What we do

Here’s where we can help you:
Our areas of expertise and our approach


Engagement and deliberation can transform how decision-makers carry out critical tasks, shedding new light on issues and leading to new solutions. Middle Ground uses Informed Participation to transform:

  • Policy Development
  • Strategic Planning
  • Organizational Change
  • (Internal and External) Stakeholder Engagement

Much of this work focuses on stakeholders and/or citizens outside an organization. However, the concerns of staff members within a government department or hospital often resemble those of citizens and stakeholders. For example, they may feel they have no voice in organizational changes that affect them; or in defining a vision for the future. Informed Participation can be an effective tool for solving issues inside the walls of an organization, as well as outside of them, from policy making to culture change.

Knowledge-Transfer and Capacity-Building

Hands-on learning is the best way to build skills and capacity in public deliberation. Middle Ground often uses actual engagement projects as a tool for knowledge-transfer to the client’s organization. Typically, Don will serve as the principal advisor, working closely with a team from the client’s firm, and advising them on how to design and implement the process. In addition, he may act as a facilitator and/or writer and analyst. These roles can be specially designed to create mentorship opportunities for the team and to build capacity within the client’s organization.

Training and Workshops

Middle Ground offers workshops and training courses on Informed Participation. These can extend from a half- to two days and will equip participants with the concepts, skills, and tools they need to design and implement deliberative processes. As an accomplished trainer, Don’s sessions are highly interactive and use lots of practical examples to illustrate the approach, along with group exercises to deepen the grasp of key concepts. Workshops can be custom designed to meet the specific needs of the client.

Here’s how we can help you:
Our skills and services

Designing and Implementing Engagement Processes

Every situation is different, and every engagement process should be designed to match the task at hand. This is about more than choosing between big and small processes, or online vs. face-to-face meetings. Informed Participation distinguishes between three different styles of public deliberation, each of which engages the participants in a different way:

  • Open Dialogue asks people to draw on relevant experience of an issue and to use their natural conversational skills to exchange views and propose options to solve it.
  • Deliberative Analysis has more formal rules of engagement and focuses participants’ attention on facts and arguments, and the evidence that support them.
  • Narrative-Building draws on the participants’ lived-experience to develop stories about an important change or challenge. Stories are useful because they speak to people in ways they can understand and identify with.

These deliberative “styles” are natural patterns that discussion follows in daily life. For example, sometimes people use lots of narrative or storytelling, while at others they are far more focused on facts and analysis. If the goal is to solve a difficult technical problem, facts and analysis will matter. If the goal is to solve a deep values conflict, narrative may be the better option. We build features like these into a process to shape it in ways that ensure the process always matches the task.



Public deliberation should be led by an experienced, impartial facilitator. Informed Participation relies on approach that combines three different roles:

  • The Traffic Cop: The facilitator ensures that discussion remains focused, well-organized, and well-managed. Discussion must follow the agenda, and no one gets to dominate or hijack the agenda.
  • The Referee: Informed Participation is a rules-based approach to finding solutions. The facilitator’s job is to ensure the rules are respected – for example, participants must listen to one another – and that disagreements are resolved through dialogue, evidence, compromise, and consensus.
  • The Guide: Informed Participation is about finding win/wins. The facilitator is the expert on deliberation who guides participants toward new ways to define their views; and on how to work together as a team, that is, to collaborate rather than compete with one another.

Report-Writing and Analysis

Over the years, Don has developed a distinctive style of report-writing that is widely recognized for clarity, accessibility, and its simple narrative style, especially when dealing with complex and often technical issues. Middle Ground uses a variety of document types to support our processes. These include short discussion papers, analyses of issues, comprehensive syntheses of ideas and options, summary reports, and case studies.

Don also regularly takes on writing and analysis tasks independently of his work on engagement processes.