Sometimes it takes creative strategies to ensure that the sustainability plans or policies you’ve developed are implemented. Here at Alameda County, we’ve learned that one of the most powerful strategies is also one of the most subtle: the thoughtful facilitation of meetings.


Alameda County Climate Action Plan Cover

County of Alameda

Alameda County’s Climate Action Plan for Government Operations and Services was adopted in May 2010.  Our plan is likely similar to your sustainability plans, containing a target and a number of initiatives for the County to implement by 2020 to meet those targets. When the executive committee overseeing the plan’s implementation first came together, we proposed that each agency volunteer to implement of one of the 80 initiatives over the next year. We thought this was a natural way to divide the work, and that the agencies would quickly self-organize to implement the plan. But that approach didn’t get much traction, probably because having to review all 80 environmental initiatives in the plan was too large an initial hurdle, particularly as many projects fell outside agencies’ core work areas.



A New Approach


County of Alameda

We needed a new approach to engage the agencies and overcome initial inertia to ensure plan implementation got off to a strong start. We had one 90-minute meeting to work with because these busy executives would not be able to review materials outside of the meeting – and we were concerned that they might not stay engaged with the process if the next meeting did not show results.So we decided to use our training in the Technology of Participation™ facilitation methods to design a process for the next meeting that would end in each committee member’s being asked to select an initiative to sponsor.

It was a bit risky because this meeting, with facilitated working exercises, would feel very different from conventional meetings with presentations followed by discussion. Would the committee members be comfortable with the new approach? And would they be willing to commit to sponsoring an initiative on the spot?

The meeting turned out to be a success and a turning point.



Here is the behind-the-scenes look at the techniques that made this meeting a successful launch to the implementation phase of our climate plan.

1) The first strategy was to energize the physical environment to capture attention. The meeting room we used is usually set up with seating around the far edges of the room. We moved the tables and chairs into the middle of the room to create small clusters of tables that brought the participants together in a more intimate arrangement, indicating that this would a working meeting. We provided colorful plates of grapes and color-coded discussion topics to appeal to the visual learners.

2) The second strategy was to clearly present the content so it would be easy for participants to take action. Taking more time than we might usually invest in preparing materials for a meeting, we did thorough analysis ahead of time to narrow down the overwhelming

voting for initiatives

County of Alameda

number of 80 measures to 16 that were the highest priority and required a cross-agency effort. Instead of using a PowerPoint presentation where it would be difficult to see the full story in one view, we posted a visual story along the wall. This visual helped the group review the journey of the plan and made it clear that we had moved from concept phase to design phase and were now in the implementation phase – time to act.


3) The third strategy was to engage the participants in creating the results in a way that promotes a deeper commitment to those results. The goal for this meeting was explicitly laid out by the committee chair (our county administrator): to decide which were the key initiatives to carry out in the next year. Because this decision would have been overwhelming to tackle as a whole, the decision-making process was broken into bite-size pieces that mixed group and individual work, and even included some physical props to engage kinesthetic learners.

These exercises included:

  • reviewing the 16 top contenders and making sure the list was complete
  • listing the criteria the committee wanted to use to select initiatives
  • individually voting on initiatives by placing green post-its for “go” and “red” for wait 
  • discussing the overall voting results
  • and narrowing the list down to a handful of initiatives based on the group consensus

Once the key initiatives were agreed on by the group, each committee member received a cut-out gold star with their agency’s name on it and placed the gold star next to the initiative they would sponsor. We were a little worried the gold stars would be considered too “elementary school,” but the committee members appreciated their connotations of outstanding effort and service.



Although these strategies took additional preparation time and required participants to approach topics in a new way, the result was that by the end of the meeting, every committee member felt that the right initiatives had been selected, each initiative had a sponsor, and the group was starting to feel like a team because it had worked through a decision together. Currently, the selected initiatives are moving forward with strong support from the committee.


Share Your Experiences

How have you used similar strategies in your work? What kind of facilitation techniques have you found to be effective in your sustainable communities work?



If you’d like to learn more about the Technology of Participation methods developed by Institute of Cultural Affairs, you can find licensed ToP trainers and facilitators all around the world at


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