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The World Cafe: Workshop Facilitation Method, Principles and Etiquette

World Cafe - The Right Questions facilitation
Some great ideas generated by World Cafe – servantofchaos via Flickr

The World Café Workshop, Meeting and Facilitation Method and Principles

The World Cafe workshop methodology seeks to foster an environment that is good for conversations to develop. The approach (which is similar to the Gurteen Knowledge Café) is a style of workshop or meeting that gets authentic conversations started in order to encourage the sharing of ideas in a relaxed, informal and creative atmosphere.

The World Cafe system is facilitator led and is based upon a specific method and seven design principles. The idea is that by applying this tried and tested method there is the best chance of success in getting an authentic dialogue that produces ideas and knowledge that can be put into practice.

When done properly, with the right balance of informality and structure, The World Cafe can be a very effective way of facilitating a workshop that produces rich and innovative output.

Here is the method, the seven design principles and the etiquette for The World Cafe system based upon information on The World Cafe website.

The World Café Method

1. SettingThe idea is to create a “special” environment, this is most often modelled after a café, i.e. small round tables covered with a tablecloth (preferably that can be drawn/written upon). You can then add some extra paper and post-it notes, colored pens, and perhaps a point of interest such as a vase of flowers. You can use and optional “talking stick/spoon” item if you want to control contributions. Ideally there should be four chairs at each table but you can have more although it can become hard to manage and more formal if you have more than six or seven.

2. Welcome and Introduction: The overall host/facilitator begins with a warm welcome and an introduction to the World Café process, setting the context, sharing the Cafe Etiquette, and putting participants at ease.

3. Small Group Rounds: The process begins with the first of three or more twenty to thirty minute rounds of conversation for the small group seated around a table.

Participants are encouraged to write, doodle and draw key ideas on their tablecloths or to note key ideas on large index cards, post-it notes or placemats (or something similar) in the center of the group.

At the end of the time, the overall facilitator will get each member of the group to move to a different new table. They may or may not choose to leave one person as the “table host” for the next round.

This table host welcomes the new guests and briefly shares the main ideas, themes and questions of the initial conversation. They then encourage guests to link and connect ideas coming from their previous table conversations, listening carefully and building on each other’s contributions.

By providing opportunities for people to move in several rounds of conversation, ideas, questions, and themes begin to link and connect. This helps to develop a broad and divergent discussion of each topic.

4. Questions: Each round is prefaced with a question designed for the specific context and desired purpose of the session. The questions or issues that are chosen for each table should genuinely matter to the life, work or community that participants are engaged in. The same questions can be used for more than one round, or they can be built upon each other to focus the conversation or guide its direction.

5. Harvest: After the small groups (and/or in between rounds, as desired) individuals are invited to share insights or other results from their conversations with the rest of the large group.

This period of sharing discoveries can be initiated so that insights can be brought up to the whole group. These whole group conversations help in the cross-fertilization of ideas, for patterns to be identified, collective knowledge to grow, and for new possibilities for action to emerge.

These results are reflected visually in a variety of ways, most often using graphic recorders in the front of the room.

After the last round of conversation, people can return to their home (original) tables to synthesize their discoveries, or they may continue traveling to new tables, leaving the same or a new host at the table. Sometimes, after the last planned round, the facilitator may choose to introduce a new question that helps to deepen the exploration for a final round of conversation.

The World Cafe Design Principles

1. Clarify the Context
: Clarify the purpose and broad parameters within which the dialogue will unfold.

2. Create Hospitable Space: 
Ensure the welcoming environment and psychological safety that nurtures personal safety and mutual respect

3. Explore Questions That Matter: 
Focus collective attention on powerful questions that attract collaborative engagement.

4. Encourage Each Person’s Contribution
: Enliven the relationship between the “me” and the “we” by inviting full participation and mutual interaction.

5. Cross-pollinate and Connect Diverse Perspectives: 
Intentionally increase the diversity and density of connections between perspectives while retaining a common focus on core questions.

6. Listen Together for Patterns, Insights, and Deeper Questions
: Focus shared attention in ways that nurture coherence of thought without losing individual contributions.

7. Harvest and Share Collective Discoveries
: Make collective knowledge and insight visible and actionable.

The World Cafe Etiquette

In addition to the design principles there are some simple rules of etiquette that help to get the most from a World Café workshop:

1. Focus on What Matters

2. Contribute Your Thinking

3. Speak Your Mind and Heart

4. Listen to Understand

5. Link and Connect Ideas

6. Listen Together for Insights and Deeper Questions (Playing, Doodling, Drawing are all encouraged!)

7. Have Fun!

You can find out more about The World Cafe at their website:


Have you taken part in a World Cafe event? What were your thoughts? Please do share them in the comments!

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