The Comfort Zone

by Valerie Delaney, Principal, Learning + Engagement

A painted rock on our beach trail says, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

I don’t know if I believe this entirely because a comfort zone can be a good place to rest and reflect a bit, but there is definitely a grain of truth here.

This year – ah 2020 – has certainly challenged my comfort zones, in many ways, both personally and professionally. I continue to learn new things – and new ways of doing old things; sometimes, I like the learning (yes to online shopping) and sometimes I don’t (Zoom calls are still not part of my comfort zone). Regardless of one’s situation, the COVID-19 environment has necessitated exploring new opportunities for living and working together.

Here at Delaney, we’ve had to stretch our comfort zones – finding creative ways to help our clients engage in virtual settings and innovative ways to deliver our engagement training online.

On the training front, we’ve now successfully delivered Delaney Virtual Academies for five iap2 Planning courses and one iap2 Techniques course, plus a number of Delaney training products. We delivered our first Virtual Academy in June 2020, and I can honestly say I wondered if it would also be our last!

We worked hard to set up our own learning management system for self-directed learning, integrated small- and whole-group activities into the materials, and mastered various applications, including Zoom and Google Suites for smooth delivery. But, would it be enough? Would participants be willing to push through their comfort zones to give this training a chance? It’s about engaging people after all, and they’re supposed to learn about this and develop skills – virtually? Delaney has always taken pride in creating interactive and collegial training spaces. Could we do that in a virtual setting?

The answer is yes, but it doesn’t stop here. We continue to push our comfort zones. Take the Delaney Virtual Academy for the iap2 Techniques course. The focus of this course is what we call objective-driven engagement design.  The discussions and group work explore a range of technique options for each level of the engagement spectrum – focussing on the best of the best and using case studies for practical application. We tackle engaging in the “new” virtual world by showcasing online techniques and demonstrating how you can take in-person techniques online, which again means helping people expand their comfort zones. We didn’t want to simply “talk” through the material; we wanted to give people the chance to actually practise some of these techniques. That takes some doing on the part of our trainers and technology hosts, and our participants, in a virtual classroom, but it’s part of bringing the training to life.

We are always grateful for the feedback we receive from participants – even the stuff that pushes our comfort zones. So, we realize we have to add a little time to the schedule, tweak an exercise or two, and develop another template. But, today, I’d like to celebrate the Delaney team by sharing feedback we’ve received that relates specifically to the online aspect of our training – a little water and sunshine for our continued growth!

Enjoy your comfort zones when you can and take heart when you can’t.



It’s been such an inspiring virtual learning experience – lots of tools, resources and sharing of awesome ideas. Both Richard and Brittany were very friendly and approachable. I enjoyed it fully!

(Virtual Academy, September 2020, iap2 Techniques Course) Admin Support, Burnaby


I got a lot out of the online training for IAP2 Techniques, I was skeptical at first with having this type of training on an online format but it exceeded my expectations. I now have lots of skills and tools to apply to my every day work thanks to Delaney & Associates.

(Virtual Academy, September 2020, iap2 Techniques Course) Communications Officer, Vancouver


Planning has been such a fruitful, rewarding online learning experience! I enjoyed it immensely as participants were an interesting blend of professions and facilitators so supportive and knowledgeable. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Public Participation field.

(Virtual Academy, September 2020, iap2 Planning Course) Administrative Support, Burnaby


Excellent course! Very engaging and I learned a lot! I was worried to take the online format but it was extremely well run and facilitated and I felt like I was in a classroom.

(Virtual Academy, September 2020, iap2 Planning Course) Urban Designer, Vancouver


The digital format was more engaging than ANY in-person course I have taken. Richard and Naomi were supportive, knowledgeable, and professional going above and beyond the instruction I expected. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a course in Public Participation.

(Virtual Academy, August 2020, iap2 Planning Course) Communications & Engagement Lead, Toronto


The breakout rooms were extremely helpful. There are times when virtual training sessions can get boring and people loose attention, however the way the course was organised, I felt fully involved. Through the breakout group session, I was able to use the information that Jessica gave in her lecture and implement them on the case studies.

(Virtual Academy, July 2020, iap2 Planning Course) Project Manger, Vancouver


The online format for the course exceeded my expectations. Richard was an engaging teacher and I’d definitely recommend this course.

(Virtual Academy, July 2020, iap2 Planning Course) Communications and Community Engagement Specialist, Guelph


The course instructors were well teamed and balanced in the production of all the sessions. It was joyful and easy to participate and follow along. Thank you.

(Virtual Academy, July 2020, iap2 Planning Course) Senior Planning Associate, Vancouver