The ToP Network: A Facilitation Treasure

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I spent January 9-13 at the annual ToP (Technology of Participation) Gathering, held this year at the new and fantastic Wooley’s Classic Suites in Aurora, CO. Approximately 80 facilitation professionals shared best practices, provided training on new methods, and attended to the business of the organization.

ToP is a rich collection of facilitation methods and tools developed over 40+ years, originally in support of the work of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA). ToP methods have been proven and continuously improved through thousands of engagements, across many cultures and domains. The ToP Network is an organization of ToP facilitators and trainers, aimed at professional development, growing the number and capabilities of ToP practitioners, and improving methods through application and collaboration.

This was my first Gathering and, compared with many other professional conferences I’ve attended, it was a breath of fresh air. I and other new members were warmly welcomed into the group, and I immediately felt at home.

There were many high points of my time at the Gathering, and many inspiring moments. But perhaps the strongest realization I had while there was the TREASURE that this organization is to the art and practice of facilitation. Many of the members are long-time ICA associates with decades of diverse facilitation experience, helping to drive social change and cultural development in the US and abroad… some who have been applying these methods for 30 or even 40 years. I often say that there is no substitute for “scar tissue”… and there was a VAST amount of it present. It’s really quite extraordinary to find a community of practice with both this depth of experience, and the willingness to openly share knowledge and develop others. I believe this is consistent with the core principles and history of the ICA, and it benefits everyone who participates.

I collected many gems of wisdom during small group sessions and one-on-one conversations, and I’m excited to apply them in my work going forward.

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