World Café – goal-oriented discussions in a relaxed atmosphere

The idea of a World Café is that participants engage in conversation with each other and discuss and reflect on issues in small groups. The exchange of ideas should, ideally, be similar to a casual conversation in a café. The participants deepen the topic by repeatedly changing discussion partners. 

At the outset, the organisers explain the procedure and the role of the ‘hosts’, who moderate the discussions at the individual tables. Questions are discussed concurrently at all tables for periods of 15 to 20 minutes. The participants write, draw or sketch their results on paper. After this, they move on to a different table to create a fresh mix of participants for the next discussion round. The hosts remain at their own tables, welcome the newcomers, sum up what was previously discussed and relaunch the discourse. At the conclusion, a final round involving all participants is held where participants present their results.

What is special about a World Café?

A World Café can be an alternative to a congress, lecture or symposium. The workshop method allows people with different interests or opinions to get to know each other in an uncomplicated way and quickly engage in a constructive exchange. The aim could be, for instance, to draw up plans of action, to develop strategies or to suggest ways to make improvements. In the process, the participants document their ideas, enabling an individual, creative process. 

Which requirements need to be met?

Above all else, a World Café depends on stimulating, comprehensible questions to kick off the group discussions. The first question is usually open and is intended to elicit an exchange of ideas relating to a topic or facilitate a brainstorming session. The second question can be narrower in scope and more goal-oriented, for instance, ‘What do we want to achieve today on a specific topic?’. The third question should shed light on ‘how’ a specific goal might be achieved.

What other preparation is required?

A café consists of a room with several group tables. Tables should seat four to six participants, and at each a sheet of paper or a paper tablecloth and pencils should be provided. The results are presented by means of a pin board or equivalent. Before the start, the planning group defines the aim of the exchange, the core topic and the questions asked by the hosts. 

Which target groups are suitable for the format?

The method is suitable for participants learning in a seminar or taking part in a workshop from all disciplines. The recommended number of participants is twelve and above. The ideal duration is 45 to 90 minutes (three to five rounds with a break).

Special tip

The success of a café is dependent on an open and friendly atmosphere at the tables. To facilitate this, it can help to involve participants in a group exercise (e.g. movement to music) beforehand. 

Author: Eva Lindner

Have you ever taken part in a World Café? We would love to hear your experiences.

To the Community

August 2021

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