World Café

To make conversations work! It promotes discussion and helps to generate ideas and solutions on challenging issues. Can be used as a stand-alone event or as part of a larger conference. Using World Café encourages people to converse in small groups. It allows people to speak or simply to listen. The conversations of several groups are linked and this helps to identify common themes and bring about new insights.

Download a print versionPDF document

How to do it

Preparation

  • Identify the purpose and objectives, and consider the context of your event.  Name your event e.g. 'The Health Café'.
  • Identify a host and facilitators for each table.
  • Think about questions you want to ask and brief the hosts and facilitators.
  • Identify and book an appropriate venue, i.e. one that will be comfortable, safe and inviting for the group with whom you are working.
  • Liaise with venue co-ordinator to decide on the lay-out of rooms, etc.
  • Identify target group and send out invitations including the programme format together with background about your organisation and the aim of the event.
  • Record the names of people attending into a delegate list.

Developing the Questions

  • The aims, objectives and context of the event will help you frame meaningful questions.
  • Your café may only wish to explore a single question.
  • Several questions may be developed to support a logical progression of discovery throughout several rounds of dialogue. For example develop three questions which can be introduced as starter; main course and dessert (the main course being the most searching question).
  • Remember – a powerful question is simple and clear; is thought provoking; generates energy; focuses on enquiry; surfaces unconscious assumptions; opens new possibilities.

Planning the Session

  • Set out the venue with several small, café-style tables to seat eight to ten people.
  • Make tables inviting with a tablecloth, a few flowers, bowl of sweets and a menu (explaining the background and listing the question(s).You can be imaginative – play soft music, etc. on arrival.)
  • Supply each table with flip-chart paper, pens and post-its.   
  • Some people cover tables with paper cloths that you can write on.
  • There are usually three rounds of conversations on the chosen topic.
  • Plan to have a mix of people from different roles or settings at each table.
  • Make sure that people know where they are sitting and where they move to and when.
  • Plan the time for each question, conversation sessions and feedback.
  • Agree which format your café conversations will take, for example:
    • how many questions
    • how the conversations will travel – one or two table moves before going back to their original table
    • ensure the host facilitators are well briefed.

Facilitating the Session (making the questions work)

  • The lead facilitator (this may be you) needs to be there early.
  • The table facilitator's job is to:
    • welcome participants; introduce the group members
    • explain that participants are free to write on the post-its as well as to doodle and draw ideas on the table to aid participation and prompt ideas
    • remind participants about café etiquette, i.e. focus on what matters; contribute your thinking; speak your mind and heart; listen to understand; link and connect ideas; listen together for insights and deeper questions; doodle, drawing or writing on the tablecloths is encouraged
    • guide conversation, take notes and confirm feedback with group.
  • The host's job is to support the facilitator to:
    • jot down key connections, idea discoveries and deeper questions as they emerge
    • briefly share key insights from the prior conversation so that others can link and build themes, using ideas from their respective tables.
  • The facilitator and the host stay at the same table.
  • The rest of the group moves on.
  • During the second round, the facilitator works with the host, encouraging participants to build on the ideas from the first round, and repeating this for round three.
  • The facilitator and host agree and feed back from each table.
  • The lead facilitator finishes by summarising the discussion in broad terms, describes how the findings will be reported and what will happen next – and most importantly, thanks everyone for participating.

Immediately after the Session

  • Once the event has closed, the ideas recorded on the flip-chart paper at each table are analysed.
  • Facilitators and hosts check and record written post-its and tablecloth doodles to ensure that all ideas are captured.
  • It is very helpful if the lead facilitator meets with facilitators and hosts immediately after the meeting to identify emerging themes.

Pros

  • The tool works best with a mix of people bringing different ideas and experiences.
  • This tool is a good way to bring people from different backgrounds together to think about a complex issue and to find imaginative ways forward.
  • Well facilitated, this makes work fun.

Cons

  • Facilitators need to be experienced.
  • If feedback is not analysed immediately after the event, you will risk losing some of the emerging themes and imaginative solutions.

Resources

  • Venue and catering
  • Stationery
  • Participants' travel expenses
  • Hosts for each table – many people with experience of group work will be able to do this
  • Experienced facilitators' time
  • Time of specialist lead facilitator brought in to coach.

Top Tip

It is very important to plan well for this type of engagement. Facilitators and hosts must leave nothing to chance – meaningful results are all in the planning.

Sources and further information

  • Link opens in a new windowThe World Café.com
  • Link opens in a new windowWorld Cafe Methodology
  • Patient and Public Engagement Toolkit for World Class Commissioning
  • The World Café: A Resource Guide for Hosting Conversations That Matter, Juanita Brown and the World Café Community, Pegasus Communications