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ICA:UK, the UK-based development and participation charity draws on 50 years of experience of strengthening “the human factor in world development” by developing and utilising effective facilitation methods and techniques in diverse situations across the globe. Capacity development is a key part of our approach, working with others to build their skills and supporting them as they put these skills into practice. In this way deeper ownership is achieved, and ICA:UK grows its impact and expands its contribution to its mission.

What we offer

The prime methodology we use for the design and delivery of our work is the values, tools and techniques of the Technology of Participation (ToP). This approach was first developed by ICA in the 1960s and has been evolving and developing through its use in myriad situations across the globe ever since.

 

The approach is based on our belief in participation (creating a space in which people and ideas are encouraged, respected and shared), creativity (seeking both the rational and logical ideas as well as the innovative and intuitive), teamwork (recognising that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts), ownership and action (where participants feel they have a stake in the outcome and a sense of movement towards a new realisation, understanding or opinion) and reflection and learning. This creates the space for participants and facilitators to consider both the process and the content, the implications, and what the next steps are.

ToP consists of methods that enable groups to 1) engage in thoughtful and productive conversations, 2) develop common ground for working together and 3) build effective short and long range plans (see section on ToP Methods for more details). As core processes, ToP methods have the capacity to be customized, adapted and used in an extraordinarily wide range of situations: the methods have been used in over sixty countries, in thousands of communities, in hundreds of institutional, organizational and corporate change initiatives, in major international social change ventures, in United Nations and World Bank programmes.

 

In addition to group facilitation methods, the ToP approach provides guidance and support for the design and organising of events, and sets out competencies (based on skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviour) for facilitators to aim for and develop.

 

In addition to its own rich diversity of methods and techniques, ToP can be successfully combined with other design and facilitation methods (e.g. Open Space, Appreciative Enquiry, Solutions Focus, Future Search, World Cafe, etc.) as well as being adaptable for use with online software (e.g. Adobe Connect, Google Hangout, Blackboard Collaborate, etc.).

Advantages of ToP

The ToP methods and approach:

  • Apply a structure to group process, preventing a group from drifting aimlessly.
     

  • Are extremely versatile, which means they work as well with groups of strangers as with long-term colleagues. They work well with groups that may never be together again and with well-established groups. They work with people of mixed backgrounds and ages, and with homogeneous groups.
     

  • Provide excellent ways to focus people on a topic for long enough to determine what direction is needed and to provide an effective way for a group of people involved in implementing a decision to think through issues or actions together.
     

  • Provide room for real listening. People don’t have to raise their voices or fight for the floor to be heard. Nor do they have to repeat previously stated positions for emphasis or to indicate agreement or support.
     

  • Encourage understanding rather than criticism. They are helpful when bringing different information or perspectives together in order to create a commonly held comprehensive or “bigger” picture of an issue or objective.
     

  • Help to encourage positive thinking. Each person’s comments are received, and none are disqualified or struck from the record.
     

  • Draw out both the rational and emotional responses and experiences of the participants.
     

  • Enable honesty. People who know that their responses will be accepted like everybody else’s feel free to say what they really think and feel. The experience of such honesty is often releasing, surprising, and refreshing.
     

What ToP can achieve

The ToP approach offers people a tried and tested methodology which they can adapt and apply in their own contexts to reach conclusions, make decisions and make plans in a way that engenders ownership and commitment amongst those involved. Examples of how ToP has changed organisations and communities include:
 

  • Contributing to a culture in which all voices are heard, opinions respected and where the appropriate level of participation is both considered and enacted
     

  • Increasing the rates of implementation of plans by involving the implementers of the plan in the process from the outset and establishing clear follow-up processes
     

  • Developing greater motivation, commitment and responsibility amongst community/ organisation/team members
     

  • Building cohesiveness in a diverse groups by including all perspectives and finding common ground between them
     

Core ToP methods

 

  1. The Focused Conversation Method
     

This is designed to maximize the participation of everyone in the group and to bring people out at a new place of awareness at its conclusion. The method provides a structure for any conversation, using a model of human behaviour which describes how human beings go through a process of gathering information (through their senses), reacting to it (through emotions), analysing the situation (using the head) and then deciding what to do (action).

A facilitator begins by asking questions that elicit what is known—the data—about the topic to be discussed. The questions then invite people to share their initial reactions to that data, both positive and negative, as well as past experiences and associations that may bear on it. Following this, the questions turn to a consideration of alternative ways to interpret or respond to the data. The final questions allow either individuals or a group as a whole to make a decision about how they will in fact relate or respond to the topic.

 

The acronym for this model of human consciousness or life process is ORID—standing for Objective, Reflective, Interpretive and Decisional levels. This model runs through all the ToP methods, providing both a framework for design and a set of practical methods for engaging groups.

 

References:

The Art of Focused Conversation (1997), Brian Stanfield (Ed.), ICA Canada

The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools (2001), Jo Nelson, ICA Canada

     2. The Consensus Workshop Method
 

This method helps a group form a working consensus, discovering and creating the common ground it needs in order to move ahead. It asks a question that invites multiple, diverse answers, and then works with the group to reach agreement.

 

The five-step process begins by developing the Context for asking and answering this question. People then Brainstorm individual answers to the question, share these in small teams and select a certain number to put before the whole group. These are written on cards, posted at the front of the room and grouped into Clusters of related items. The clusters then catalyze a conversation about what to Name each of them that provides an agreed upon answer to the workshop question. When all the clusters have been named, the facilitator leads the group in a conversation that confirms its Resolve through reflecting together on the experience of reaching this common ground, its significance and the appropriate next steps.

 

Reference:

The Workshop Book (2002), Brian Stanfield, ICA Canada

      3.  Action Planning and Participatory Strategic Planning

These processes help organizations undertake shorter term projects as well as longer range strategic initiatives. Both begin by creating a shared, positive vision of the group’s hopes and desired outcomes (Practical Vision), then look at the obstacles to the realization of that vision (Underlying Contradictions), identify a range of possible actions to deal with these(Strategic Directions) and conclude with a calendar of accomplishments, assignments and specific next steps for implementing the plans (Focused Implementation). Both methods also incorporate forms of the Consensus Workshop and Focused Conversation in their process.

 

Reference:

Transformational Strategy: Facilitation of ToP Participatory Planning (2013), Bill Staples, i-Universe, Bloomington

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