Collectively finding answers to central questions in a café atmosphereBy gathering groups around café tables, the World Café method brings people together in an informal but focused atmosphere to collaboratively find answers to the central questions of a particular topic.
In the method, a café-like atmosphere is created in which anywhere from a few to several hundred participants can exchange views in a series of sessions. Answers to the central questions are documented on paper tablecloths at the individual tables. After each round, participants switch tables. The World Café etiquette encourages participants to speak openly about topics that are important to them and to respond thoughtfully to what other people at the table have to say. In this way, ideas and solutions are linked, creatively recorded, and presented. An optional reflection phase can follow. After the event, results are recorded and used for the further development of the group/topic.
World Café at a Glance:
- Group size ranging from twelve to several hundred people
- Derivation of goal oriented questions from a central topic
- Café-like atmosphere to encourage relaxed interaction
- World-Café etiquette, which supports knowledge exchange and connection
- Results are recorded directly on paper tablecloths
The World Café method was developed at the beginning of the 2000s by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs (2007) for a business context, but was later applied to forms of public participation on a national and international level. The casual café atmosphere allows for an authentic exchange of ideas and encourages participants both to express their own views and to react to the views of others. New ideas, concepts, and solutions are thus developed out of this knowledge exchange. The most important step in the preparation of a World Café is coming up with the goal-oriented questions to be discussed at the individual tables.
During the exchange, participants are gathered – either sitting or standing – around tables in groups of about five people. The discussion rounds can take various forms. In one variation, every table discusses the same question for 20 to 30 minutes, after which participants switch tables and discuss the same question with a different group of people. Otherwise, each table can be dedicated to a different question, and participants continue to switch tables until each participant has considered every question. The variations help to develop a lively dynamic and encourage an open, intensive, and creative exchange. The results are recorded on paper tablecloths and presented at the end of the event.
The World Café can be applicable in many different scenarios. The method helps a group in collective reflection, encourages cooperation and a feeling of belonging, and makes use of the experiences and knowledge of all participants in order to develop ideas and solutions for the challenges facing the future.
World Café at the project workshop SecurePart, Verbesserung der Beteiligung von zivilgesellschaftlichen Organisationen an der EU-Sicherheitsforschung, Project of the 7th EU-Forschungsrahmenprogramms, 2015
World Café at Spar- und Bauverein Hannover eG, Solidarische Stadt, 2012
World Cafés in workshops Jugend mit Perspektive, for the Bundesministerium des Innern, 2012
World Café at the Think Tank-Workshop about the role of companies in citizen participation, for Veolia Environnement, 2012
Brown, J.; Isaacs, D. (2007): Das World Café: Kreative Zukunftsgestaltung in Organisationen und Gesellschaft. Heidelberg: Carl-Auer Verlag.