By John Cornwell

You can learn more about becoming a ToP Trainer with ICA:UK here

Officially, my journey to becoming an ICA:UK Lead ToP Trainer started through a series of conversations with then ICA:UK Director, Jonathan Dudding, in mid-2019.  This was a point in my life, where I was starting to embark on working as a Freelance Facilitator and Trainer based in East Africa.  I had also made the decision to seek accreditation as a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) with the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) as well as to become a Certified Lead ToP Trainer with ICA:UK.  My thinking and motivation was that both of these would not only add value to my “offer” to potential clients but also give me deeper grounding as both a Facilitator and Trainer in terms of my own Professional Development.

John co-facilitating (with Mary Bada) a Participatory Strategic Planning session with Kisauni Vocational Training Centre in Mombasa, Kenya, March 2023

I greatly enjoyed the process, which Jonathan took me through, of self- and peer-assessment of the Core Competences required in this process.  The conclusion was that, whilst I had many years of experience in delivering ToP Training (in addition to using ToP Methods as a Facilitator), there would be great value in undertaking further peer-assessed Courses in order to confirm the standard and recognition that I was seeking to reach.

In brief, this meant co-training (with Jonathan) a Group Facilitation Methods (GFM) course with Community Leaders in Budaka, Eastern Uganda with Safe Neighbourhood Foundation (SNF), which took place successfully in December 2019.  This was to be followed by being a co-trainer on two GFM courses in UK between March-May 2020.  Coincidentally, I was due to undertake the IAF Assessment for the CPF designation in London during March 2020.  As most people will remember very well, there was little travel and even less in-person work possible during this period, which represented the start of the global Covid-19 Pandemic.  As a result, despite being far along both journeys, both processes ground to a halt at this point and I was left wondering if and how they would ever be completed.

Whilst I was eventually able to complete my CPF Assessment online in December 2020, the ICA process took a lot more figuring out and finally I was able to undertaken two sessions where I trained groups on the two core methods used in the GFM.  On both occasions, participants were members of Pwani Facilitators Network from the Coastal region in Kenya, and the sessions took place as follows:

  • August 2021 – Focused Conversation Method (observed by Megan Evans)
  • March 2023 – Consensus Workshop Method (observed by Jonathan Dudding & Patrick Mbullu)

Whilst the sessions took place in-person, the observers were online and “sitting” in my laptop watching and listening to the proceedings, which worked quite well overall.  I was impressed with the level of feedback that they all gave and this was incredibly helpful to me.  Thankfully, I have had opportunities to implement some of the learning points almost immediately.  And a particular thrill for me was learning that two of the participants from the second session used the method in one of their own workshops within a few weeks of the session. Fortunately, I was able to meet with them and support them with a thorough de-brief, where it was clear that they had really internalised the method very well already.

Jonathan has been a great mentor for me over many years, stretching back to 1999 when I first connected with ICA:UK as a participant on the Volunteer Foundation Course where he was one of an excellent team of facilitators and trainers.  The course ran over 3 stages and a total of about 10 days, where we covered a range of issues relating to international and community development, facilitation and participation.  This included the core ToP Methods of Focused Conversation Method, Consensus Workshop Method, Action Planning and Participatory Strategic Planning.  It was intense and deeply empowering for me; I still refer to it as one of the best courses I have ever participated in, and it grounded me very deeply in the ToP Methods. 

Jonathan continued to support and mentor me for several years when I co-founded and worked with Itereleng:ICA in South Africa from 2000 until the end of 2006, where we used ToP Methods throughout our work.  This included a five-day Training of Facilitators process (similar to GFM), our Youth as Facilitative Leaders programme working with young people from some of the townships around Johannesburg as well as homeless young people, and an HIV and wellness-focused programme called ‘Vukani Mawethu’ (meaning ‘Wake up People’).

Several years ago, I wrote an article called “Still ToP after all these Years”, which tried to capture how deeply ingrained in me are the fantastic ToP methods and the principles of deep participation that underpin them.  It will be a great pleasure to be able to increase my usage of ToP Methods and to share them with more people in my new role as a Lead ToP Trainer with ICA:UK and within the broader ICA family globally.

John Cornwell,

Mombasa, Kenya

April 2023

For more information and to contact John, please check his LinkedIn page here

Join John on July 5th 2023 to discuss Social Inclusion in Facilitation at our Online Focused Conversation session FREE. Reserve your place here.