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World Cafe Method, Metaphor, and Community Foundation

Juanita Brown and David Isaacs from Whole Systems Associates use the model of the cafe setting to create a warm, inviting environment in which people can converse. Participants gather informally at small tables and are encouraged to map out the ideas generated from conversation onto the paper table cloths covering the tables.

– What is the World Café? –

The World Café is a living network of conversations around questions that matter. It is an easy-to-use method for fostering collaborative dialogue, particularly in large groups. It is, simultaneously, a provocative metaphor enabling us to notice the often invisible webs of conversation and social learning which lie at the heart of our capacity to share knowledge and shape the future together.

Using the World Café as a method empowers leaders and other professionals to intentionally create focused networks of conversation around an organization or community’s real work and critical questions. Café conversations are designed on the assumption that people already have within them the wisdom and creativity to confront even the most difficult challenges. They are based on the natural process by which authentic conversations enable people to think together, create shared meaning, strengthen community and ignite innovation. Given the appropriate context and focus, Café dialogues allow members to access their mutual intelligence in the service of desired outcomes.

The process is simple, yet often yields surprising results. In a World Café gathering, you join several other people at a Café-style table or in a small conversation cluster exploring a question or issue that really matters to your life, work or community. Others are seated at nearby tables or in conversation clusters exploring similar questions at the same time. People are noting down or sketching out key ideas on the Café’s paper tablecloths or large cards.

From these intimate conversations, members carry key ideas and insights into new small groups. This cross-pollination of perspectives is one of the hallmarks of the World Café. As people and ideas connect together in progressive rounds of conversation, collective knowledge grows and evolves. A sense of the larger whole becomes real. Innovative possibilities for action are made visible.

– Under what circumstances is the World Café model most successful or fitting? –

The Café process is almost infinitely malleable and will work with any group of 12 or more. We have successfully conducted Cafés with 1200 people, so size is not a problem. To date most of the Cafés we have designed, hosted and convened have been to enable large groups of people to think together about some aspect of their common future. It is a powerful community development tool. The World Café process has been used successfully at large conferences, at town meetings, among educators, for designing and implementing organizational strategy, and in numerous other settings. For stories and examples of how and where the Café has been applied, please see our website.

We are not aware of people who have used it as a primary means of working with conflict. It is very possible to use the Café to explore the roots of a conflict, but it would require careful planning and skillful facilitation to do so.

– The World Café Community Foundation –

The World Café is supported by the World Café Community Foundation, a not-for-profit organization. We make information about the Café process freely available to anyone who inquires. Additionally, the World Café Community Foundation is continually exploring new ways to use the World Café in service of life-affirming principles.

– World Café Resources –

The World Café website (www.theworldcafe.com) includes an overview of the principles, a free downloadable guide to hosting a Café, and numerous stories and articles about the Café.

Pegasus Communications also offers The World Café: A Guide to Hosting Conversations That Matter, which is available for $15.00. There is a direct link on the World Café site to this Resource Guide.

Resource Link: www.theworldcafe.com

Contact: info[at]theworldcafe[dot]com

This text was submitted to NCDD by The World Café Community Foundation.

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  1. NCDD Resource Center » Blog Archive » 2007 Arsalyn Youth Conference Says:

    […] dinner and a keynote address by speechwriter John P. McConnell, NCDD member Susan Partnow ran a World Cafe to help the students meet each other and get them talking about the reasons the conference theme is […]