Small groups of four or five participants sit around a table and discuss an open-ended question for a structured amount of time.
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
Notes and drawings are often made by participants on the paper tablecloths used in most events. Individuals switch tables after the agreed upon amount of time.
A "table host" at the new table briefly welcomes people and fills them in on highlights of the previous discussion.
Participants have multiple rounds of conversation in response to defined questions, taking the ideas from one group and adding to them, developing insights through multiple conversations with a diverse number of people, and expanding the collective knowledge of the group.
In this way participants gather a wide range of inputs that help strengthen the ‘ecology’ of the conversation.
A round of conversation lasts between 20–30 minutes.
A World Café or Knowledge Café is a structured conversational process for knowledge sharing in which groups of people discuss a topic at several tables, with individuals switching tables periodically and getting introduced to the previous discussion at their new table by a "table host".
A café ambience is created in order to facilitate conversation. In some versions, a degree of formality is retained to make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak.
Alternatively, the café concept can be taken more literally with everyone potentially talking at once. As well as speaking and listening, individuals may be encouraged to write or doodle on the tablecloth so that when people change tables, they can see what previous members have written as well as hearing the table host's view of what has been happening.
Although pre-defined questions are agreed at the beginning, outcomes or solutions are not decided in advance. An underlying assumption of World Café events is that collective discussion can shift people's conceptions and encourage collective action - wikipedia
The World Café originated at the home of Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in 1995 when a "large circle" conversation became disrupted by rain.
In the version used by David Gurteen (who uses the term "Knowledge Café"), the small group discussions are not led by a facilitator, and no summary is captured for subsequent feedback to the group - the aim is to maximise time spent in conversation and so time spent with one person presenting is minimised.
World Café events tend to have at least twelve participants, but there is theoretically no upper limit. In Israel in 2011 an event called "1,000 tables" was hosted in several cities on a single day as part of a series of social justice protests held around that time, and around a thousand people participated. Another example of a World Cafe event was one held in Ohio in 2005 with around sixty people, focused around the question "What does ending hunger mean to you?".