A world café (AKA knowledge café) is a large group discussion in which smaller sub-groups rotate around tables discussing a series of talking points until each person has contributed to each point. It’s possible to run them online at “virtual” tables (break out rooms on Zoom of similar). They increase engagement and contribution.

Summary by The World of Work Project

World Café

People engage more and find it easier to generate and share ideas in small, relaxed and inclusive conversations than in larger or more formal meetings. By designing larger group meetings so they feel like smaller “café” conversations, you can help to create more effective and meaningful conversations and discussions.

A painting of a cafe, perhaps a World Café
Doesn’t that look like a great place for a chat?

Generally speaking, world cafés are used to help a large group contribute towards solving a problem. They do this while ensuring that everyone has a voice and is taken along the decision making journey.

The Activity

To run a world / knowledge café, you need to divide your large group of participants into smaller sub-groups. These smaller groups rotate between a series of tables, discussing a specific talking point at each table with the help of a fixed table host (facilitator) at each table.

A conductor - representing the host of a World Café
Table hosts should help conduct the participants and ensure that the conversations flow well.

Each time the groups rotate, their new table hosts bring them up to speed with the conversations that have already taken place in relation to that table’s talking point. Each group may also make notes which subsequent groups can look at (some events use paper tablecloths that you can draw on to capture these notes).

Once every group has visited every table the session is over. Each group then summarizes back to the room the overall conversation for the table they have finished at. Notes are taken and distributed after the event.

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How to run a World Café

1 – Plan the session

Clarify your objectives for the overall day, invite participants, find a host for the day and decide on the “talking points” or “problem statements” for your groups to focus on. Remember, you’ll need one talking point or problem statement for each table.

2 – Prepare for the Event

Identify your facilitators (table hosts), set the venue up, provide materials for each table, plan your timings and ensure each of your “hosts” understand their table’s “talking points”.

3 – Introduce the Event

Welcome participants, divide them between the tables (4-8 per table), explain the day, the role of the table hosts, the timings for the day and complete some ice-breaking activities.

4 – Complete Round One

Round one: table hosts facilitate, groups discuss, ideas are captured on flip-charts or paper table cloths and conversations flow for a set time (usually 10-20 minutes).

A large set of swings going around, representing rotating in World Café
Some people like rotating more than others.

5 – Rotate to Round Two

Once the time ends for the first round, each group rotates to its next table. Once they get there, their new table host summarizes what’s been said, materials are reviewed and the conversation continues with the new group.

6 – Complete Rotations

The groups continue rotating around the tables and discussing the talking points until every group has had the chance to discuss every talking point and contribute to the notes at each table.

7 – Playback and Capture

Once all rotations have been completed, the host or facilitator asks each group to share a summary of what’s been discussed in relation to their final talking point, the one for the table they’ve ended up at. Make sure someone captures these points.

8 – Wrap-up

wrapped gifts
Getting the outcomes nicely packaged is important.

The host, or other leaders, should play back what’s been covered in the day and why it’s important. They should also thank participants and explain next steps. The notes from the tables should be collected, reviewed, collated, documented and circulated after the event.

Learning More

You might also be interested in facilitation and team building, or lightning talks, birds of a feather meetings, fishbowl meetings or communities of interest.

You can learn more about team building activities in our podcast on them:

The World of Work Project View

A World Café is a great way to engage a large group of people. The method drives good outcomes and helps give everyone a voice. It’s worth remembering though that some groups will need more “ice-breaking” than others.

It’s important to make sure that whoever is hosting the day is clear on their role, will set a good tone for the day and will bring some energy. Good facilitators are also important. As with all such events, the more you really value the contribution of those in the room, the better outcomes you will get. These events can work for a wide range of group sizes from smallish (say 20) to large groups (say 100).

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This post is based on our experiences facilitating workshops and events. There are no specific references for it. If you are aware of anyone that you think this content should be credited to, please let us know.

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