Tips from The Trainers: Tannis Topolnisky

Each month, we feature a handy hint on P2 training from one of the many fine trainers who are members of IAP2 Canada. This month, Tannis Topolnisky shares some thoughts on scope, inclusion, and … pyrogies?

Tannis Topolnisky
Tannis Topolnisky

I have been a public engagement practitioner for the past 13 years.  I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work on a wide range of issues including health, policy development, education, contaminated sites, blood donation, energy and rebuilding relationships in conflict.  I became a Foundations trainer because it allowed me to combine two of my passions – education AND P2!  Each class gives back to my practice.  It’s a gift to be able to spend time with other like-minded P2 practitioners and work through real world scenarios to help bring the training to life, making it as meaningful as possible for students.

“What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.”
– Paulo Coelho

“Go Broad and Eat Pyrogies”

– true statement made by a participant role-playing an angry Baba.

I love this statement.  It’s one of those things that someone says that you just never forget.  While this specific statement was made during a class exercise dealing with school closures, I have heard many similar kinds of statements in real life as well.

You know those statements that when they’re first spoken your initial reactions or thoughts might go something like this: no you’re the crazy one… wait a minute I do actually like pyrogies… this is completely irrelevant… I wish she would tell me something useful… hmmmm, I wonder what she means by that.

There are two parts of the Foundations training that I find students have a love/hate relationship with: defining the problem or opportunity that’s being addressed and writing P2 objectives.  We all know both are critical cornerstones to our P2 planning, but they’re not always easy to come up with.  This is where the idea of “Go Broad” comes in.  Too often I find we have a tendency to want to really narrow down, define and focus the issue we’re dealing with; to make it as cut and dry and black and white as possible.  Maybe it’s out of a sense of wanting to maintain control of the conversation and input received or for other reasons.   Most often though our issues are complex and, while it might feel counterintuitive, best practice is to go broad.  I actually think this approach also makes it easier to define the problem and objectives.

So Why Go Broad?  Because of two things:

#1 – If we so narrowly define the opportunity or problem, the greater the chance we won’t be defining it the way the public sees it. They’ll either find it irrelevant and not participate, or participate and spend time talking about what the real problem actually is.

#2 – Diverse input is needed to make decisions that are long-lasting and sustainable.  The conversations need to go broad in order to do this.  We need to know and consider all angles and that’s the whole point of asking the public, to learn what it is that we don’t know.

Going broad keeps the pyrogies in the picture (as well as other issues like quality education, property values, community safety, busing, program access, afterschool care, space rental…).  The angry Baba had a very valid point: if the school closed she wouldn’t have anywhere to sell her amazing pyrogies, her passion and livelihood.  Consider this next time you’re defining the problem and determining your objectives.

Let me know your thoughts, share with me your “crazy pyrogy” statements that ended up actually not being crazy at all and reflections on Going Broad.  You can reach me at 780-913-1367 or

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