Even in the dead of winter, the warm and vibrant New Orleans was a breath of fresh air. Among the oldest cities in the country, New Orleans has a rich history of diverse cultural influences that infuse it with a particular energy—not unlike the rich and diverse group of facilitators that assembled there for this year’s ToP Network Annual Gathering.
The ToP Network is a professional association of practitioners of the Technology of Participation (ToP), a facilitation method created by ICA. Our staff continue to participate in many of the ToP Network’s working groups, helping to develop the tools, techniques, resources available to facilitators.
Annual Gatherings are an exercise in community-building, an invitation for ToP facilitators across the nation and beyond to come together to share approaches and wisdom, learn about each other’s work, and participate in envisioning and making decisions about the future growth of the methods. That sense of community was centered during the opening session, as Ashé Cultural Arts Center melded the cultural history of New Orleans with the spirit of the visiting group through song and dance.
In the days before and after the core activities of the weekend, facilitators offered six special courses to their peers, including Facilitating Client Collaboration, Leading an Effective Meeting, and Making Data Dance. Over the weekend itself, more than 20 breakout sessions covered topics as various as philanthropy, collective impact, blogging, empathy, tribal healing practices, and a collaborative autoethnography of ToP.
On Sunday morning, the full group participated in mapping the assets of the community. Inspired by the language and ideas of ICA’s social process analysis, participants divided into five groups to consider the economic, political, social, and cultural development of the ToP community, as well as the capacity of the community to do its own development. Each group used principles such as “address the depth human problem” and “involve all the people” to inspire recommendations for the ToP Network.
The invocation of ICA concepts and values as guiding principles for the ToP Network, alongside the “Honoring Our Torchbearers” session, revealed a growing understanding of the shared history and values of ICA and the ToP Network. As we move into 2019, we will continue to work with the ToP Network to explore ways to leverage the immense assets of ToP to facilitate change.