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The Inclusivity Train

Contributed by
The Sustainability Atalier

This method surfaces challenging, unspoken issues and it highlights diverse voices and perspectives which might not be present in the room.


Before a workshop or focus group meeting, the facilitator/organizing team carefully selects and prints a series of images that represent key “hot-button” issues and “missing” or “invisible” stakeholders (human and non-human) related to the topic at hand. The images don't have to be literal depictions of the issue, but could hint at the kind of controversies that are expected to remain dormant during the engagement. Such issues might be ignored because directly addressing them would break the rhythm of the process or trigger defensive attitudes or because of power asymmetries and fear of retribution. Since the images are not created by the participants, they can address the issue without being directly responsible for bringing it into the conversation. During the session or during a break, images are distributed on the floor in a snake-like train tracks shape. Participants then walk around, following the “tracks”, and choose an image or two that represents an issue and/or stakeholder that they think is important and that they want to highlight to the rest of the group. Afterwards, participants can discuss their images either in small groups or in a “fishbowl” format.


  1. The organizing team makes a prior selection of images that allude to the “hot topics” that will most likely be left unsaid during the gathering of the group and “invisible stakeholders” (human and non-human) who will not be in the room.
  2. Images are arranged in the pattern of a train track, preferably in a side room or outdoor space.
  3. Participants are invited to walk along the “tracks”, taking time to reflect and choose one or more pictures that represent something or someone they feel should be included and may have been left outside the conversation thus far.
  4. Participants are then invited to gather in small groups of 3-5 people or (alternately) to participate in a “fish-bowl” (see references below for fishbowl format).
  5. The time and format of the group discussions or the rules of the fishbowl are explained and the host/facilitator choses an image of their own to demonstrate how to give voice to the given topic or perspective.
  6. In both formats, everyone shares their images with the group and explains why it has been chosen and which aspects or insights might be included in future engagements or discussions. If appropriate, people can suggest specific ways that new insights and perspectives might be included or addressed in the future.
  7. (Optional) Ask everyone to write a few words or sentences on the back explaining why their image feels important and then collect the images (with short explanation).
  8. The anonymous insights that emerge can be reflected back to the group through a report or email or presentation at a later time.

This method was contributed by Ericka Zurita Toledo of the Sustainability Atelier via the Resourceful and and Resilient Community (RECOMS)

Place on U
15 minutes - 1 hour
Materials Needed

A selection of images that allude to the “hot topics" that the facilitators think might emerge during the workshop

Human-Nature Connection
Surfacing Hidden Dynamics
Values & Worldviews
Tip and Experiences
  • Relevant issues could include power dynamics, trust issues, pending conversations, unresolved problems, big interests, emotionally loaded situations, and areas of political repression
  • Blank pages can be included for people to add additional issues or stakeholders
  • Make sure participants are reminded to keep an open mind and attitude, practice generative listening, and keep a respectful environment at all times.
  • The depth of sharing will depend on the level of trust between participants and the sensitivity of the topic at hand. Even a brief acknowledgement of such “hidden” dimensions of a topic can be cathartic and informative
  • Notes can be taken on flip charts and shared with the plenary or the fish bowl session can be recorded
  • If the topic is particularly sensitive it may be a good idea to wait until the end of the session for this activity, as it could derail other planned activities by bringing up emotional topics

Relevant References & Resources

North, J. & Aspling, A. (2014). A Meta Collaboratory: The Global Responsible Leadership Initiative. In Muff, K. (Ed). (2014). The Collaboratory: A Co-creative Stakeholder Engagement Process for Solving Complex Problems

T Macintyre, et al (2016). Co-designing Research on Transgressive Learning in Times of Climate Change

Fishbowl discussion format

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