Brilliant Facilitation Tools for Reflective Thinking & Problem Solving


I took my first ToP class in December 1995. Over the last 24 years, it has revolutionized my life, my closest relationships, my facilitation practice and my business. I am deeply grateful to the pioneers of ToP for having systematized processes that I use on a daily basis as reflective thinking and problem-solving tools, and more importantly in my work with all kinds of groups and situations.

Today again, I honor all things ToP. Including the many, many tools that are part of the ToP suite of tools – some you’ve likely never heard about. I’ll share a tiny bit about the underlying concepts behind ToP, and finally the famous ToP sticky wall. Our musical video, 50 Ways to Create Sticky Wall WOW, we hope, will delight your senses.

A Brief History of My Journey with ToP and ICA Colleagues Around the Globe

There are two phrases that mean everything to me when I think of ToP methods: Profound respect and inclusive participation.

My first encounter with ToP actually was through the Institute of Cultural Affairs Canada, now known as ICA Associates ( Duncan Holmes was my first ToP trainer and I was so stunned with that first course, I practically made a fool of myself jabbering at him during and after the course. I had been waiting for some structure or a framework upon which to base my own facilitation work I had been doing for 15 years. I had tried lots of things – sometimes successful, sometimes not because I did not have a structure to follow. I instantly recognized and valued the structure behind ToP methods because I had been facilitating some very tough big jobs. Done well, ToP methods work every time because they follow the natural way people think – in any culture or place more or less. I signed up almost immediately for ICA Canada’s pilot 2-3 year ICA Associate facilitator program and picked Bill Staples as my mentor. Bill was enormously patient and thorough in his mentoring. I subsequently met and worked with Jo and Wayne Nelson, Brian and Jeanette Stanfield and John Miller of ICA Associates. With these wonderful mentors, I learned:

  • how to combine and adapt at least 30 different tools to produce stellar agenda designs;
  • the depth of spirit, philosophy and creativity behind the methods;
  • how to use the methods to analyze global and societal trends;
  • about the layers of collaborative leadership and profound respect embedded in the methods;
  • how to teach the methods using the latest in neuroscience knowledge to help learners retain them.

Every time I sought a novel way around a problem, ICA Canada staff had an elegant answer for me or they worked with me to find a solution. When I moved to the USA in 2002, my ICA and ToP mentors Gordon Harper, Judy Weddle, George and Elise Packard, Eunice Shankland and many other ToP Network colleagues taught me new methods and new ways of using and teaching the methods. My Asian colleagues Laura Hsu, Lilian Wang, Yvonne Yam and Seow Bee Leng in particular have shown me new creative ways of displaying ToP methods on the sticky wall.

ToP Tools – Familiar and Unfamiliar

ICA has developed brilliant – yes BRILLIANT (not another word for it) methods and tools. You may have heard of the most popular methods offered in their foundational courses:

  • ToP Consensus Workshop
  • Focused Conversation Method
  • ToP Action Planning (project planning)

In addition, ToP trainers around the world offer courses on these and many more:

  • Accelerated Action Planning
  • Participatory Strategic Planning
  • Mapping the Organizational Journey (mapping organizational culture tool)
  • Social Process Triangles (mapping trends, strengths and deficiencies in communities, organizations)
  • Frameworking (mapping levels of involvement of various stakeholders)
  • Environmental Wave Trends Analysis
  • Wall of Wonder Timelining (Historical Scan)
  • ToP adapted Creativity and Innovation tools
  • ToP framework for conciliation
  • Secrets of Implementation
  • Story, Song, Symbol workshop (for team building and celebration)
  • The Power of Image Shift (Understanding the internal images out of which organizations operate)

The list goes on and on….

We’ve given you a few links to check out below. Suffice to say if you can embrace ToP as your core methodology, you will be deeply and richly rewarded and learn new things for the rest of your life.

Finally, the sticky wall

The sticky wall was also invented by ToP pioneers about 15-20 years ago. A word of caution to those with allergies or sensitivities: the sticky wall is sprayed with repositioning spray – a type of aerosol glue. You must be very careful to spray your wall outdoors and with proper facial protection. Wrap your sticky wall in a plastic bag between uses to minimize the amount you need to spray. My walls typically only need respraying after 20-30 uses or every 6-12 months. You can use alternatives like tape loops and half sheets of paper.

We have made a wonderful video of the ToP sticky wall. We combed through our photos of ways we and other colleagues have used the sticky wall to showcase ToP and other facilitation methods (many listed above). You may be astonished at the range of uses, the beauty, color and structure that can make any process come alive with a sticky wall.



ToP Training
ToP Facilitation Methods
ToP Strategic Planning
ToP Approaches to Environmental Planning
For all ToP Training in the U.S., go here.

ICA Sites

Join the USA ToP Network to keep learning and growing with a vibrant community of facilitators and trainers:

Order Sticky Walls from:
Partners in Participation
Or, make your own from rip stock nylon.

Other Resources on Sticky Walls:
Blog: Sticky Wall Care
How to Perfect the Sticky Wall Facilitation Tool

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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