by Alisa Oyler
Terri 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.