World Café

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This article is about the organisational development technique. For the radio show, see World Cafe.
Small group conversation at a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe

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.[1] 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.[2][3]


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.[4] 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.[2]


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.[5][6][7][8]

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.[2]

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.[9] A round of conversation lasts between 20–30 minutes.[2] World Café events focus on discussing themes rather than on problem-solving.[9] 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.

In one variation of the World Café, created by David Gurteen, 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 overall group.[10]


World Cafes are characterized by the following elements:[11]

  1. 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.
  2. Shifting collective thinking provides an opportunity to change the status quo and create a context for collective action.
  3. All systems and organizations can address challenges by using the knowledge already contained within and mobilising the collective wisdom.
  4. 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.
  5. A World Café event is designed to facilitate collaboration but not guide participants to a pre-determined solution.

Design principles[edit]

World Cafe events are designed and hosted according to the following principles:[5]

  • 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.[12] Hewlett-Packard has linked the process to a one-third reduction in the accident rate across the company, as a result of increased employee input on safety issues.[13]

Development agencies[edit]

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.[14]

Local governments[edit]

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.[2] 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.[2][15] It has been credited with influencing the strategic direction and focus of Mexico's National Fund for Social Enterprise.[2]


The World Café approach has been adopted by non-profits like the Ohio-based, Foodbank.[16] There, CEO Matt Habash organised events to try to create a system that would connect food, hunger and poverty and devise a strategy for the supply and delivery of foodbank services.[16] The World Café approach was also used to develop the curriculum at Ohio State University's College of Social Work.[16] Similarly, in Africa the International Water Management Institute utilized World Café events to further discussions among stakeholders.[17]

Community organizations[edit]

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 it the largest World Café event up to that time.[8]

The World Café approach has been used at community level in Scotland, where get-togethers consolidated social networks between various community organizations and provided for qualitative research arising out of commentary from residents.[18]

Educational groups[edit]

Events have been used to create discursive environments among nurses as well as in hospitals.[19][20] Schools in Long Island organized such events as a way of encouraging students to accept more responsibility and show greater leadership.[12][21] Events have also been run in universities.[11]

Parent groups[edit]

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[22][23][24] In Boston the Jewish organization Keshet, has utilized Parent Café events to discuss issues with parents relating to children and LGBTQ.[25]

Religious organizations[edit]

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.[26][27]

Virtual cafés[edit]

Virtual cafés based on World Café principles have also been organised.[28][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Slocum, Nikki. Participatory Methods Toolkit: A Practitioner's Manual Section: "Method: The World Café". A joint publication of the King Baudouin Foundation 3and the Flemish Institute for Science and Technology Assessment (viWTA). ISBN 90-5130-506-0
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Peggy Holman (24 June 2009). The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today's Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems. ISBN 978-1-4429-9463-8. 
  3. ^ Tan, Brown, Samantha, Juanita (March 2005). "The World Cafe in Singapore Creating a Learning Culture Through Dialogue". The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 41 (1): 83–90. doi:10.1177/0021886304272851. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  4. ^ The World Café. "History".
  5. ^ a b 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. pp. 48–. ISBN 978-0-7879-8643-8. 
  6. ^ Schieffer, Isaacs, Gyllenpalm, Dr. Alexander, David, Bo (July 14, 2004). "The World Café: Part One" (PDF). Transformation. 18 (8). Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  7. ^ "Bache2008"
  8. ^ a b Steven D'Souza; Diana Renner (5 May 2014). Not Knowing. LID Editorial. ISBN 978-1-907794-90-2. 
  9. ^ a b Christopher M. Bache (28 August 2008). The Living Classroom: Teaching and Collective Consciousness. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-7646-8. 
  10. ^ "The Knowledge Cafe Concept". Retrieved 21 February 2017. 
  11. ^ a b Sarah Lewis (16 March 2011). Positive Psychology at Work: How Positive Leadership and Appreciative Inquiry Create Inspiring Organizations. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-119-99621-7. 
  12. ^ a b Peter M. Senge (31 March 2010). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Crown Publishing Group. pp. 362–. ISBN 978-0-307-47764-4. 
  13. ^ "Holman2009"
  14. ^ "World Café Powerpoint". UNDP. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  15. ^ Dunn, J P (Aug 2004). "Making Stakeholder Engagement Work" (PDF). Australian Water Association. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c Margaret J. Wheatley; Deborah Frieze (11 April 2011). Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. pp. 192–. ISBN 978-1-60509-733-6. 
  17. ^ Jay Liebowitz; Michael Frank (8 November 2010). Knowledge Management and E-Learning. CRC Press. pp. 174–. ISBN 978-1-4398-3726-9. 
  18. ^ Stern, Townsend, Rauch, Schuster, Thomas, Andrew, Franz, Angela (2013). Action Research, Innovation and Change Across Disciplines:: International Perspectives Across Disciplines. Routledge. ISBN 9781317916079. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  19. ^ Marilyn H. Oermann PhD, RN, FAAN (26 August 2007). Annual Review of Nursing Education, Volume 6, 2008: Clinical Nursing Education. Springer Publishing Company. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-0-8261-1084-8. 
  20. ^ Burke, Sheeldon, Cathy, Keeley. "Encouraging workplace innovation using the 'World Café' model". Nursing Management. 17 (7): 14–19. doi:10.7748/nm2010. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  21. ^ Spencer William Buckland (2008). Transforming Leaders and Culture. Royal Roads University (Canada). ISBN 978-0-494-35419-3. 
  22. ^ "Parent Cafe Training Institute" (PDF). Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  23. ^ "What we do". Child Abuse Prevention Council of San Joaquin County. Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  24. ^ "Parent cafe and Library". International Montessori Schools. Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  25. ^ "Parent Cafe for parents of LGBTQ Jews". Keshet. Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  26. ^ J. Jacob Jenkins (22 November 2013). The Diversity Paradox: Seeking Community in an Intercultural Church. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-8352-6. 
  27. ^ Bruce Sanguin. The Emerging Church: A Model for Change & Map for Renewal. Wood Lake Publishing Inc. pp. 75–. ISBN 978-1-77064-299-7. 
  28. ^ Anna DiStefano; Kjell Erik Rudestam; Robert Silverman (6 November 2003). Encyclopedia of Distributed Learning. SAGE Publications. pp. 80–. ISBN 978-1-4522-6523-0. 
  29. ^ Gyllenpalm, Bo. "Connecting diverse people and ideas: A virtual knowledge cafe" (PDF). Retrieved 15 December 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]