The World Café methodology was developed by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. In the course of an interactive brainstorming process, as many ideas as possible should be developed in order to solve specific problems. A variety of people meet to exchange their ideas and perspectives.
Complex tasks are reflected and discussed in a holistic and systemic perspective. Based thereon, new and innovative insights are gained. A World Café is well suited for heterogeneous groups as the different backgrounds and perspectives of the participants often lead to a creative process, where new ideas evolve. Strategic and farsighted thinking is fostered. Respect, openness, listening and transparency are basic requirements for fruitful World Café discussions.
Seven World Cafés principles according to Brown, Isaacs and the World Café Community (cp. The World Café, 2012):
- Set the context: Goals of the World Café have to be clearly set and defined at the beginning.
- Create hospitable space: like in real cafés, the World Café should take place in a comfortable atmosphere. When participants feel comfortable and safe, they are more likely to bring in their ideas and suggestions.
- Explore questions that matter: relevant and clearly defined questions are essential for a successful World Café. Misunderstandings can thus be avoided and the participants know which problems need to be discussed. The more people identify with and are affected by a question, the more they will engage in the discussion and the brainstorming process.
- Encourage everyone's contribution: small group sizes and a comfortable atmosphere foster active participation of all people. However, it is also important to encourage all participants to share their ideas and perspectives and cooperate to develop solutions, which is especially the responsibility of the hosts at the World Café tables.
- Connect diverse perspectives: the World Café methodology encourages the exchange of ideas of as many people as possible, who come from various backgrounds, but are affected by the same problems. New and interesting solutions arise due to these different perspectives and common discussions.
- Listen together for insights: listening to each other and reflecting are the basics of a World Café.
Share collective discoveries: at the end of the World Café it is important to briefly present the insights and results at the different tables in the plenum. Thereby the participants have the possibility to get informed about all topics that have been discussed.
Didactical Description of the Method
The World Café methodology is suitable for groups of 12 up to groups of hundreds of people (although the latter requires a lot of room and organizational skills). I would recommend groups between 12 and 30 people.
Single tables for 4-7 people are required for a World Café. The tables should be arranged around the room. A flip-chart paper and 3-4 pens are needed at each table.
- At the beginning of a World Café the number of topics to discuss (= number of tables) are defined, whereby four to seven people should discuss one topic.
- Shortly introduce the participants to the topics, you would like them to discuss. You can think of specific questions before or decide together with the participants which questions they would like to work on during the World Café. Please consider that the questions should be as clear as possible.
- One host is selected for every discussion topic/table. The role of the host is to moderate the discussion and ensure a comfortable discussion basis. The host stays at the same table during the whole World Café, welcomes the people and shortly presents what has been discussed in the rounds before. It is important that all contributions and ideas are written down on the flip-chart paper. At the end, the host presents the results of their table in the plenum.
- The other participants split and go to different tables.
- Start of round 1. Every round takes 15-25 minutes. The questions are discussed at the same time. Every round ends with an acoustic signal (i.e. a gong or clapping). Then the participants change the tables (except the hosts) and also the discussion partners. At the end every participant has contributed their ideas to every table – hence there are as many rounds as tables.
- The hosts summarize and present the results at their tables in the plenum.
- The World Café might build the basis for future projects. Then it is recommended to summarize the results within a report and take pictures of the flip-chart papers.
If you like to organize a World Café with hundreds of people, you might use the same questions several times. You can additionally reduce the number of rounds, e.g. you could discuss six topics in four rounds – then the participants can only discuss four topics.
Flip-chart paper and 3-4 pens per table.