World Cafe Method

World Cafe Method

Sep 15, 2021

The World Café is an easy to use method of fostering collaborative dialogue, particularly in large groups. It is ideal for conferences or consultation meetings at which large numbers of people are involved in exploring a few key questions.

A World Café simulates the way communities naturally learn and spread ideas – over coffee, at lunch or by the water fountain. It is based on the natural process by which authentic conversations enable people to think together, create shared meaning, strengthen community and ignite innovation. These informal chats are brought together into a ‘café’ environment under the control of a facilitator.

The concept of a café comes from participants sitting in small groups (4-5 people) at café-style tables with paper table cloths, on which they can sketch and make notes (if tablecloths are not available or acceptable, use flip chart sheets or large cards). Each table is supplied with coloured pens or pencils in a mug or vase.

The environment contributes to the atmosphere of informal and creative chatting; so add flowers, background music, drinks, snacks and anything else you judge to be appropriate.

The model is very simple. All groups are given a single issue or question to consider for 20-30 minutes. They are encouraged to write, doodle and draw key ideas on their tablecloths.

At the end of a round, one person on each table remains and the others disperse to different tables. The ‘host’ on each table then shares the main ideas, themes and questions discussed during the previous round and the newcomers then comment and add what they had learned to the notes and sketches. New ideas and discoveries are also recorded.

Depending on the number of participants, delegates can move to new tables for additional rounds or they can return to their original table, bringing back what they had learned at other tables. The objective is to synthesise their discoveries.

Sometimes, the facilitator might introduce a new question that will help deepen the exploration.

After several rounds of conversation, the facilitator can initiate a whole group conversation. This offers the entire group an opportunity to share discoveries and insights, and connect the overall themes or questions that are now present.

Here are five ways in which the collective knowledge can be made visible: -

  1. Use a graphic recorder to draw the group’s ideas on a wall mural
  2. Take a gallery tour. Display the papers from the tables on the wall for people to visit
  3. Post your insights. Put single insights on large Post-Its® for people to view
  4. Create idea clusters. Group insights from Post-Its® into affinity clusters so that related ideas are visible
  5. Make a story. Create a newspaper or storybook to bring the results to larger audiences after the event

Using the World Café as a method empowers leaders and other professionals to intentionally create focused networks of conversation around an organisation or community’s real work and critical questions. It takes advantage of people’s innate wisdom and creativity to confront even the most difficult challenges. As people become aware of the power of conversation as a key business process, they can use it more effectively for their mutual benefit.