ToP facilitation case study by Martin Gilbraith, ICA:UK Associate

“Participating retailers all agree on the need, and nearly all of them have expressed a desire to join a sector commitment. The focus of the workshop will be to agree a draft commitment that each company can sign onto.”


IDH is a Foundation that works with businesses, financiers, governments and civil society to realize sustainable trade in global value chains.

In June 2022, Amanda Penn of the IDH UK team had been working with the nine major UK retailers on measuring living wage gaps in their banana supply chains, and on a sector commitment to close those gaps. Following previous online workshops together during the pandemic, she sought a facilitator for a first in-person workshop in London, from around 11am-5pm one day in July, to engage the CSR officers of the nine retailers to agree a draft commitment.

She wrote that “Participating retailers all agree on the need, and nearly all of them have expressed a desire to join a sector commitment. The focus of the workshop will be to agree a draft commitment that each company can sign onto.”

Participants were to number around 15-20 in total, including a few IDH staff. The loft room ‘Nest 2’ had been booked for the day at Wallace Space St. Pancras.  Participants were invited to stay for drinks together after the workshop.


Following our initial meetings, the aims of the workshop were agreed to be as follows:

  • To reflect and learn together from our partnership building work to date, and each other’s experience of it, to improve process and co-ordination and clarify needs and expectations,
  • To draw on the draft commitment circulated in advance to agree key elements of a commitment that we hope each company can sign on to,
  • To take a transparent and energizing, interactive and co-operative approach that will build mutual trust, confidence and commitment in the way forward together.


For this assignment, I drew on the following of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) methods in particular:

The Focused Conversation method provides a structured, four-level process for effective communication which ensures that everyone in a group has the opportunity to participate.

The Consensus Workshop method is a five stage process that enables a facilitator to draw out and weave together everybody’s wisdom into a clear and practical consensus.

I arranged with Wallace Space to reserve the ground floor Locker & Rudder room in the same building in St Pancras, as an alternative to the loft room Nest 2 with its sloping walls, in order to allow vertical wall space for use with a ‘sticky wall’.

None of us were very used to meeting in person, due to two years of COVID restrictions, and it was far from clear that the pandemic was over. So I noted the COVID-19 protective measures in place at Wallace Space, and proposed some additional measures to reassure participants and encourage them to attend, and to further mitigate risks of infection.

These formed the basis of my subsequent blog post Mitigating COVID risks for in person and hybrid events.

Agenda & process

An outline agenda was agreed and circulated as follows:

11.00Arrivals & coffee – breakfast, coffee and informal workspace is available from 8am
11.15Opening – welcome & overview, introductions & expectations
11.45Learning from our experience – including accomplishments & challenges to date, and benefits & challenges ahead
13.30Crafting our commitment – drawing on the circulated draft to articulate “What are key elements of a Living Wage Commitment for Banana Supply Chains that we would like UK retailers to be able to agree?”
15.30Next steps – next steps, reflection & close.
-17.00Drinks – and informal networking

I used the ToP Focused Conversation method to structure the day as a whole, and to design the opening conversation and closing reflection – see Four steps to a universal principle of facilitation and learning.

I used the ToP Consensus Workshop method to articulate “What are key elements of a Living Wage Commitment for Banana Supply Chains that we would like UK retailers to be able to agree?”.

Critically, I invited participants to draw on the circulated draft commitment to identify elements that they would like retailers to be able to agree. For the purpose of consensus-building, I discouraged them from focusing on what they did not or could not agree, or what it would take for them to be able to agree. The former would be an unhelpful distraction, and the latter would be addressed under Next Steps and following the workshop.

To enable them to work most effectively together, I invited them to adopt the following working assumptions:

  • We are curious and open to learn
  • Everyone has wisdom, and we all need everyone’s wisdom for the wisest result
  • So we will listen with care to understand and speak with care to be understood
  • We will strive to ensure that our own participation does not exclude that of others
  • We will have difficult conversations with courage and compassion
  • We will respect each other’s time by being punctual and avoiding distractions
  • We will respect each other’s health by practicing COVID safety

Feedback and impact

Directly after the workshop, Amanda wrote “Anecdotally, everyone really enjoyed the facilitation and found it useful.”  Participants feedback included:

  • Facilitation was very effective
  • The activities were well designed and triggered really useful conversation at table and room level
  • I would say it met our aim to gain mutual trust and agreement on key elements
  • I think the key thing was to get agreement on the content of the commitment and a timeline for the next steps. Also just really helpful to get an idea of where others stand on this – easy to commit on a zoom call but much harder to maintain this face to face. Reassuring to see that everyone clearly wants to make this happen
  • For us personally it was a great way to get our voice heard by other retailers and encourage understanding of each retailer’s unique supply chain.
UK retailers commit to close living wage gaps in international banana supply chains

A year later, in July 2023, Amanda wrote:

“The top 9 UK retailers launched a living wage commitment in March. On numerous occasions the CSR managers who attended the workshop you led credited that day with being a pivotal moment in the process and paving the way for the ultimate result. So, thank you!” 

In the meantime, I had worked with some of Amanda’s colleagues at IDH to design and facilitate a series of three half-day workshops in London and Brussels for around 30 representatives of partner organisations to develop a joint commitment on living wage in Tea supply chains.

Since then, I was pleased to be able to work with Amanda again, and some of  the UK retailers and some of their European counterparts, to design and facilitate a one day hybrid workshop in Madrid. This involved around 30 in person and a dozen online, representatives of a variety of European partner organisations working to develop joint commitments on living wages in Banana supply chains in a number of European countries.