World Café

Purpose: World Café is a good process to use in a divergent phase of a workshop as it encourages musings about a topic and holds space for multiple perspectives. It helps participants to reflect, sense-make, and connect ideas and with each other. It can also surface the questions that participants may be holding - even if they didn’t know they had them! It is often used as an anchoring activity, to connect participants to the reason(s) they are participating.

Materials: Enough small square or round tables to accommodate all participants, four participants per table. You will also need a piece of flip chart or butcher block paper per table, and markers for participants to doodle and take notes. The World Cafe questions should be written on a piece of flip chart paper so that everyone can see them and the Cafe Principles should also be visible - either on the wall or on individual postcards on each table. Post-it notes for each table for harvesting.

Time: 2 - 3 hours, depending on length of rounds, number of rounds and harvesting/shareback methodology. Ideally, rounds should be no less than 20 minutes and no more than 40 minutes.

Step one: Create the space (setting) and the cafe questions. Ensure that the tables are far enough apart that other conversations aren’t distracting. The setting should feel informal - as if you were sitting in a coffee shop or at someone’s kitchen table. You may want to put a talking piece on each table, along with the Cafe Principles postcards and markers. World cafe questions should be simple, generative and invite diverse perspectives. A good model to follow is to ask a broad, context-setting question for the first round, a clarifying question for the second round, and an example-based question for the third round, but there are many ways to approach developing cafe questions, depending on what the group needs.

Step two: Welcome participants into the ‘cafe’ and ask them to take a seat in an empty chair. Do not allow participants to add or remove chairs from the tables. Explain the process and the Cafe Principles before posing the question for the first round.

Step three: Invite participants to discuss the first question, and remind them to take notes, doodle, draw, and make connections between points. While groups are in discussion, facilitators can be quite hands-off, but be around and attentive in case groups have questions about the process.

Step four: At the end of the first round, inform participants that one person will stay at the table, and become the ‘Table Host’, and the rest of the table is to get up and find a new place to sit, with new participants.

Step five: Once the room is settled again, you can unveil the question for the second round. Invite the table host to give a quick recap on the conversation that happened at the table in the previous round (it can be helpful to give a time limit for this). Then invite participants to discuss the second question, reminding them to take notes, doodle, draw and make connections between points.

Step six: Repeat Steps 4 and 5 for as many rounds as you have designed your World Cafe for.

Step seven: After all the rounds have been completed, invite participants to share-back some of the insights from the conversations they have been having. If you have time, this can also be done at the end of each round. Make sure to capture the learnings/insights/questions from participants in some way (post-it notes can be helpful for this) and to spend some time sense-making after the activity. Insights from the World Cafe can be displayed for a viewing gallery or used to tee up other activities later in the workshop (e.g. “Many of you remarked about the lived experience in the room, and the next activity - Appreciative Trios - will allow us to get to know one another on a deeper level”).

Café etiquette

  • Speak from experience

  • Listen to understand

  • Connect ideas

  • Play, doodle, draw