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Technology of Participation (ToP)

Technology of Participation (ToP®) is a collection of highly practical group facilitation methods developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA). 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.

The ToP methods grew out of ICA’s work in community and organizational development around the world. ICA developed and tested the initial forms of these processes in the early 1960s in a new style of self-help community development called the Fifth City Project on the West Side of Chicago.

The Technology of Participation (ToP)® is…

  • A structured approach that sparks individual creativity and recognizes and honors all contributions
  • A way for teams to deal with large amounts of data in a short period of time
  • A methodology that pools participant’s contributions into larger and information rich patterns, tools and processes that enable teams to foster an emphasis on common ground and to deal effectively with diversity and avoid conflict and polarization
  • A process that builds commitment by assuring effective action
  • A world renowned approach that enables strong participation in large as well as small groups

ToP consists of four methods:  Focused Conversation, Consensus Workshop, Action Planning and Participatory Strategic Planning. Focused Conversation helps a facilitator maintain a conversational focus on a topic while personally remaining content-neutral. It is designed to maximize every group member’s participation and to bring all participants to a new level of awareness about the topic at hand.  The Consensus Workshop method helps groups form a working consensus, discovering and creating the common ground needed to move ahead.  Participatory Strategic Planning helps organizations undertake longer-range strategic initiatives, and the Action Planning method provides a process for shorter-term project, event and campaign planning.

ToP® is the registered trademark of the Institute of Cultural Affairs, www.ica-usa.org.

ToP Facilitation Methods

ToP Facilitation Methods are practical tools for fostering highly energized, productive, inclusive, and meaningful group participation. ToP Facilitation Methods are effective in an infinite number of situations. Used alone or creatively combined and adapted, they serve as powerful tools for groups to think and work together in innovative and productive  ways. The methods can be scaled to work with virtually any size group,  from one to hundreds. 2 days. (In some locations, a third day  gives additional time for questions and practice.)

The Focused Conversation Method

This tool enables you to:

  • Conduct purposeful discussions
  • Probe beneath the surface to the depth of a topic
  • Surface new ideas and solutions
  • Deepen understanding of diverse perspectives
  • Stimulate candid feedback

The Consensus Workshop Method

Using this tool enables you to:

  • Easily capture a group’s best thinking
  • Tap rational and intuitive thought processes
  • Integrate diverse ideas, thus resolving turf wars, divided camps, and other unproductive group dynamics
  • Generate practical and creative solutions
  • Level the playing field
  • Hear every voice
  • Develop a strong consensus
  • Provide forum for people to understand each other

This method brings a group’s many diverse ideas into agreement and infuses the team with energy for action.

The Action Planning Process

This tool enables you to:

  • Visualize and articulate a successful result
  • Analyze the current situation
  • Maximize involvement and solidify commitment
  • Create clear forms of accountability
  • Develop an action timeline
  • Allow a group’s self-motivation to take over

Using both the Focused Conversation and the Consensus Workshop, this process takes a group from an idea for an event, project, or campaign to a detailed plan of action with a timeline and task assignments.

ToP Strategic Planning

ToP Facilitation Methods is a prerequisite for this course. The ToP Strategic Planning process builds on your learning from the ToP Facilitation Methods course, showing you how to weave those methods into  an integrated approach to strategic planning. The resulting plan is realistic, achievable, and easy to monitor.

Here are some additional details from Peggy Holman, Tom Devane, and Steven Cady, co-editors of The Change Handbook:

To elicit participation of a group, organization, or community in creating a thoughtful discussion, consensus formation, or the collaborative creation of short-term or strategic plans.

• Create solutions that represent a group’s best thinking and which it will own
• Deeper understanding of and commitment to decisions and directions

When to Use:
• A group, organization, or community has a question or concern related to change and future action
• New strategies and focused directions are needed
• People need in-depth dialogue to allow them to operate with a common understanding and focus

When Not to Use:
• Severe and unyielding group conflict is present
• The outcome is predetermined
• Key stakeholders will not be present
• No leadership support for decisions the group might make

Number of Participants:
• 5–1,000

Types of Participants:
• Those directly involved in the issues or who will be affected by any solutions
• Those expected to support or implement any plans developed

Typical Duration:
• Preparation: 1–3 days
• Process: Typically 1–3 days
• Transition: Variable

Brief Example:
A 40-person state government department used ToP methods to restore communications and trust and to develop a vision and new direction. Some outcomes: new in-house facilitators helped sections develop goals and mission statements; assessment of staff needs resulted in computer and quality training; and the office restructured, folding many functions into other departments.

Historical Context:
Developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs in the 1960s and 1970s for change initiatives in different countries, especially community development and corporate strategic planning.

Resource Link:  www.ica-usa.org

A nice doc outlining the ToP methods and Top training is available (as of March 2012) at: http://www.ica-usa.org/resource/resmgr/ToP/ToP_Brochure_8-4-09.pdf

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