• Partners In Participation, LLC
  • 4208 N 25th Street
  • Phoenix, AZ 85016
  • o: 602-468-0605
  • m: 602-460-8843
  • f: 602-374-7263
  • Email
    • Connect With Us

Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

A Partners Perspective: It’s the Network we are a Part of with ToP.

Posted on: October 20th, 2014 by admin No Comments

by Jim Wiegel

Gathering of ToP Practitioners in Guatemala in 2004

Gathering of ToP Practitioners in Guatemala in 2004

“I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes.  We convince by our presence.”

This line, from the American poet, Walt Whitman, was used by a ToP colleague here in Arizona, as part of what he called a “Facilitator’s Invocation”, seeking to express the spirit in which we do our work with groups.

Sometimes, . . . no, often, I experience this work we do of assisting groups of people to engage with one another more energetically, more productively,  as slow work.  As watching grass grow.

In the midst of a facilitation, as well right before and right after the pace of the work is brisk — arranging the tables, checking the snacks, pacing the questions, moving half sheets around, orchestrating small groups, checking in with the champion who hired you, report outs, reflections.  Sometimes very brisk.  For example, on a rainy Thursday, halfway through a day long planning on a thorny and contentious issue with the contending players in the room, someone checked their iPhone and announced, “the river is coming to a flood stage and the bridge is being closed in an hour.”  Suddenly we had 20 minutes left of a full afternoon.  And it worked.  The 30 plus people in the room responded, and worked it through.

That was brisk.

What made that possible?  Well, in the morning, we’d done introductions, the room was set so everyone could see everyone, small groups had worked to identify the full range of issues and we had organized and prioritized them.  The folks who came in protest were being heard and engaged.  The folks with hard data were sharing it.  Because of what had happened, the champion who had hired me (herself a ToP practitioner) was confident.  The board chair was confident.  The participants around the table were confident (and also worried about getting home that night).  The facilitator (yours truly) was a bit uncertain in the moment which actually seemed to further increase the level of confidence in the room.  So, in twenty minutes we walked out of the room with the decision written out on a flip chart and duly photo documented.

A strange, but recognizable, band we are; ToP Facilitators. Spread across the country and the world, we are always eager for one more conversation to fine tune the agenda, to make sure the questions are just right.  We tell the venue to raise up the projection screen and replace it with a bold sticky wall.  We spend extra time setting the room, moving the tables closer so participants can see the cards on the wall as well as each other. We come with good dark markers and a stack of half sheets. We work in teams. We get the participants talking right away. The sessions we facilitate have a characteristic flow (ORID). We smile when participants tell us how well the session is going.

Mostly, we facilitate events — meetings, retreats, gatherings, etc.  The champions among us, the CEO’s, department heads, board chairs, team leaders, members of leadership teams are also risking to make this higher level of participation present and effective in the day to day, all the while balancing the complexities of organizational life and levels as they go.

Who are we here in Arizona and the Southwest? There are about 600 of us using ToP methods and values around the state. It is hard to keep count. According to the latest informal review 30% of us met ToP in the last 3-4 years, another 30% go back a decade or more and about 10% have been using ToP since the last century!  About 70% of us use ToP as part of our job; over 50% of us use ToP in multiple aspects of our lives (work, community, family, etc.). Many of us are ToP champions who are integrating these methods and values in our organizations, teams and departments and recommending them to others whether or not we are the ones who facilitate.

To break it down more exactly, within this sample 40% of us identified as consultants / facilitators while 16% as organizational leaders. We operate across all facets of society with 10% business, 10% education, 20% government, 20% non-profit, and 31% ‘multiple sector’ identified.

When asked what are the most evident results we produce, top answers included:

  1.  The Topics and issues addressed are being dealt with
  2.  The Systems  or teams we work with are more focused on results
  3. There is a Greater sense of active collaboration with both internal and external stakeholders

And this work goes on all over this state with particular mentions of  Bisbee, Bullhead City, Chinle, Coolidge, Flagstaff, Glendale, Globe, Goodyear, Kayenta, Kykotsmovi, Mesa, Phoenix, Prescott, Safford, San Luis, Scottsdale, Show Low, Supai, Tempe, Tolleson, Tuba City, Tucson, Williams, Winslow and Yuma.

This network is one of my greatest professional rewards. Through it I have built a sense of planetary reach, connecting with people all over the country and world dedicated to the same values and using the same methods. It also exposes me to hidden treasures, helping me discover wonderful treasureable things happening when I take the time to ask. And I am always delighted by the wiliness of our champions, the great people who hire us their cleverness as they engage me to the circumstances that occasion positive change.

Practitioner Profile: Terri Sue Rossi talks about using ToP in Public Participation.

Posted on: October 18th, 2014 by admin No Comments

by Alisa Oyler


Terri Sue RossiTerri Sue Rossi knows the ebbs and flows of public participation. Working for almost three decades in the highly contentious water industry, she has seen efforts involving a diverse array of invested stakeholders stutter under the weight of politics, hidden agendas and benign neglect. She’s also seen the cloak of a highly technical industry lose the human story to the weeds of mathematical equations. In increasingly ambitious efforts to effectively engage the public and key stakeholders in these big tricky questions of water management, Terri Sue was part of a team that used ToP methods, alongside complementary long term strategic planning tools, to build relationships, agreements, working networks and trust that the process would generate results. Ultimately, this culminated in a unanimously approved Summary of Emerging Consensus after two years.   Terri Sue is now exploring other ways to merge ToP methods with Public Participation efforts. Related to this, she is providing leadership in a task force working to bring the ToP Facilitators Network Annual Gathering to Phoenix in January of 2016!

Read more about Terri Sue’s facilitation work and ambitions for the ToP Network in Arizona in her interview here.

How did you first become exposed to facilitation and top methods?

“My first glimpse of ToP methods was at the 2004 International Association of Facilitators Annual Conference. I took the GFM [Group Facilitation Methods course] from the Canadians! My first exposure to facilitation was being selected as one of ten people to serve as internal facilitators at CAP [Central Arizona Project]. We went through an internal training program and started facilitating internally. I also used my new facilitation skills for the public participation element in policy development projects.”

When have you seen a need for facilitation?

“The need for facilitation is everywhere. Even in a technical field like the water industry where I work, at the root of every problem or solution is human decision making. In my field, we are super good at disguising our human stories in mathematical equations. Whether we describe our problems and our solutions with words or numbers, if human beings are involved, facilitation is needed.”

Can you share a story of a time when facilitation or ToP methods really aided in moving a group?

“My organization used ToP methods extensively in a massive public participation project called ADD Water. This roughly 100 member group met from May of 2008 through March of 2010. They produced numerous intermediate products using customized ToP methods moving from small to large groups and back again. These products ultimately culminated into a single Summary of Emerging Consensus that included over 90 points of agreement. Several key participants advocated the approval of the Summary before our governing board and the Summary was unanimously approved.”

What would you like to see advance in the field of facilitation and / or in the Arizona ToP network locally?

“I would like to see ToP methods incorporated into the decision making structure developed by the International Association of Public Participation or IAP2. To me the IAP2 structure is the golden standard for excellent public participation. IAP2 is not intended to be a facilitation practice. The IAP2 methodology would be more effective if highly disciplined facilitation techniques were used to support the structure.”

What do you see as your unique contribution or your niche?

“My niche is creating facilitation designs that allow people to solve their own problems. My goal is for the participants to own their problems and solutions so much that they forget I was even there. I consider it a failure if they thank me at the end of the day. I am less interested in substantive outcome and more interested in helping people see their reality with all of its glory and awfulness so they can make decisions in their lives that will move them from where ever they are to some place better.”

What are you most excited about when you think about what is happening with facilitation here in Arizona? What would you like others to know about?

“I am excited about bringing the ToP Network Annual Gathering to Arizona in 2016. We are heading to a point of convergence where human beings are demanding more involvement in decisions affecting their lives. I am looking forward to the Arizona ToP community, integrating with other facilitation and public participation practices, to explode onto the scene serving all voices in our communities.”


Terri Sue Rossi specializes in policy development, strategic, long-range and business planning. She is trained in the Technology of Participation® (ToP®), Balanced Scorecard and American Management Association strategic planning method. Terri Sue prepared business plans for Central Arizona Project from 2001 to 2008. All were honored with the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Award. Terri Sue was also published in GFOA’s Government Finance Review. Terri Sue holds a Master of Arts degree from Rutgers University in Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arizona in Communication with a minor in renewable natural resources.

Blast from the Past: Thinking Globally and Acting Locally ~ ICA West’s IToPToT Experience

Posted on: October 15th, 2014 by admin No Comments

by John Oyler

It started in conversations I had with representatives from Japan, Kenya, Egypt and India at the ICA Int’l General Assembly in Lonavela, India

in 1994 about how to help national ICA’s build the capacity to teach ToP courses and develop national training systems.  In l995, thanks to an enormous leap of faith on the part of my colleagues in ICA West we hosted in Phoenix the first of six 6-week events with those aims.  These International TOP Training of Trainers events were held every other year, averaging 18 participants from 12 countries each.

Participants experienced and learned how to teach the foundational ToP Facilitation (TFM) course, experienced additional advanced courses, went home with an armful of manuals and materials to translate and adapt to their language and country context, and an initial action plan to

develop a local delivery system.  They visited places and organizations around Az and the west, actively using ToP, and teamed up to teach courses set up by our colleagues and partner organizations.

Every event was a massive collective effort, in which all of Partners in Participation’s (then ICA’s) Phoenix-based associates were deeply involved, as well as many other staff and colleagues.  To cite just one example, imagine the logistics of pulling off six simultaneous GFM courses in six different cities, each training team with a mentor and their own packet of materials and each participant/trainer in their own state of mental anxiety. 

Visas could be a nightmare: two full-time volunteer cooks were required; each participant was hosted in homes in the neighborhood; health issues needed to be dealt with, etc.  By the end of six weeks, everyone was as exhausted as they were exhilarated.

Participants paid their own way to and from Phoenix, staff participation was almost all volunteer and there was a lot of in-kind support.  Nevertheless, direct costs of transportation, food, materials etc. amounted to about $30,000.per event. I will always be amazed that nearly all of this was covered through donations of colleagues across the west–another aspect of the collective effort.

At the September Community of Practice session, my memory was jogged by an unexpected comment about the power of the closing

cultural celebrations with performances and food from each nation represented.  They were like a cementing of the, sometimes lifelong, connections and friendships formed over the six weeks.  Included here are group photos of the six cohorts.  If you hosted a participant, were visited by a team, set up a practice course or participated in one or played a volunteer role in one or another year, see if you can spot someone you remember and know that your contributions were deeply appreciated.

The ICA’s around the world that were started or bolstered as a result of these events are almost all still going strong

today. They have graduated ToP facilitators in countries on almost every continent and are continuing to equip and advocate for the active participation of communities and individuals in the decisions that impact them. Many have shared with us since then that it was that spirit of collective effort in the Phoenix IToP events that has often inspired and sustained them in their own work.

A short video about the 2005 IToP group created by Tom Elliott.

Opportunities with ToP and Public Health

Posted on: September 28th, 2014 by admin No Comments

By Marilyn Oyler

I’m excited to share with you some of the new efforts that are taking place in the ToP Network regarding the work of Public Health professionals! The ToP Network is a national independent nonprofit professional association of facilitators and trainers who use ToP methods DSC04278in their work. The ToP Network launched the Public Health in ToP (PHiT) task force in 2010 to deepen the effectiveness of the methods throughout the sector and create opportunities for cross-learning among practitioners, many of whom have been using ToP methods in the Health sector for more than ten years. This national PHiT task force is doing ongoing work in many arenas, including hosting focus groups, arranging continuing education credits, connecting ToP and Health Evaluation and using ToP in Health Department accreditation.

This month the ToP Network is hosting Focus Groups in 10 cities across the US to explore opportunities to work together even more closely. Practical suggestions from this group and the other focus groups across the country will be compiled to provide ideas for new courses and support activities for ToP in Public Health. (See the invitation below to join the Arizona Focus Group)

The ToP Network has also made it possible for Community Health Educators to receive continuing education credits for their participation in ToP Facilitation Methods training. Contact me to get your special Certificate of Completion for CHES participants.

Another exciting new focus has emerged within the PHiT Team. On Wednesday, July 16, the Evaluation Team met virtually to discover the possibilities for linking ToP methods and tools to the work of public health evaluation activities. Some lively conversation ensued, including how developmental evaluation relates to logic models and the emerging work around collective impact. Other health professionals are initiating an online conversation in how you can utilize ToP methods in accreditation.

You would be welcome to join any of these teams. Email me to let me know if and how you would like to become a part of the conversation.


You’re Invited! Public Health Professionals Luncheon Oct 13th.

PHiT imageDo you work in the field of Public Health? Are you interested in how professional facilitation practices can support Public Health initiatives moving forward? Do you have some familiarity with ToP methods? Won’t you join us for a luncheon Monday, Oct 13th at noon?


We’ll bring the lunch!


You are invited to participate in an effort to explore the opportunities available to develop some ToP training specifically designed for public health professionals in areas such as facilitating meaningful meetings, public forums and community health assessments, planning events and many others. The ToP Network is hosting Focus Groups in 10 cities to see how we can best support your work as public health professionals. We would like to engage your assistance with 1 hour of your time.

When:  Monday, Oct 13th at 12 noon

Where: 14th floor at  Maricopa County Dept. Public Health, 4041 Central Plaza, Tower Suite, Phoenix AZ  85012 (This is the South East corner of Indian School & Central Avenue.) Ask for the training room.

Parking: Parking is available in the visitor parking garage off of 2nd Street. DO NOT park in the IRS parking lot.  IF the visitor section is full, proceed to the upper levels. Please do not park in any space that says “Reserved Parking”.  Bring your Visitor Parking ticket with you for validation.

Please click here to RSVP or phone Marilyn Oyler at 602-468-0605.

A book study of “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Lalaoux

Posted on: September 27th, 2014 by admin No Comments

By James Wiegel

reinventing organizations book jacketA big part of what we do as ToP facilitators is to create the events, meetings, planning retreats, summits, annual gatherings, even short conversations that engage a group of people significantly with some question or task they are facing and then help them come to a conclusion or way forward. Often, the key to success is the courage and conviction of the person who hires us to make this happen and to trust us and our beloved ToP methods to craft a compelling and effective process. As facilitators, we have support, guidance and resources – courses, websites full of tools and methods, our community of practice, the ToP Network, associations, books, etc. Those who hire us, I will call them ‘champions’, however, seem to have far less targeted support and resources available to them. Yet, each of us can tell stories and cite cases where these champions – team leaders, department managers, organizational leaders, and community care takers – were essential in making participation work. Perhaps they used an outside facilitator / facilitated themselves / developed their own in house facilitators, or simply built spirit and momentum around a task or mission to produce results. This is always exciting to see.   Yet, too often we also find ourselves in a situation when a new leader comes in and it all falls apart, or the board changes and participation goes out the window. We have also heard the stories from fellow in-house facilitators and the complexities they face in actually applying, in the day to day of their organizations, these participatory methods of conversation, decision making, and planning. Sometimes being a ToP practitioner who has their own business, gets hired, goes in and makes the methods magic then leaves to look for the next client can feel absent of some of the deeper organizational transformational challenges and opportunities.

Along comes the book, Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. Laloux, who is Belgian, looked around and found a dozen or so examples of organizations that were different. Organizations who were successful over time installing describable practices, structures and ways of operating that support and sustain a higher level of functioning as an organization (in ToP we would say a higher level of participation, Laloux uses the language of integral leadership, talking about a “teal” organization ~ read the book to find out what THAT is). The book is worth a read and a study which is what we did. We organized a group via Free Conference Call that included folks from across the US, Canada, and Asia in weekly calls. Google the book. Browse the simple website we used https://wedgeblade.net/wordpress/studygroup/

31 people showed interest in our study group and 7 – 10 were active over several months. The book describes in practical terms (structures, Book Charting sheetpractices, established policies and roles) a different way of operating as an organization, one that treats the organization and its connections as a living system and encourages and supports self-management over heirarchical control. Key concepts include bringing the whole self to work and listening to evolutionary purpose. Two of my take aways from the study:

  • The desire to learn everything possible about these amazing companies and the possibilities for the future,  not only of companies themselves but of society in general.
  • The “Teal” lens. I am interim chair of a board for a nonprofit organization. I started trying to see the operation of this organization through the teal lens. It helped me grow more comfortable about some of the operations and shift my focus to areas where it fails to support the mission. The study makes me think about this organization in a different way.

Overall this experience calls forth a challenge to us as facilitators. Lets think about the managers, team leaders, organizational leaders who hire us, and how we can support them not just in moments of effective participation, but also in installing practices, procedures, and, yes, even legal structures that help to sustain more effective levels of interaction and help ToP and the sort of momentum these methods can release to take root and grow strong.


Two new videos sharing Technology of Participation courses!

Posted on: June 19th, 2012 by admin No Comments

Often, when we deliver training in the Technology of Participation methods new graduates will comment on how their expectations have shifted.  Many will say that though they have worked in dialogue and facilitation for years, it wasn’t until they were able to see and take part in the Technology of Participation that their sense of what is involved in the role changed.  In the spirit of inspiring the imagination about ToP courses, Partners have been involved in an effort to create two videos that give a quick taste of some of what you could expect to see and take part in in both the foundational course in ToP Facilitation Methods (http://partnersinparticipation.com/?page_id=48) as well the year-long Mastering the Technology of Participation professional training (http://partnersinparticipation.com/?page_id=55).

Please take a moment to glance at one or both of the videos, and share them with friends and colleagues who you think might have an interest in exploring these excellent professional development opportunities.

Mapping Community Resources at the Community of Practice

Posted on: May 8th, 2012 by admin No Comments

On May 4, 2012, John Oyler showed us a quick and highly participatory process for mapping community resources in the public, private, voluntary, and informal sectors. There are two parts to the process: the “Community Resources Inventory” and the “Circles of Involvement.”

This tool can be used with any community initiative. We used it in a fun and timely simulation (Get Out The Vote!) to demonstrate the process.

This tool has been used successfully with the community impact events of AARP across the nation; with community teams connected to the Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development; within communities in the Arizona Communities for All Ages initiative; by member agencies of the National Network for Youth; as well as international relief work in Haiti and Afghanistan.

Here are two handouts and the photos from the event on Friday. In addition there are a couple of photos from the international events.

Charting the Given Realities  and  Community Action Plan

Mapping Community Resources

Deepen & Develop ToP Skills

Posted on: March 18th, 2012 by admin No Comments

Check out this video on the ToP Mastery series. Linda Alton and Marilyn Oyler explain all the components in an easy, conversational style. Click here for the video.


Video production by Lynne Larsen, Videographer, Creating Video Memories One Frame at a Time. (Dec 2011)

For more information and an application for the program, check the Mastering the Technology of Participation  on Training scroll down menu.

Holiday Open House

Posted on: December 9th, 2011 by admin No Comments

It is a cool, sunny morning here in Phoenix and all of us Partners in Participation Associates are preparing for two big events on Friday. Our new website is going live (a gift to all of you everywhere…) and we are hosting as many of you as can make it to our Holiday Open House. I have already narrowed down our 2011 Highlights slideshow to “only” 173 moments over this past year. Seeing again some of the faces we’ve worked with, some of the moments, the flip charts and cards on walls — just an overwhelming experience working with all of you. All these moments, tied with the amplifying voices in the news, from the Arab Spring, the Occupy Autumn makes us deeply excited to see what 2012 will bring. We look forward to this coming year with you. We’ve called 2011 a year of “Releasing Human Creativity”. Take a peek.

2011 Highlights Partners in Participation

Happy Holidays!
Alisa, Angelica, Courtney, Jim, John, Joaquina, Marilyn, Raul and Tracy

Website design and development by Keri Christian – Freelance Web/Graphic Designer.