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The World Café (sometimes called Knowledge Café) is a structured conversational process intended to facilitate discussion, initially in small groups and then linking ideas within a larger group to access the collective intelligence or collective wisdom in the room. Organisers of a World Café formulate questions before an event, related to its goals, which are discussed by participants as they move between a series of tables. The name of the process relates to atmosphere seek to create, as a means to facilitate conversation. 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 doodle on a paper or tablecloth so that when people change tables they can see what previous members have expressed in their own words and images. The first World Café event was organized in 1995.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Format
- 3 Concept
- 4 Features
- 5 Design principles
- 6 Applications
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The World Café process originated at the home of Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in 1995 when a "large circle" conversation became disrupted by rain. It was refined in the succeeding months by Juanita Brown, Finn Voltofte, and other participants of the original group into the method used today. Meg Wheatley and Juanita Brown later introduced the World Café while they were choosing a program on living systems on behalf of the Berkana Institute.
World Café events require at least twelve participants, but there is no upper limit. The largest number of people documented at a single World Cafe event was in excess of 10,000, in Tel Aviv, in 2011.
Small groups of four or five participants sit around a table and discuss an open-ended question for a set period. Notes and drawings can be made on the paper tablecloths used in most events. At the end of the agreed period individuals switch tables. A "table host" may be used to anchor each table, welcoming incoming participants and summarising key insights from the last round of conversation.
Participants engage in multiple rounds of conversation in response to the pre-defined questions, listening to the ideas of one group and adding to these. The intention is to develop insights through multiple conversations with a diverse number of people, and expand the collective knowledge of the group.  A round of conversation lasts between 20–30 minutes.
In one variation of the World Café, created by David Gurteen, and known as "Knowledge Café", the small group discussions are not led by a facilitator, and no summary of the discussion is captured for subsequent feedback to the large group. This is intended to increase the time spent on discussion.
World Café events focus on discussion of themes rather than on problem-solving. The format is principally designed as a forum for creative or open thinking and is not suited to scenarios where there is a predetermined answer or solution. The World Café approach attempts to promote objective listening on the part of participants and limit filtering by the individuals. In doing this, it aims to surface and build on disparate ideas that have been discussed. The World Café process provides an open forum for discussion that aims to equalise the power relationships between participants in order to understand and learn from multiple points of view. World Café has been described as an example of 'process tools that are well suited to enriching perspectives' and provides a basis for people to be understood.
World Cafes are characterized by the following elements:
- Each person interprets the world differently, based on his/her perception. Sharing the viewpoints of others is essential for understanding alternatives and adapting strategies to deal with environments.
- Shifting collective thinking provides an opportunity to change the status quo and create a context for collective action.
- All systems and organizations can address challenges by using the knowledge already contained within and mobilising the collective wisdom.
- People want to engage and will do so if an appropriate environment is provided that recognises the contribution of all. Having this will foster a strong commitment to achieve common goals.
- A World Café event is designed to facilitate collaboration but not guide participants to a pre-determined solution.
World Cafe events are designed and hosted according to the following principles:
- Clarify the context
- Create a hospitable environment
- Explore questions that matter
- Encourage everyone's contribution
- Connect diverse perspectives
- Listen together for insights and deeper questions
- Gather and share collective discoveries
The World Café approach has been used by a range of organizations including corporates, NGOs, non-profits, local government organizations, academic and voluntary groups.
Aramco, the Saudi Arabian state oil company began using World Café events in its engineering and operations services division in 2003 and credited the approach for giving staff a better understanding of how corporate strategy linked to their roles. Hewlett-Packard has also used the process and credited it with reducing the accident rate across the company by more than 33 per cent, principally because it encouraged input from employees about safety issues.
In Canada the Canadian International Development Agency in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program has used World Café events for several years to facilitate discussions between opposing parties as part of its Democratic Dialogue and Conflict Prevention program.
In British Columbia the federal, provincial and municipal governments used the World Café process to devise an Urban Development Agreement to tackle urban challenges like poverty and homelessness. Municipal water authorities—Yarra Valley Water in Victoria, Australia—also used the events. In Mexico, the approach was utilized to facilitate discussions between government officials and farmers. It has been credited with influencing the strategic direction and focus of Mexico's National Fund for Social Enterprise.
The World Café approach has been adopted by non-profits like the Ohio-based Foodbank. There, CEO Matt Habash organised events for the purposes of creating a system that connected food, hunger and poverty and helped devise a strategy for the supply and delivery of foodbank services. The World Café approach was also used to develop the curriculum at Ohio State University's College of Social Work. Similarly, in Africa the International Water Management Institute utilized World Café events to further discussions among stakeholders.
In Israel social activists held a World Café event in Tel Aviv in 2011 that brought together individuals from groups including Arabs, Orthodox Jews, settlers, new immigrants and those from both the left and right wings of the political divide. In all over 10,000 people participated across 30 cities in Israel, making the event the largest World Café up to that time.
The World Café approach has been used at community level in Scotland. Reports of World Café events in Inverurie, Scotland described how the get-togethers had consolidated social networks between various community organizations and provided for qualitative research arising out of commentary from residents. There community development workers played a key part in creating events that were described as 'remarkable' and 'empowering'.
In the field of education the World Café has been used to create discursive environments among nurses as well as in hospitals. Schools in Long Island introduced World Café events as a way of encouraging students to accept more responsibility and show greater leadership. Events have also been run in universities.
Parent Café events utilising World Café methods have been used in several states in the U.S. including Illinois and California and by International Montessori Schools as a way of facilitating engagement between parents and guardian and providers on issues affecting children In Boston the Jewish organization Keshet, has utilized Parent Café events to discuss issues with parents relating to children and LGBTQ.
The World Café approach has also been used by Christian church groups in the United States as a way of encouraging creative thought among members particularly in situations where there were concerns that individuals were not being listened to.
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