ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP)

ToP Facilitation on twitterICA’s Technology of Participation is an integrated set of facilitation methods, tools and approaches that foster authentic participation and meaningful collaboration. From rural villages to global corporations, people want to participate in making choices that affect their lives. We want our efforts to make a difference in the world. Changing expectations are morphing the hierarchical triangle into a circle. Leaders of the future will foster authentic participation.

Collaborative Approaches

Individualistic and hierarchical styles of leadership are giving way to meaningful participation in organizational planning and decision-making. Direct involvement in problem solving, planning and decision making is rapidly becoming the dominant mode in group decision making. More responsibility is being placed in the hands of those directly affected and involved by decisions made in organizations and communities. The important work in organizations is done in groups. New forms of facilitative leadership are emerging that are oriented to getting input from people, helping groups solve problems, leading planning sessions and making collaborative decisions. Leaders are being called upon to engage people in a more collaborative way

Facilitative Leadership

top-2A new style of facilitative leadership is emerging with understanding of group processes and facilitation skills as core competencies. Facilitation is about “making it easy.” ‘Facile’ means ‘to make easy’ in Latin. Facilitators help people work together, get results and grow as groups. The group focuses on the “what” – the content, concerns, issues and ideas. The group applies its knowledge and expertise to develop solutions. Facilitators focus on the “how” by guiding the group in discussion, problem solving and planning. Facilitators are professionally neutral. Like orchestra conductors, they elicit the best from the individual players, but they do not play an instrument.

ToP Facilitation

Over the past 40 years of work in communities, organizations and classrooms, The Institute of Cultural Affairs – ICA, has responded to this need by developing a suite of methods that enable groups to maximize meaningfully engagement. Through practical action research and applied learning, ICA has created practical tools that enable groups to think and plan together effectively. Nonprofit organizations, government agencies, businesses, professional associations and communities around the world use ICA’s ToP programs and methods.

These methods, Technology of Participation – ToP, have been developed to help groups think, talk and work together. They provide group facilitators with structured methods. This approach enables people to actively create and participate in the changes that affect them – in their own lives, in their groups, teams and organisations, and in their communities and societies.

top-1ToP methods enable participation all the way from the initial brainstorm to the final statement of consensus. This approach to group work helps people work together and develop team spirit. ToP facilitators use collaborative methods to spark creative solutions and breakthrough strategies. Through surfacing diverse perspectives and using questions to guide an open inquiry, groups are able to form ideas.

They engage participants in ways that lead to genuine commitment. When people contribute their own ideas, they make a commitment to them in ways they do not when ideas are handed to them. The emphasis is on realistic plans that ensure the strategies, plans and decisions are implemented.

ToP facilitation enables people to review and reflect on their experience to deepen organizational knowledge. ToP methods enable groups to focus on an often neglected part of the cycle that build new insight into the organization’s operating memory.

ICAs around the world use ToP facilitation methods in their work with communities and organizations. Each community development project begins with an application of ToP strategic planning methods involving community citizens and those related to the community and its interests. As a project is implemented, ToP facilitation methodology is used for meetings, planning, problem solving and assessing its impact. Organizations call upon ICA facilitators when they know they need expertise to design and facilitate a process that will enable them to achieve their meeting objectives. Many ICAs also offer training in ToP facilitation and have a schedule of publicly available courses. ICA has identified a comprehensive set of competencies for ToP facilitators and provides ToP Certification for those who demonstrate competence in those skills.


Online bookings are available for regularly scheduled public ToP training courses in countries including Australia, Canada, Taiwan, UK, Ukraine & USA.  Other ICAs also offer public courses, and in-house courses on request.

For ToP training near you see also ICA Worldwide or contact us.