For facilitators navigating the waters of social change, a community of fellow practitioners is a port in a storm. The Annual Gathering organized by the ToP Network is the premier event for established members and curious newcomers alike to learn about, be inspired by, and build community around our Technology of Participation (ToP) methods. From January 11 through 13 of 2020, the 29th Gathering in Walnut Creek, CA explored the theme “Waves of Change” as a metaphor for the dynamic times in which we live and the questions we each face today.
Learning was abundant at the Gathering with 24 unique breakout sessions designed and led by experience facilitators. Workshops such as Using ToP with Liberating Structures and Mash Up: Design Thinking and ToP explored integrated approaches between ToP and other methods. Sessions on Dabbling in the Data and Simplifying Change Management shared skills for practical skills for common applications. The Urgency of the Climate Crisis, Creating a Unified Voice for the Opioid Crisis, and Advancing the Strategic Prevention Framework applied participatory methods to social issues.
For those seeking deeper learning, five rare courses were offered in the days after the gathering, including Designing for Change, Facilitation Graphics, and Making Data Dance.
Inspiration was the driver of the Social Impact sessions, which debuted at the 2020 Gathering and consisted of four simultaneous conversations on youth development, climate action, community development, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Participants in each breakout group used the Wave Metaphor method to examine what is on the horizon, still emerging, already established, or disappearing within each issue. Beneath each wave ran an undertow of “deep patterns which cause trouble, even in the midst of success.” Successes were documented in the form of participatory projects and groups addressing the issue written as many leaves on a tree.
Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board, California SNAP-Ed Program, and Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Head Start Early Learning Division were recognized at the Gathering as ToP Champions for their “remarkable achievements in the arenas of participatory facilitation and training.”
Community was at the heart of the Gathering, anchored by opening and closing plenary sessions that explored the depths of what it means to be a facilitator, both individually and collectively. Gathering organizers Robert Quintana Hopkins and Laura Johansson led an opening session on Significant Collective and Individual Shifts Over Time for the ToP community. Veteran ToP facilitators John Epps, Dennis Jennings, Marilyn Oyler, and Mary Flanagan set the context through the story of the ICA, which developed ToP methods throughout more than 60 years of community development around the world. Participants in the plenary then shared their own stories and insights through three rounds of conversation on personal identity, their involvement with ToP, and their facilitation journey. Robert closed by asking the group to consider: “What do we want to carry through our three days together related to what our times are asking of us individually and collectively?”
After sitting with that question through the three days of the Gathering, the closing plenary began with personal reflection leading to the question “Who am I called to be?” Participants then discussed their answers at their tables, sparking inspiration to write collaborative haiku poems answering “Who are we called to be?”
Change through disruption
youth, climate, and equity
healing our planet
Riding waves of change
profound respect as our guide
a new world awaits
we are here for change
Structure provides well
for creative and diverse