ToP facilitation training – what’s it like, and is it worthwhile?

Chris Mapitlan with certificate
mg-top-2017-in-brusselsHave you considered
taking ToP facilitation training, with me in Brussels or with others elsewhere, and wondered what it would be like and whether it would be worthwhile?

Below is what some have had to say on LinkedIn about my own recent courses in Brussels and London, and a short time-lapse video offering a glimpse of ToP facilitation training – for more glimpses see also #ToPfacilitation on Twitter.

Scroll on for details of my own upcoming courses in Brussels in 2017, and book now on Eventbrite.  Discounted rates are available for voluntary organisations and independent professionals, and in particular to ICA colleagues, to staff and members of Social Platform and other European NGO platforms, and to members of IAF & IABC. Your fee includes one hour’s free telephone coaching after the course.

Regularly scheduled public ToP training courses are also provided by ICAs including in AustraliaCanada, Taiwan, UK, Ukraine & the USA.  Other ICAs also offer public courses, and in-house courses on request – see ICA Worldwide.

See also ToP facilitation training at your place – and free places for you!


Michael NordMichael Nord, Principal, Facilitator, Strategist & Networker, Amsterdam

“I joined Martin for Group Facilitation Methods training in Brussels, 2 days packed with tips, tricks and hands-on exercises. It was great experience and, though I work as a facilitator with my clients, it gave me a boost to do more, using the ToP methods. I would really recommend anyone who has done facilitation, but need a refresher or inspiration, to join one of Martin’s sessions. He is inspiring, he checks with attendees that they are OK, and he follows up afterwards.”


Nina Elzer

Nina Elzer, Policy Advisor at CENTR, Brussels

“Martin trained the Chairs of the CENTR Working Groups on facilitation. It provided them with valuable tools and techniques to make agenda-setting more efficient and meeting facilitation more effective – some have already been able to successfully implement what they learned. I would recommend Martin to anyone who is looking for an engaged trainer and thorough listener.”


Eve GeddieEve Geddie, Deputy Director at PICUM, Brussels

“Meetings are a key part of what we do. As a diverse, transnational, multilingual membership network, successful meetings are key to our internal and external successes. Many of our staff mentioned Martin’s training as a highlight in their end of year reviews – several said it was the most useful training they had ever attended, and there was a clear consensus that we should work with him again.”


Miriam ElstMiriam Elst, Facilitator Design Thinking and LEGO® Serious Play®, Lead UX researcher & strategist, Service designer, Brussels

“Martin is a very inspiring trainer, he is very skilled and knows how to facilitate facilitators in a structured and insightful way. I have been able to successfully use his personal advice and facilitation techniques straight away!”


Mike PounsfordMike PounsfordEmployee engagement, communication and change specialist, London

“I went on a course run by Martin and found it really helpful. Martin established a really good group learning process and displayed mastery of his subject. I am very glad I went on it and very glad he ran it!”  


Pierre BaussandPierre BaussandDirector of Social Platform, Brussels

“I would recommend the course as something that can easily be used in practise for leaders, facilitators and participants of group meetings”.


Katherine SargentKatherine Sargent, Country Programme Manager at Trócaire, London

“What made it so useful for me was the opportunity to practice the techniques in a supportive environment and the practical tools we took away from the course. This gave me the confidence to try out the techniques in the ‘real world’. I have been using techniques I learnt during the course to prepare for meetings and it has really helped me focus my thoughts. Since the course I have facilitated a session for one of our partners using the Consensus Workshop approach. Not only did everyone actively participate, we reached consensus and I received very positive feedback from the participants!”


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 days21-22 March, 20-21 June & 7-8 November 2017 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 – 23 March & 22 June  2017 in Brussels.

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 2017 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, the IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere and the Facilitators in Belgium meetup in Brussels.

A glimpse of ToP Group Facilitation Methods training

“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?”

The ToP Group Facilitation Methods course provides a structured introduction to the ‘Technology of Participation‘ Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop methods, which form the foundations of ToP Action Planning, ToP Participatory Strategic Planning and other applications

The course presents the two methods in a practical and participatory way. Each method is first demonstrated, then analysed and discussed, and then practiced in supportive small groups with guided reflection & feedback. Finally, participants plan how they will apply each method in their own situations.

This short timelapse video, from last September’s ICA:UK Group Facilitation Methods training at NCVO in London, shows the interactive walk-through, analysis and discussion of the Consensus Workshop method.

I am grateful to those attending the training for featuring in it, and to Michael Ambjorn for making it for us. As well as being an accomplished photographer and timelapse enthusiast, Michael is himself an experienced facilitator, a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) and Chair of the International Association of Business of Communicators (IABC), and founder Director of AlignyourOrg. You can follow Michael on Flickr and on Twitter.


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.

Power to the People, and the power of facilitation and communications in partnership

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In my last post I blogged on Power to the People – why I am excited to be attending #EuroComm 2015, the April 12-14 Europe MENA conference of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in London. Here I’d like to share a few of my reflections on that event, and something of the potential that I see for mutual learning and collaboration between facilitators and communicators, and for partnership between IAF and IABC.

I was struck at the event, as I was in browsing the agenda in advance, by the emphasis on the changing role of the communications profession, ‘from cascade to conversation’ (Katie MacAulay) and ‘from crafting and controlling messages to facilitator, coach and guide’ (Barbara Gibson). Highlights for me among the presentations were stories of large-scale staff engagement at HSBC Exchange from Ulrike Felber and on the Art of Participatory Leadership at the European Commisison  from Ian Andersen, and on ‘bringing values alive’ at Newsweaver from Andrew O’Shaughnessy.  There was a lot valuable experience evident of engaging people at scale in change processes, from which I think facilitators could learn a great deal – particularly when it comes to engaging all those stakeholders who, for one reason or another, will never be ‘in the room’ to participate directly in a facilitated process.

I was also struck, however, that there seemed less awareness of the body of knowledge and experience that the facilitation profession has accumulated – in particular, the value of designing and leading a group through a structured series of questions and activities to achieve a particular purpose. Mention was made of using workshops to engage people, but (with the exception of the Art of Participatory Leadership) I gained little sense of their methodology or process design. While it was made clear that communications today must involve listening, and no longer just talking, I reflected that a third element that is key to making conversation productive as well as engaging is to ask purposeful questions. It seems to me that this is an area where communications professional may be able to learn from facilitators.

In spite of the emphasis in the content of the conference on communications as dialogue rather than broadcast, in terms of process I found the sessions mostly structured as presentations with dialogue limited to questions from the floor – between the stage and the tiered seating of a lecture theatre. I dare say that IAF facilitators could have learned a thing or two about making presentations engaging, but certainly I find that IAF conferences enable a greater depth and breadth of conversation.

It was partly for this reason that another highlight for me was the session on the future of the communications profession, which was held in a large classroom rather than a lecture theatre and facilitated as a number of parallel small table conversations. This session also highlighted for me the potential for the two professions and the two associations to learn from each other’s experience of common issues and challenges, such as upholding and raising professional standards and mobilising and managing volunteers and chapters.

I was impressed (as you might hope) by the use of social media at EuroComm, including vox pop videos on facebook and especially the very cool Whova mobile app for conference networking – also by the speed and number of conference reviews published online, for example by Daniel Munslow and by the AB team, and by IABC on storify. So imagine my surprise when, as #EuroComm twitter statistics were projected at the closing session, it turned out that the most prolific tweeter with the widest reach was… me, the facilitator at a conference of communicators!

Already IAF and IABC members are able to enjoy reciprocal discounts at each others’ conferences, at least in Europe. I want to encourage members of both associations to take advantage of that, and connect with each other to further explore the potential for mutual learning and collaboration, and for partnership. The door is open – step through and see what you find!

IAF members, attend the IABC World Conference, 14-17 June in San Francisco, or check the IABC global calendar for an event near you or online.

IABC members, attend the IAF North America Conference, 14-16 May in Banff; or the IAF Asia Conference, 20-22 August in Mumbai – or join me at the IAF Europe MENA Conference, 16-18 October in Stockholm

Chapters of both IAF and IABC, connect with each other locally and see what opportunities emerge!

Join me for ToP Group Facilitation Methods and Action Plannning training in Brussels!

MG ToPEventbrite - ToP Group Facilitation MethodsEventbrite - ToP Action PlanningI am excited to announce these two new public courses in Brussels in November. Please join me if you can, and share these details with friends, colleagues and networks who might be interested.

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.  It was following an earlier course with Social Platform in Brussels last December that I blogged Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation with video.

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

Group Facilitation Methods

Introducing the foundations of the Technology of Participation (ToP) approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus – 2 days, November 25-26

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 Plannning

Participatory planning for short-term projects and events – 1 day, November 27

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.

BOOK NOW for Group Facilitation Methods, November 25-26 and Action Planning, November 27 – or please contact me with any questions or for further details.

Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation

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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 Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, Italian and Japanese.  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.

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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.


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.

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.

What do facilitators do, really?

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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 Spanish, German, Russian and Chinese.

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 18 December 2013.