world cafe / knowledge cafe

Similar to the Fishbowl conversation method described in the last post, world cafe is a series of princliples that allow large groups to have participatory discussions. The World Cafe  website says that the method draws

on seven integrated design principles, the World Café methodology is a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue.

World Café can be modified to meet a wide variety of needs. Specifics of context, numbers, purpose, location, and other circumstances are factored into each event’s unique invitation, design, and question choice, but the following five components comprise the basic model:
1) Setting: Create a “special” environment, most often modelled after a café, i.e. small round tables covered with a checkered tablecloth, butcher block paper, colored pens, a vase of flowers, and optional “talking stick” item. There should be four chairs at each table.

2) Welcome and Introduction: The host begins with a warm welcome and an introduction to the World Café process, setting the context, sharing the Cafe Etiquette, and putting participants at ease.

3) Small Group Rounds: The process begins with the first of three or more twenty minute rounds of conversation for the small group seated around a table. At the end of the twenty minutes, each member of the group moves to a different new table. They may or may not choose to leave one person as the “table host” for the next round, who welcomes the next group and briefly fills them in on what happened in the previous round.

4) Questions: each round is prefaced with a question designed for the specific context and desired purpose of the session. 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.

5) Harvest: After the small groups (and/or in between rounds, as desired) individuals are invited to share insights or other results from their conversations with the rest of the large group. These results are reflected visually in a variety of ways, most often using graphic recorders in the front of the room.

Knowledge Cafe is a very similar concept – the following information is from

A knowledge café brings people together to have open, creative conversation on topics of mutual interest.

It can be organised in a meeting or workshop format, but the emphasis should be on flowing dialogue that allows people to share ideas and learn from each other.

It encourages people to explore issues that require discussion in order to build a consensus around an issue.

Knowledge cafe

Changeable and complex working environments are common in local government. Thus it can be hard to keep informed of issues and the ideas and perspectives of colleagues and peers.

The knowledge café brings to the surface, in an informal environment, all the understanding we have in an area.

How to Run a Knowledge Cafe

A simple and recommended method that works well involves the following steps:

1. Preparation for a knowledge café

  • Appoint a facilitator – someone who can encourage participation.
  • Identify a question relevant to those participating.
  • Invite interested parties.
  • Create a comfortable environment – a ‘café’ layout, with a number of small tables, supplied with tea and coffee, is one option.

2. During a knowledge café

  • The facilitator should introduce the knowledge café concept, any codes of conduct, and finally pose the question.
  • Participants should arrange themselves into groups to discuss the question.
  • Each participant in turn shares their knowledge and experience without interruption, giving everyone an opportunity to talk. Alternatively, a ‘talking-stick’ can ensure only the person holding the stick can speak, thus avoiding the discussion becoming dominated by one or a few speakers.
  • After each participant has shared, the group continues the discussion together.
  • The groups should eventually reconvene to exchange ideas and findings – these could be captured electronically or on paper.

3. After a knowledge café

The real value of a knowledge café is what people take away with them in their heads, and the new connections they have made with people.

If the knowledge café is to be recorded – making sure to avoid disrupting or influencing the conversation – the information may be distributed to participants after the session.

Remember, a knowledge café is not a talking shop. Turn-taking is important. If everyone is encouraged to have their say, a natural and stimulating group discussion should evolve, and good ideas won’t be long coming.

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