A welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Free facilitation webinar – Transformational Strategy: from trepidation to ‘unlocked’

Are you interested to learn more about facilitation, and ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) methodology in particular – in a free, one-hour, interactive online session that offers an experience of virtual facilitation as well?  Please join me for the next in my new series of free facilitation webinars.

Register now on Eventbrite for the next scheduled session on June 20, and register your interest on Surveymonkey for future dates & times and topics to be scheduled. To review past session recordings and other outputs, and for provisional future dates & times and suggested topics, see free facilitation webinars.


Martin Gilbraith workshop-2532 Banner pic 3600x1800Transformational Strategy: from trepidation to ‘unlocked’

Monday 20 June, 13.00 BST

In this session I shall introduce the ToP Participatory Strategic Planning process, with examples of practical application including a case study with an international humanitarian agency in Geneva Transformational Strategy: from trepidation to ‘unlocked’ and another Facilitating change in complexity – the Oxfam Lebanon ‘One Country Strategy’ process.

I shall be joined for this session by Sunny Walker of the Virtual Facilitation Collective and Bill Staples of ICA Associates, author of Transformational Strategy: facilitation of ToP participatory planning.

The Participatory Strategic Planning process of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) is a structured long-range planning process which incorporates the ToP Consensus Workshop method for building consensus, the ToP Focused Conversation method for effective group communication, and an implementation process for turning ideas into productive action and concrete accomplishments.


Each session in this series of free facilitation webinars will be hosted in Adobe Connect for a highly interactive learning experience.

Each topic will be addressed by a short case study or other presentation, supplemented by links to further online material for later reference. Sessions will 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 will introduce the features of the virtual meeting room and the tools to be used. A brief closing reflection at the end of the session will invite reflection and learning on the facilitation process and virtual tools as well as on the content of the session.

For full voice participation in the session for a more conversational experience, microphone rights will be available to up to 15 participants who are first to login and set up their audio. Others will be able to listen and interact via their keyboard alone.


Register now on Eventbrite, and register your interests on Surveymonkey.

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.

Facilitating change in complexity – the Oxfam Lebanon ‘One Country Strategy’ process

Beirut seafront 525x296“What would it take for multiple and diverse stakeholders to align behind a complex and demanding change process, in a complex and demanding environment?”  This was the question that intrigued me as I became engaged with the Oxfam Lebanon ‘One Country Strategy’ process.

It was in September 2014 that I was approached to help with the design and facilitation of a ‘One Country Strategy’ (OCS) process for Oxfam in Lebanon.

PSP case study thumbnailFran Beytrison had recently taken up the role of Oxfam GB Country Director for Lebanon, after moving from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva where she had participated in a strategic planning process that I had facilitated the previous year – see Transformational Strategy: from trepidation to ‘unlocked’.

A complex and demanding context

Oxfam is one of the world’s largest and best-known international NGOs, founded in 1942 in Oxford in the UK.  Today it comprises 17 national Oxfam Affiliates that are federated as Oxfam International and work in over 90 countries worldwide. It’s work includes emergency humanitarian relief, long-term development programmes and policy research and advocacy. It describes the scope of its work in terms of six key issues: active citizenship, gender justice, inequality and essential services, natural resources, saving lives and sustainable food.

Oxfam GB had launched a major emergency response to the Syria crisis in Lebanon in January 2013. Oxfam Novib and Oxfam Italia had been operating long term development programmes in Lebanon for some years before that. Oxfam GB’s Middle East regional Gender Justice programme was also located in Beirut, and Oxfam France and Oxfam Quebec were also involved in work in Lebanon.

By the autumn of 2014 it had become clear that an emergency humanitarian response could no longer be regarded as an adequate response to the ongoing and increasing effects of the Syria crisis in Lebanon. By then already over a million Syrian refugees were living among a pre-crisis population of around 4 million in Lebanon.  Also in 2014 Oxfam International had launched a major organisational change process to achieve a new ‘2020 Vision’. This required a single ‘One Country Strategy’ to bring together the work of all Oxfam Affiliates in each country, as a first step toward to eventual merger as, for example, Oxfam Lebanon.

To plan and implement such a complex and demanding change process successfully, in the context of complex and demanding work in a complex and demanding environment, it was felt essential to effectively engage with all 150 or so in-country staff and other key stakeholders through a robust and professionally facilitated process.

The aims and scope of work

The Terms of Reference agreed for my role in October described the aims of the process to develop a One Country Strategy for Oxfam in Lebanon as threefold:

  • to bring the three Oxfam affiliates operational in Lebanon and the Lebanon components of the Oxfam GB regional Gender Justice programmes together behind a single vision and shared operational plan, as a basis for moving to a country programme structure in line with the Oxfam 2020 Vision, while enabling other interested affiliates to engage as well
  • to clearly detail a gender-mainstreamed One Programme approach (humanitarian, development and policy) as a means of improving programme quality and building a more integrated response, fully leveraging existing expertise across all relevant affiliates
  • to position Oxfam as a leader in the increasingly consensual debate around a ‘Lebanese response’, as opposed to a ‘Syria response in Lebanon, through clear and evidence-based programmatic and policy shifts including strong sectoral leadership in key areas.

The process was therefore to guide both ‘technical visioning’ of Oxfam’s added value and role in Lebanon and organisational change to support implementation in the immediate and in the longer-term. It was to demonstrate a systematic, inclusive and participatory approach to strategic and operational planning and collaborative working, and so build shared commitment, confidence and trust for a new way forward together.

It was agreed to include also work with key actors within the country programme to develop skills for additional facilitation across various departments and sectors, particularly with a view to supporting the development of technical sectoral and departmental action plans in line with the broader Oxfam Country Strategy.

The contract allowed for up to 50 days’ work over six months from November to April, structured in four phases and including four trips to Lebanon. In the event my role required just 40 days’ work including three trips in November, December & January.

How the process unfolded

Phase 1 was conceived as a Preparation & Design phase. The aims were to develop a clear and agreed plan and budget for the process as a whole, and to develop shared clarity, confidence and commitment among staff and any other key stakeholders to the project and its 6-month timeframe.

A one-week trip in November allowed for a series of in-country consultation and process design meetings with large and small groups of staff of the various Oxfam affiliates in Lebanon, in Beirut and two field offices.

OCS Orientation day - outlineThe week included a one day OCS Orientation day for a cross-section of around 45 staff.  The World Cafe method was demonstrated and applied to share questions, concerns and possibilities for the OCS process. The ToP Focused Conversation method was demonstrated and applied to introduce my own role as facilitator of the OCS process. The ToP Consensus Workshop method was demonstrated and applied to inform the design and delivery of the OCS process by agreeing “What do we need to take into account to ensure the success of this OCS process?”.

The IDMC case study was used to outline the ToP Particpatory Strategic Planning process that would provide a framework for the OCS process as a whole. A project steering committee of 6-8 staff was established, to act as a soundboard and guide to the design process and oversee subsequent implementation.

Additional remote consultation was conducted with stakeholders based outside Lebanon. All the questions, concerns and aspirations raised during this first phase were documented and reviewed with the steering committee, and helped to informed the design and delivery of the remaining phases.

ToP Participatory Strategic PlanningPhase 2 was conceived as the Launch phase. The ‘rational’ aim was to develop a clear and agreed strategic framework as a basis for the single country strategy. This was to include an analysis of the changing strategic context; Practical Vision, Underlying Contradictions and Strategic Directions of the ToP Participatory Strategic Planning process; and a 3-month action plan for completion of the strategy.  The ‘experiential’ aim was again to develop shared clarity, confidence and commitment among staff and any other key stakeholders, this time to the emerging strategy and the plan for its completion.

By this stage the steering group had clarified the ‘Focus Question’ for the overall strategic planning process as: “What can we do over the next 5 years as one Oxfam in Lebanon working with others to address suffering and inequality in Lebanon?”

A 10-day trip in December allowed for the preparation and facilitation of a 4-day OCS Launch Week event, involving a series of sessions with different sub-groups.

OCS Launch week - outlineThe morning of Tuesday’s ‘Consultation Day’ involved key staff and external stakeholders invited for their knowledge and experience of Oxfam Lebanon’s changing strategic context.  The ToP ‘Wave’ exercise was used to chart and analyse trends, ‘on the horizon, emerging, peaking and dying’, to inform the subsequent strategic planning process.

The afternoon of the Consultation day involved around 150 staff of the various Oxfam affiliates in Lebanon plus key regional staff and local partners. The World Cafe method was used to enable this larger group (in 15 tables of 10, each including a team of 3 conversation hosts) to deliberate and to share responses to the three ‘focus questions’ that would guide the consensus building and strategy building for the remainder of the week:

  1. OCS Consultation day - world cafe table instructionsPractical Vision: “What would we like to see in place in 5 years’ time, as a result of the work of Oxfam in Lebanon?”  (indicators of external impact and internal effectiveness)
  2. Current reality: “What in our current reality is blocking us from realising our Vision?” (both internal & external to Oxfam Lebanon)  “What strengths do we have to address these obstacles?”
  3. Strategic Directions: “What practical projects or initiatives over the next 5 years could address these obstacles and help to realise our Vision?”

The remaining three days involved a cross-section of around 45 staff, each of whom had hosted one of the three World Cafe conversations at the 15 tables of 10 on Tuesday.  Each day involved an extended and adapted ToP Consensus Workshop process. First in groups of six, pairs of table host teams reviewed and clustered the ideas that they had harvested from their World Cafe table conversations on the question for that day – Practical Vision, Current Reality or Strategic Directions. Second, each Oxfam affiliate, field office, department and programme team met separately to add any further ideas from their own distinct perspective that they felt may not yet have been adequately reflected in the ideas shared.  Third, the whole group of 45 worked together for most of the afternoon to weave all the ideas generated into clusters, and to name the emerging consensus.  Finally, at the end of the week, outline action plans were agreed by work team for communicating the outcomes to those not present, and engaging with them over the coming weeks and months in finalising the framework and planning for implementation.

Strategic deployment of breaks and energisers helped to just about sustain the group’s energy throughout the week – to deal with large volumes of complex data, and to build consensus on often contentious issues among a group that was itself in many ways reflective of the diversity of perspectives and interests at play in Oxfam’s humanitarian, development and advocacy work in Lebanon.

A brief review of Oxfam International’s global change goals just before the naming of Strategic Directions enabled the group to align their names with Oxfam’s global strategy without having been overly constrained by them in their own visioning or in their analysis and response to their own local and regional realities. The outcome was four Strategic Directions, each articulated by a number of distinct ‘strategic intents’, designed to collectively address the Underlying Contradictions to the Practical Vision:

  • Designing and implementing integrated & effective, rights-based humanitarian & development programmes
  • Working with others to achieve high quality programmes
  • Investing in staff
  • Influencing to create change from the local to the global.

Doubtless the steering committee or Fran alone might have developed a very similar framework without such an elaborate and inclusive engagement process, but of course the experiential aims of shared clarity, confidence and commitment  were central and critical to the OCS process. Feedback indicated that the group had indeed found the week long and tiring, and in some cases it was felt that key issues or perspectives had not been adequately addressed or not in proper proportion. Nevertheless it was clear that the visual and participatory approach had been appreciated, and the open and frank discussions, diversity in participation and perspectives, and the clarity and consensus achieved. Fionna Smyth, then Oxfam GB Regional Campaigns and Policy Manager for the Middle East, Eastern Europe and CIS, commented recently on LinkedIn:

“I was at this particular meeting and it really was a phenomenal experience. It developed a clear vision, and was inclusive of many diverse voices. I loved Martin’s approach.”

By the end of the week, it was high time to enjoy the staff Christmas party! Having documented each workshop on the day, in preparation for the next day’s workshop, it was then a simple matter to compile a first draft OCS strategic framework document for circulation and feedback between December and January.

Phase 3 was originally conceived to include the resolution of any key issues in finalising the strategy document for approval in April, and development of clear and agreed (and comprehensive) operational plans for implementation of the first year of the new strategy. The ‘experiential’ aim again was to promote shared clarity, confidence and commitment among staff and other key stakeholders to the emerging strategy, and also now to plans for its completion and implementation.

It was agreed with the steering group after the Launch Week, however, that to continue such a comprehensive approach with such broad engagement could be asking too much of the staff in the midst of the many other demands on their time and energy.  Moreover, on reflection, it was felt that some areas of programming and organisational change could benefit more than others of facilitation support to enable effective engagement and an appropriate and successful implementation planning process.

For these reasons it was agreed switch from a comprehensive to a targeted approach to facilitation support in the implementation planning. Instead of working again with a cross-section of the whole staff on planning the whole of the implementation together, I would work with key stakeholders in three particular programme areas to apply the new strategic framework to tailored planning implementation in those particular areas.  Also I would offer ToP Group Facilitation Methods training to a cadre of 30 staff and partners from across the work teams and affiliates. These two elements became the twin focus of a two-week trip to Beirut in January.

Phase 4 had been conceived to allow for a collective review of experience and learning from the project and first quarter implementation, and to agree clear 90-day workplans for the second quarter, with the experiential aim of consolidating pride in the strategy and support for the structural merger.  However we had already transitioned from a comprehensive and collective approach in phase 3, to an approach in which the (already somewhat restructured) work teams were able to integrate the agreed new strategic framework in their operational work planning and in their longer-term programme development work.  Much had changed meanwhile as well in the strategic context, not least in the the Syria crisis itself and in its unfolding impact in Lebanon.  For these various reasons a fourth trip was not felt necessary, and my own role in the OCS project was concluded.

As it turned out, I made another two trips to Beirut for another client in May and June of 2015, to design and facilitate a participatory strategic planning for the Safety & Security Committee for Lebanon of which Oxfam is a member.  It was a pleasure to be able to reconnect with some of the Oxfam team while I was there, and learn something of what had happened next in the OCS process.  That, however, is another story…


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.

Register now for ToP facilitation training in Brussels in 2016.

Join me for ToP facilitation training in Brussels in 2016!

MG ToP 2016 in BrusselsI am pleased  to announce six new public courses in Brussels for 2016. Please join me if you can, and share these details with friends, colleagues and networks who might be interested.

Now in their third year in Brussels, these courses are scheduled in partnership with Social Platform, the largest platform of European rights and value-based NGOs working in the social sector, and provided under license with ICA:UK, the participation & development charity.  They are scheduled in pairs to allow 1, 2, 3 or 4 days of training at once, in April, June & November – read on for courses and dates.

Book online now  – for full details of each course, and to book, just follow the links from the course dates below.

I am pleased to offer discounted rates to voluntary organisations and independent professionals, and in particular to ICA colleagues, to staff and members of Social Platform and Concord Europe, and to members of IAFIABC & CMI. Please ask for details if you do not receive them through those channels.

Please contact me with any questions or for further details – including how to commission a tailored course for your group, and availability of scheduled public courses in the UK and worldwide. See also ToP facilitation training at your place – and free places for you!


Photo by Adam Swann

“I would recommend the course to others as something that can easily be used in practice for leaders, facilitators and participants of group meetings” – Pierre Baussand, Director, Social Platform, Brussels.


FC&CW method imagesGroup Facilitation Methods

Introducing the foundations of the Technology of Participation (ToP) approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus

2 days4-5 April, 27-28 June & 7-8 November 2016 in Brussels

How can I have more purposeful & productive conversations, bring out the wisdom of a group, encourage feedback between people, and reach shared awareness in meetings? How can I generate and weave together a diverse range of ideas, develop creative solutions and build a group consensus?

This course provides a structured introduction to the ToP Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop methods, which form the foundations of the ToP Action Planning method, Participatory Strategic Planning and other applications.


Action PlannningAction Planning

Participatory planning for short-term projects and events 

1 day – 6 April 2016 in Brussels, 9 June & 20 October in London. (Sorry, 29 June in Brussels has been cancelled.)

How can I get all members of a group to participate in planning a project or event together, and build their commitment and responsibility so that they can successfully implement their plan?

This course introduces a structured, participatory process to enable the successful implementation of a group project or event.  The ToP Action Planning method uses the ToP Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop methods to engage all members of a group effectively, and so it builds commitment and ownership at all stages. The method is suitable for planning short to medium-term projects, or completing projects that have stalled.


Participatory Strategic PlanningToP Participatory Strategic Planning

Bringing people together to create strategies for action

2 days – November 9-10 2016 in Brussels

“How can I enable my group to come to a common vision for their future? How can I help them make their vision happen by creatively addressing the root causes of the challenges that are blocking them, rather than focus simply on fire-fighting and problem-solving? How can I ensure a real sense of ownership, so that for once their plan actually happens?”

The course presents a structured long-range planning process which incorporates the ToP Consensus Workshop method for building consensus, the ToP Focused Conversation method for effective group communication, and an implementation process for turning ideas into productive action and concrete accomplishments. Those with more experience of facilitation, strategic planning or ToP facilitation may need no further support to apply the process effectively in their own situations, and for others the course serves as a powerful, experiential introduction to the process.


BOOK NOWor please contact me with any questions or for further details.

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.

ICAI Board report to the December General Assembly

strategic directionsThis short report to the upcoming  online  meetings of the ICAI General Assembly (GA) on 10 December was prepared to summarise the ICAI Board‘s activity since the last GA in July, relative to the 3 strategic directions of our 2015-16 strategy:

Fostering Global Connections & Collaboration to Support ICAs to Thrive

Support Peer-to-Peer Collaboration & Capacity Building

Facilitate Inclusive Global Communications

  • We have supported the Global Communications team to produce regular issues of Winds & Waves (W&W) magazine and the monthly bulletin the Global Buzz, and amplified distribution on social media
  • We have developed and launched a new website in WordPress and enabled member ICAs to post and update their own ICA Worldwide profiles and news updates – 11 ICA profiles updated to date, and W&W and Buzz updates cross-posted to the website
  • We have grown the ICAI presence on Facebook & Twitter and integrated them with the website
  • We have used the ICA Global channel on Youtube to host weekly online dialogues on development and disability, and  other topics

Gather, Synthesize & Share Info/Data of Value to our Membership

  • We have surveyed the global membership on their ToP facilitation capacity, use and aspirations for the Global ToP working group – 28 responses received to date

Develop & Strengthen Global Partnerships

  • We have agreed in principle to enter into a global partnership with IAF, and invited the Global ToP working group to respond to IAF’s draft Memorandum of Understanding

Boosting ICAI Resilience and Safeguarding the Integrity of our Global Community

Strengthen Organizational Resilience & Sustainability

  • We are developing more robust financial management and reporting systems – for this reason invoicing (and therefore payment) of member’s dues has been delayed, however all are now invoiced
  • We have received the investments that were left to ICAI as a legacy last year

Safeguard the Integrity of the Global Membership

  • We have welcomed 3 new members approved at July GA – SNF Uganda, ORP Korea & EPDI Nigeria
  • We have supported members & applicants for memberships to complete nomination papers for 2 new Associate members, NCOC Kenya & SCR Kenya
  • We have continued to work with prospective applicants in Russia (Moscow & Siberia), Poland, France & the Philippines
  • We have supported colleagues of NIRADO Nigeria and Itereleng Itereleng ICA South Africa working on renewing ICAs on those countries

Recognizing & Leveraging ICA Wisdom & Nurturing New Leadership

Recognize & Appreciate Contributions/ Achievements

  • We have regularly published available ICA news updates to new website

Strengthen and Share our Collective Wisdom & Approaches

Share & Nurture Global Leadership within the Membership

  • We have begun to prepare for ICAI Board nominations & elections process leading to election in June prior to face-to-face Board meeting at August Global Conference – may delay to election in December of Global Conference is postponed

ICA International Board update, August 2015

ICAI Global Buzz, June 2015
This post was written for ICAI’s monthly bulletin the Global Buzz, August 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.


The main event for the ICAI Board last month was the July General Assembly. Final preparations were concluded at the online Board meeting of July 8. An online GA meeting in Adobe Connect was repeated twice for two time zones on July 21, and attended by 20 representatives of 13 member ICAs. Finally, an asynchronous online poll was held by surveymonkey over 10 days to July 31, to confirm and symbolise the consensus of the General Assembly.  Nineteen representatives of 25 statutory members cast their ICAs’ votes in the poll.

GA screenshotFour resolutions were passed by the General Assembly:

  • the 2015-16 ICAI Strategic Directions developed by the May Board meeting in Tanzania were approved
  • three new nominations for non-voting Associate membership were approved – welcome to ICAI to ORP of Korea, EPDI of Nigeria and SNCF of Uganda!
  • a recommendation of the ICAI Global Conference working group was accepted, to seek to work in partnership with Initiaitives of Change to convene a global conference next year at IofC’s centre at Caux, Switzerland
  • a new global policy on ICA’s Technology of Participation was adopted, following 18 months of collaborative development and consultation among ICAs worldwide, led by the global ToP policy working group.

The online meetings provided a final opportunity to discuss these resolutions before the online poll. They also provided an opportunity for the Board and our volunteer web developer Robert Liverpool to share the new draft ICAI website that is under development in WordPress.  We are now testing and populating the website with content with a view to launching it publicly later in the year.

wordpress screenshot

Raising our ambition – a face-to-face meeting of the virtual ICAI Board

#ICAIBoard, May 2015 on Storify

Last week provided a rare and invaluable opportunity for the largely virtual Board of ICA International to meet face-to-face, in conjunction with the East & Southern Africa ICA regional gathering held near Arusha in Tanzania.  Click on the image above for the story of our meeting on Storify, featuring the real-time updates, photos and tweets that we shared during the week.

We travelled for up to 39 hours to be hosted in Tanzania, from Tokyo, Guatemala, Toronto, Chicago, London, Kiev and Lome. I am grateful to Charles Luoga of ICA Tanzania for hosting us and to Seva Gandhi of ICA USA for her logistical support, and to all involved for giving so generously of their time and energy, in spite of the long journeys.

We had last met face-to-face as a Board when three of us were about to begin our terms, in conjunction with the 8th ICAI Global Conference on Human Development in Kathmandu in late 2012. With the other five having just joined the Board from this year, and with some of us having never yet met each other in person, we felt it essential to make the effort to meet – notwithstanding the significant cost of time and money that would be required for what is a largely volunteer-driven network. I think that that investment will prove to be richly rewarded, and I hope our members will agree – I trust that they will be delighted that the meeting kept well within our tight budget as well!

Manyara National Park, TanzaniaWe met for four days, at a safari lodge near the Manyara National Park. On the fifth day we visited the park, and on the sixth we joined the first day of the regional gathering. That gathering continues to the end of this week, with four of us still present there.  We also were able to see something of the town of Mto Wa Mbu, and the nearby children’s home initiated and supported by ICA Tanzania.

Our aims for the meeting were to get to know each other, and to build team spirit and commitment; to broaden and deepen our shared understanding of ICA and ICAI; to agree strategy and plans for how we will work together as the ICAI Board for 2015-16; and to meet and learn about ICA Tanzania and the ICAs of the region. We also aimed to engage with the global ICA network remotely as we worked during the week, including by meeting virtually with our global communications teams and volunteer web developer to plan for implementation of the new ICAI website that we are developing.

Lisseth Lorenzo of ICA Guatemala in ContradictionsWe applied ICA’s ToP Participatory Strategic Planning process and the four levels of ORID to structure the week, and we shared the facilitation of the sessions. Day 1 was all about sharing Objective level data. We used the Historical Scan method to plot a shared history of ICA and ICAI, and then we reviewed the ‘State of the World’ of our membership by continent, our global governance and finances, and then the global ICA mission & values and the ICAI vision and ‘peer-to-peer’ approach articulated by the ICAI General Assembly in 2010.

Seva Gandhi of ICA USA leads Strategic DirectionsThe following three days were focused on articulating the Contradictions to that Vision (Reflective level) and developing Strategic Directions (Interpretive level) and Implementation plans (Decisional level) by which to address them. We confirmed our Board roles and reviewed our Board role descriptions as a prelude to implementation planning.

A highlight for me was the storytelling icebreaker that we invented at the start of the meeting, and returned to again and again – one of us would pose any question about ourselves or our involvement with ICA, and we would each answer it in turn. That turned out to be a simple but rich and insightful way to get to know each other.

It helped our process enormously that we used our own ICA methods, with which we were all quite familiar. Notwithstanding all that we found that we have in common, I was struck again and again by how differently we all think – that ‘human factor’ of culture at play!  That brought home to me just how valuable is face-to-face time together, especially for a largely virtual team.  I find it hard to imagine that we might otherwise ever have understood each other sufficiently to become effective as a Board or as a team in our 2 years together, let alone to raise our ambition for our service to the membership as we did.

ICAI global communications virtual meetingAs a largely virtual Board, and the leadership of a largely virtual global community, it was instructive also for us to experience the frustrations of slow internet access with which our African colleages have to contend so often when they join us in an online meeting.  We did eventually manage to connect virtually with our web developer and global communications team, and were very excited to see our draft new website taking form. We also managed to share some social media updates with the wider network during the week – but we quickly learned that if we all went online at once, when we returned to within wifi range at mealtimes, then we would all end up frustrated.

We were grateful for the virtual support and encouragement that we recieved from remote friends and colleagues, and appreciated every ‘like’ and comment.  I also enjoyed connecting on twitter with colleagues meeting at the same time at the IAF North America 2015 conference in Canada, sponsored by ICA USA, the ToP Network and ICA Asssociates. (I like to think that our photos of elephants and giraffes trumped theirs of elk and grizzly bears)

The subsequent regional gathering was attended by 17 Directors and staff of ICAs and partner organisations from across the region.  It began with a World Cafe conversation to get to know each other and our interests and asprations for the gathering, and then brief presentations from each of the organisations represented. The rest of the week was to be largely Open Space, ‘Sharing Approaches that Work’, followed by one day of strategic planning for the region.  I very much appreciated the opportunity to get to know some that I did not and to renew my acquaintance with others.  It seemed to me that the interchange within the region, and between it and the other regions represented by ICAI Board members, was very valuable.

ICA IAF collaboration with John CornwellI was also delighted that IAF Africa Director John Cornwell (also an ICA:UK Associate and for many years an ICA colleague in Africa) was there to lead a conversation on the potential for greater collaboration between IAF and ICA, at the local and the global levels, and to learn that the IAF Board is very supportive of that as I am myself.

I returned home energised and enthused myself, and excited by the prospects of a newly energised and enthused ICAI Board. Since January the Board is also enlarged from 7 to 8 members, with the very large Europe & Africa region now reallocated among three Vice Presidents (Europe MENA, East & Southern Africa and West & Central Africa respectively), and I think that too will be enormously helpful. I am encouraged by the increasing numbers of ICA partners and related organisations expressing an interest in joining ICAI as Associate members – including last week in East Africa, and also in Russia where I will be delivering ToP facilitation training next week.  I am looking forward to a growing and  strengthening global network, sharing ICA’s values, and supporting each other through peer-to-peer collaboration in our shared mission of ‘advancing human development worldwide’.

Full documentation of the meeting will be included in a new business plan to be finalised at our online Board meeting June, for approval at our online General Assembly on July 21.  In the meantime, join me in celebrating our new Strategic Directions!  In 2015-16 we will be…

ICAI Board 2015-16 strategic directions

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