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Archive for October, 2014

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.

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