Participatory methods

World Café

DESCRIPTION

World-Café is a workshop method, suitable for group sizes from 12 up to 2,000 participants. It is a structured conversational process intended to facilitate open and intimate discussion. It links ideas within a larger group to access "collective intelligence" of the participants and to understand/learn from multiple points of view. Focus is on exploring/innovating on themes rather than on problem-solving. The format is principally designed as forum for creative/open thinking and not suited to scenarios where there is a predetermined answer/solution. The environment of a World Café should feel inviting – as any café atmosphere (small round tables covered with writable tablecloth, butcher block paper or paper cards in different shapes, colored pens …). Duration is ca. 45 minutes to 3 hours.

A World Café can be applied in almost all stages of the process for both public matters and private service development. It works well to combine different views on a topic, design an action plan within a short time, develop strategies together, provide feedback on proposals that have already been prepared and, where appropriate, to develop suggestions for improvement and in the context of project evaluations or collection of intermediate results. World Cafés are held in multinational companies, political organizations, municipalities, cities, associations etc. The method is particularly effective in heterogeneous, mixed groups of participants who are affected by a common theme.

 

FOR WHO ?

After the definition of the purpose of the World Café, the target group has to be determined of which representatives have to be invited to the event. In this context, you also have to decide on a maximum number of participants. If you follow an Open Innovation approach, the constellation of participants should be as diverse as possible, but all participants should have a relation to the topic of the World Café.

Keep in mind that there could be possibility for conflict if you invite participants from competing organizations or opponents and proponents of a topic.

 

RESOURCES

A team which is responsible for the organization and implementation of the World Café, should be established. The number of team members depends on how many departments/organizations are affected by the topic. Financing can be provided by the initiating organization itself or by applying for public funding. Costs may vary depending on location, catering and commissioning of an external service provider for organization/moderation of the event.

The location must be big enough to accommodate the planned number of attendees in a café atmosphere (small tables, 4-5 chairs/table, indoor plants…). You also need implementation materials (e.g. writable tablecloths, flipchart paper/paper placemats, markers in a variety of colors, push pins, rolling white boards/flipchart tripods, bell, post-its…).

 

PREPARATION OF THE EVENT

The World Café process comprises three phases: Preliminaries, Implementation and Wrap-up. Preliminaries comprise issues like establishment of planning team, definition of target group, time planning, location, moderation, catering, materials, invitation, communication and use of results. The implementation is the actual realization of the event and the wrap-up deals with the analysis and further use of the results. The organization that initiated the World Cafe should be the organizer. This gives a more official character to the event and contributes to a good response regarding the number of participants. For example, if the World Café deals with urban topics, the municipality should be the organizer. If research topics are in focus, a research facility from the corresponding field should be the organizer. In case of product or service development/improvement, a related company should be the organizer (the bigger and / or better known the company is, the bigger the response).

FACILITATOR

Facilitator should be a department or organization with know-how and experiences in organizing and moderating workshops, dealing with different target groups and analyzing/interpreting the results of a World Café. Social scientists are very well suited for such events. The moderation of the event is crucial. Many World Cafés charge a professional moderator (as the café host) with the overall moderation of the event.

PURPOSE

Pay early attention to the reason for organizing the World Café. Based on this, you can decide which kind of participants you will invite and which parameters are important to achieve your desired result of the event. It is very important to find and frame topics or questions that matter to the invited participants. A World Café may explore only one topic/question or several topics/questions may be developed. The World Café conversations are both about discovering and exploring powerful topics/questions. If you have to deal with a complex topic you may split it in sub-topics. To each sub-topic you assign one discussion table at the event. Define also what kind of results you want to receive from the event. This has impact on the definition of guiding questions for the participants.

TIMELINE AND LOGISTICS

Define a timeline for the complete process starting with the date of sending out the invitation to the potential participants (should be 4-6 weeks before the event). Also a time frame for the event should be determined (usually 2-4 hours, depending on the weekday and the target group). Once it is cleared what goal you want to achieve and the amount of time you have scheduled, you can decide the appropriate number and length of discourse rounds. Concerning a concrete date for the event you can make a team decision or you can ask the target group (e.g. via Doodle), if the number of potential participants is manageable. Keep in mind school holidays, bank holidays and special times (advent season, carnival…). Also catering, provision of necessary materials and location have to be planned.

SUPPORT DOCUMENTATION

Provide a kind of guidelines/screenplay for the moderator(s) and table hosts. Also templates for documenting the discussions are helpful. Define guiding questions for the participants to support a logical progression of discovery throughout several discourse rounds. Well-defined questions focus the attention of participants to what really matters. Open-ended questions are recommended. Good questions should invite inquiry and discovery rather than advocacy and advantage. They need not to imply immediate action steps or problem solving. A question is a good question if it continues to surface new ideas and insights. A powerful question is simple, clear and thought provoking, focuses inquiry, surfaces unconscious assumptions, opens new possibilities.

INVITITATION OF PARTICIPANTS

The invitation for the event has to be formulated. Name World Café in a way appropriate to its purpose, e.g. Knowledge Café, Strategy Café. Give a brief summary to potential participants about reason for the event, target(s) and why they should participate, followed by date and location. If necessary, adapt the invitation text to different target groups. Invitation should be sent out 4-6 weeks before the event. A reminder to registered participants should be distributed 1 week before the event. Use appropriate channels for the invitation (e.g. Social Media, letter invitations, email invitations). The organization that initiated the World Cafe should also invite (e.g. municipality, company…). This may differ from the organization that actually runs the workshop (e.g. service provider).

ENVIRONMENT SET-UP

It is essential to create an environment that evokes both informality and intimacy. Participants should feel that it is no ordinary meeting. Select a space with natural light and an outdoor view. Make the space look like an actual café with small tables that seat 4-6 people, arranged in a staggered, random fashion; this looks relaxed and inviting. Use writable tablecloths and indoor plants on each table. Alternatively, place at least 2 large sheets of paper over each tablecloth along with a mug filled with colorful markers. Paper and pens encourage scribbling, drawing, and thus connecting ideas. Put one additional café table in the front of the room for any presenter´s material. Consider displaying art or adding posters to the walls. Provide beverages and snacks for the participants.

 

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE EVENT

The moderator opens the World Café with a warm welcome and an introduction to the World Café process, setting the context, sharing the World Cafe Etiquette, and putting participants at ease.

Example for World Café etiquette, the moderator has to communicate to the participants:

  • 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.
  • Play, doodle, draw – writing on the tablecloths is encouraged.

The moderator asks for volunteers among the participants for the role of table hosts and explains their tasks (other possibility: the organizing team provides the table hosts). The table hosts have a special meaning in the World Café. They have to make sure that an open, clear and friendly atmosphere arises. The table hosts remain in the standard version for all discourse rounds at their table and take leave of their guests when they change the table, welcome the newcomers and summarize the main ideas and key findings of the previous round. During the conversation at their table, they ensure that all can participate and that important thoughts, ideas and connections of all will be written and drawn on the tablecloths. At the end of the process, they have to roughly summarize the key finding of their table.

Afterwards, the moderator initially divides (random) the participants in several groups according to the number of tables and assigns each group to a table. The moderator poses the questions or topics for discourse rounds and makes sure that the questions is visible to everyone on a flip chart or on cards at each table. The moderator moves among the tables and encourages everyone to participate and during the discourse makes sure key insights are recorded visually or are gathered and posted if possible. The moderator keeps track of the time slots of the discourse rounds and signalizes if the participants have to change to another table or if there will be a short coffee break. Hot and cold beverages as well as cookies or something similar should be available to the participants over the whole event.

The participants sit distributed in the room at tables with four to eight people. The tables are covered with white, writable paper tablecloths (and/or paper cards) and pencils or markers. Each table covers a specific topic or question. Each discourse round is prefaced with this question designed for the specific context and desired purpose of the World Café. The same questions can be used for more than one round, or they can be built upon each other to focus the conversation or guide its direction. Alternatively, there can be one global topic with subtopics distributed to the different tables. During a discourse round, this topic or question has to be handled by each group for 15 to 30 minutes.

The process starts with the first of three or more discourse rounds for the small group seated around a table. At the end of each discourse round, each member of the group moves to a different new table. Only the table hosts stay at their table for the whole time. They welcome new guests, summarize briefly the previous conversation and motivate the further discourse.

In some versions a "talking stick" may be used to make sure that all participants get a chance to speak. As well as speaking and listening, individuals are encouraged to write or draw on the paper tablecloth or paper cards so that when people change tables they can see what previous members have expressed in their own words and images. Participants have multiple discourse rounds in response to predefined questions, taking the ideas from one group and adding to them, developing insights through multiple conversations with a diverse number of people, and expanding the collective knowledge of the group. In this way, the results are reflected visually in a variety of ways.

Depending on the planned number of discourse rounds, the moderator may start after several discourse rounds one conversation round for the whole participants´ group in order to talk about the intermediate result of the World Café.

The World Café is completed by a reflection phase. After the predefined numbers of discourse rounds are finished, the table hosts get 10 minutes to roughly summarize the findings from their tables. After this, the moderator asks the participants if they want to clarify or amend anything. Then the moderator explains to the participants what will happen with the results of the World Café, e.g. a clustering of ideas and insights and deeper analysis concerning the development of solutions. The moderator asks the participants if somebody is interested in the analysis results and their further usage and collects the email addresses of interested participants. Then the moderator thanks the participants for their engagement and closes officially the World Café. Following, a buffet will be offered to the participants (depending on the money available) where they can further discuss their insights.

 

DOCUMENTING & SHARING RESULTS

Documentation is done via photos of all drawings and writings on the writable tablecloths and of the post-its on the flipcharts. Participants can place large post-its with a single insight on each on a black board, wall etc. at each table. The table hosts may group insights from the post-its of their tables into “affinity clusters” so that related ideas are visible and available for planning the next steps.

The group conversations may also be captured by a graphic recorder who draws the ideas on flip charts or a wall mural rising text and graphics to illustrate the patterns of conversation. It is also possible to place a person at each table who logs the discussion history and results in a document.

 

LITERATURE & SOURCES

Juanita Brown und David Isaacs: The World Café. Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter, McGraw-Hill Professional, 1995.

Merianne Liteman; Sheila Campbell; Jeffrey Liteman (14 July 2006). Retreats That Work: Everything You Need to Know About Planning and Leading Great Offsites. John Wiley & Sons.