retiring in December are Larry Philbrook of ICA Taiwan (President), Dick Alton of ICA USA, Kevin Balm of ICA Australia and Sabah Khalifa of ICA MENA in Egypt. Continuing are Shankar Jadhav of ICA India, Isabel de la Maza of ICA Chile and Gerald Gomani of ICA Zimbabwe.  Serving from January are Saci Kentish of ICA Canada, Seva Ghandi of ICA USA, Krishna Shretha of ICA Australia, and me.  It was enormously valuable to meet face-to-face, and get up to speed together on the current state of the member ICAs, the wider network, and of ICA International itself, and on some key issues facing us all.  It was also great to spend an evening together as the new Board, to get to know each other, our experience in ICA and ICAI, and our working styles and interests.  I am excited by the depth and range of experience and perspectives that we bring to the team.  We didn’t yet get to the end of who will play what roles exactly on the new Board, but I readily accept my invitation to succeed Larry as President, so I am looking forward to serving in that capacity.

welcome to NagarkotFollowing the conference around 45 people from around 15 countries gathered at Nagarkot, a village resort on the edge of the Kathmandu valley famed for its stupendous mountain views, for a two-day deliberative gathering on ICA and its mission worldwide. We reflected on the conference, shared country reports and met as regions, and raised and addressed around 25 topics in Open Space.  These included ToP global expansion, community development, IAF, ‘meet the new Board’, how to support each other and struggling ICAs, ICAI communications, and many others.

In the last week, since Nepal, four regional gatherings have convened online to hear & share reports on the Nepal conference and gathering, to connect with ICAs and colleagues who were not there, and to begin to prepare for the formal ICAI General Assembly, online on December 17.  Around 20 ICAs have been involved and shared country reports, and full reports of the Nagarkot gathering are also available.  Please let me know if you are interested to receive any of this or find out more.

ICA International and our global network have been through a very difficult few years since my last global conference in 2004 – involving setting up and then winding down a new international Secretariat team in Montreal, and involving ICA:UK and several other ICAs regretfully choosing not to renew their ICAI membership.  It could not be clearer now that all that is behind us, that the dust has settled, and that ICAI and the wider global network are reconnecting and actively re-imagining and recreating what it means to work together globally in advancing human development and enabling people to bring about positive change.  I hope that ICA:UK will seek to renew its statutory membership at the ICAI General Assembly in December, and that other non-member ICAs will do likewise.  It seems to me that the timing could not be better for ICA:UK to reconnect and get involved again at that global level, as it too reconsiders its strategy and structure for the future.  We can all be a great deal stronger and more effective together, so now there is clearly a real appetite for global peer-to-peer support and collaboration within the ICA network I hope that all ICAs and ICA colleagues will support each other and ICAI to make that a global reality.