My transformative World Café Experience in Vienna

Posted by & filed under 20 years World Cafe, Allgemein, World Cafe, World Café Europe in general.

Advent Hommage to 20 years of the World Café – Week 2

Advent Hommage to 20 years of the World Café – Week 2

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline “ has been a fan of the world café from its very beginning over 20 years ago. So it was no surprise when The World Café decided to celebrate its 10th anniversary at a Society for Organizational Learning conference with a celebratory World Café.

Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, both founders of the World Café, invited a number of other select world café practitioners and my husband Jeff to co-design this world café with them. When I heard that he was going to Vienna, I said “You can’t go to Vienna without taking me along!” I had spent a summer in Vienna during my college years and had developed a special affection for the city, its museums, music and architecture. I thought that I would take advantage of his trip and enjoy being in the city. In fact, fate had some else in mind for me.

When I arrived in Vienna, I had no knowledge or previous experience with the world café. Jeff, on the other hand, already had started designing and hosting world cafés. I initially did not intend to participate in the SoL conference. However, I did mention to Jeff that I might be able to help to set up the world café tables and serve as an ad hoc translator. I didn’t get to help with the set-up for the world café because I was fortunate to be invited by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, both founders of the world café, to join the design process.

Juanita and David had invited a diverse spectrum of other world café practitioners working throughout Europe to co-create this special world café design: Tatiana Glad, a social entrepreneur from Holland; Ole Qvist-Sørensen a graphic recorder from Denmark and my husband Jeff. A long time friend of the world café and an advocate of organizational learning, David Marsing from Seattle (WA) brought his insight and depth to our considerations. This generous invitation strategy forms the core of Juanita and David’s commitment to sharing their passion for the world café with others.

What a wonderful experience! I had facilitated small group discussions like focus groups as part of my work as an evaluator. I was really intrigued by the idea of bringing large groups of people together in conversation with one another. However – like so many people who have not experienced a world café first-hand – I had no idea about the real power and possibilities which emerge from such conversations.

I experienced quite a lot of personal “firsts” that day. The co-design approach was new to me. Juanita and David made working this way together so natural; it was obvious that they had lots of experience working with diverse groups of people to design world café conversations. Even though I had just met everyone in the room, a feeling of effortless flow emerged as we began to collectively think about the world café’s design. Of course, we spent a long time reflecting about the kind of powerful questions which form the heart of the world café process. Ole was visualizing our reflections via graphic recording. This was my first experience with capturing a conversation with images, words and color. Graphic recording is a process by which ideas emerging from a world café conversation are visually documented in real time. I noted how carefully Juanita took complete (and detailed) notes to document the conversation’s design – something which inspired World Café Europe to create a storyboard documentation process years later.

Tables all ready for dialogue to begin

As I entered the room where the world café took place, I was greeted by a sea of round tables each with 4 chairs. I didn’t know it at the time, but this room was filled with world café devotees from all over the world. Others, like me, were going to experience a world café for the first time. Even though I had listened in on the design process, I didn’t really know what kind of experience was really awaiting all of us in the room. I took my place at a table with three others. Juanita, David, Tatiana and Jeff started their work as the hosting team for this 10 year anniversary celebratory world café.

Then world café magic began.

You can try to explain to others what physically happens at a world café – discussing questions, writing on the tablecloths, changing tables etc. – but its ‘magic’ can hardly be satisfactorily described in words. It’s a feeling of closeness with people, whom you have just met; a stimulating milieu in which perspectives are shared and new insights emerge; a space in which new knowledge and understanding is created together; a common sense of flow among many people – all at the same time. In short, it is an amazing – and often a transformative – experience.

At the end of this first world café, a chap from Belgium stood up and said “This should happen in Europe every year”. Something stirred in me; I felt called to action. It was clear to me that I wanted to continue to be part of this.

I attended a breakfast meeting the next day at a typical Viennese café close to the MuseumsQuartier where the SoL conference was being held. Morning meetings – especially those that begin at 7:30 am or so – are not my forte. But this time the call was so strong, that I knew that I had to be present at these initial reflections. Six of us from all over Europe gathered around a table. We discussed a lot of ideas and mutually explored possible the next steps. We decided to contact Europe’s other world café practitioners and ask them what they needed to promote the use of the world café in Europe. This, we thought, would inform our on-going efforts.

Once again Juanita’s generosity was key to get this process going. Using a list of European contacts which she shared with me, I sent an e-mail to all of them explaining that there was an emerging desire to collaborate across borders in Europe. A flurry of e-mail exchanges ensued. It became clear that we needed face-to-face meetings to explore the possibilities. An initial meeting held in Paris began to outline the kind of focus a European world café network could have. These thoughts were solidified in a subsequent meeting in Amsterdam. All of these discussions set the foundation for an emerging pan-European network which sowed the seeds for World Café Europe.

Deni Dax Europe

I am deeply grateful for the open arms with which Juanita and David greeted me ten years ago. Back then, I was a stranger to the world café. After the flow of my world café conversation in Vienna, my role as an interested stranger evolved into a passionate advocate who was eager to ‘spread’ the magic of the world café to people all over Europe. To this day, I continue this journey with even more passion and sustained dedication.

On this 20th anniversary of The World Café, I would like to express my deep gratitude – especially to Juanita and David.  I would also like to honor the many inspired people whom I have met along the way and with whom I have had the pleasure to collaborate. This spirit of cooperation which Juanita and David ‚gifted‘ to me ten years ago continues to serve as my personal inspiration to share this ‚magic‘ with others all over Europe.

Patricia Munro

Connecting People – Hommage to David Issacs

Posted by & filed under 20 years World Cafe, World Cafe, World Café Europe in general.

11763-1024x682 4 candles

Advent Hommage to 20 years of the World Café – Week 1

This blog is a joy to write. All of us have special people in our lives who have contributed to our personal development. In a very concrete way they have had a measurable influence in shaping who we are. For me, one such person is David Isaacs, one of the originators of the World Café.

I first met David at a Society of Organizational Learning (SOL) conference being held in Boston (Massachusetts). It was a mistake (or perhaps better said serendipity) that I met David at all. I had signed up and paid for a pre–conference workshop. There were several workshops being offered; it had been hard to choose.  I arrived at my chosen workshop. However, I took a moment to read the description of a workshop which was being held in the adjacent room. This workshop seemed a lot more attractive to me. I made the spontaneous decision to attend it instead. And there, was David. I still don’t know what moved me to make that last minute switch, but in retrospect it was one of those decisions that changed my life. There were about 12 participants. David led us in a discussion about the importance of conversation in organizations, while Ulric Rudebeck from Sweden (someone else who would also play a special role in my life later on) recorded our conversation on the wall – my first experience of graphic recording.

I still remember with great fondness the remarkable emotional sensitivity with which David led the conversation. He seemed to visibly empathize with the feelings of each participant as they spoke. This remarkable ability attracted me like a magnet and made the conversation seem that much more important for me. In subsequent years I continued to meet David at SOL conferences. We always seemed to have memorable conversations. At one particular conference in Helsinki (Finland), we took a boat trip to reach our dinner location. That year we had a particularly interesting “boat ride” conversation on the topic of sustainability.

Another one of David’s special talents is connecting people. He has been directly responsible for connecting me with several people in my own home town! At SOL conferences, he always inquired whether you knew someone –  and if you didn’t (and the person was at the conference) –  he would go out of his way to make sure that you made the personal connection. It was both enriching, fun and fruitful to be around him.

It was around this time that I was beginning to get interested in large group facilitation. I had facilitated a Future Search conference and had begun to experiment with World Cafés. Then came a special visit with David at Eibsee.

David was asked to facilitate a conversation in Prague in the fall of 2004. He had a few free days and wrote to me as well as to others he knew in Munich. He inquired whether I had the time and inclination to spend some time with him the weekend after his Prague commitment. (He later  told me that I was the only one who had responded to his e-mail.) I enthusiastically told him that it would be a pleasure to have the opportunity to show him around Munich.

When people come to visit us in Munich, I don’t feel like a visit is complete without a trip into the Bavarian countryside. On Friday and Saturday my wife Pat and I walked with David all around Munich, sharing both the stories and knowledge about the city which we had accumulated from over 15 years of living here.  On Sunday, we headed for the mountains. After some deliberation we decided to go to Eibsee, a lake at the foot of Germany’s highest mountain – the Zugspitze. thHMJTYRZF Eibsee There is a footpath which winds itself around the lake. The walk takes about 3 hours. Throughout the walk there are exquisite vistas of mountain tops framed by the pristine alpine water of the lake and the deep green shades of the surrounding trees. On a normal day, this is a truly beautiful walk. However on that particular October day, it was one of the most spectacular autumn days which I have ever experienced. It is hard to find words to truly express the quality of the light that day. Both David and I had brought our cameras. Between us, we must have taken over 100 photographs. One breathtaking view was followed by another view which was even more breathtaking. Professional photographers were out in force that day and taking advantage of the unprecedented light conditions.


Eibsee at the base of Germany’s highest mountain – Photo by David Isaacs

The tenor of the conversation as we walked around the lake could not help but be influenced by the sensory shower of stimulation which we were experiencing. The conversation was deep, philosophical and from the heart. All three of us somehow knew that this walk was a transformative experience. During the walk David said that he had not known why he had wanted to come to Munich, but that now he knew. My own personal experience was nothing short of an epiphany. I somehow knew deep inside that my life would never be the same again.

DSCN1468 Jeff and David

David Isaacs and Jeff Beeson at Eibsee (Bavaria)

The outdoors became an important cornerstone of our relationship. When I visited David for the Stewardship Meeting held in northern California a year later,  I joined a walk which he led to a favorite spot –  a place of stillness and quiet beauty.

On the 20th anniversary of the World Café, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the special moments which I spent with David. I would like to thank him for the many gifts which he brought into my life. But more than anything, I would like to thank him for who he is. His optimistic disposition, his love of life and people, his ability to see something special in the smallest things, his unconditional open heartedness have forever left an impression on me. It is a gift I will cherish the rest of my life.

Jeffrey Beeson

Envisioning age-friendly cities and communities – EVAA Prague

Posted by & filed under Allgemein.

Even though the rate of urbanization in Europe is slowing according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division, 82.2 million Europeans will be living in major urban areas in 2050. This amounts to approximately an additional 10 million people than were currently living in European cities  in 2011. (World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision) More than a third of these Europeans will be over 60 years old in 2050 according to the Council of Europe. These statistics portend an increasing need for Europe to review the age-friendliness of their cities and communities in order to take action and make changes in their cities and communities to accomodate an increasing aging European population.

Percentage of Europe's population over 65

Percentage of Europe’s population over 65 (Wikipedia)

In its report Global Age-friendly Cities and Communities – A Guide, the World Health Organization characterizes an age-friendly city as a place  which „…encourages active ageing by optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.  In practical terms, an age-friendly city adapts its structures and services to beaccessible to and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities.“

Looking to the Czech Republic to explore age-friendly cities

During the planning for the European Voices for Active Ageing (EVAA) project, the topic of age-friendly cities and communities was identified as one of the key factors to fostering active ageing. As a result, it was selected as a topic.  The Thematic Café „Creating an Age-friendly Prague“ was developed and realized together with our EVAA partner in the Czech Republic, the Institute for Gerontology / Zivot 90 together with four Czech facilitators aged 60+.

The purpose of this Thematic Café was „To give 50+ citizens the courage to have a voice; to discover the potential of Prague’s 50+ adults; to help them define their active role to create an age-friendly Prague.“  By inviting adults in later life to explore this issue with each other, the EVVA Prague dialogue was aiming to fulfill the following  goals:

1)     Identify what is needed to make Prague an age-friendly city

2)     Collect ideas and suggestions from 50+ adults

3)      Explore way for 50+ adults to be an active player in the process to create an age-friendly Prague

4)     To select ideas to present to other organizations for collaboration and/or implementation

EVAA Prague was a Thematic Café designed to generate ideas

The design of the EVAA Prague Thematic Café was a Generative Café, a classical form of a World Café to generate new ideas and insights about a question or topic which emerges from a collective understanding of an issue. Three quarters of the 90 adults who participated in the dialogue  „Creating an Age-friendly Prague“ were over the age of 61. The eldest participant was 95 years old. As an aside, it is worth noting that most of these participants grew up behind the  Iron Curtain. Despite not having experience with a dialogue culture during most of their lives, the Czech participants positively embraced the opportunity to be in conversation with each other in a trusting and comfortable environment.

The EVAA Prague questions were designed to stimulate the participants‘ thinking about the aspects which make an age-friendly city and what simple steps could be taken to make Prague a more age-friendly city. The eight WHO Age-friendly topic areas were reproduced on roll-ups to serve as a guide for these table discussions. The dialogues encouraged the participants to explore the role which each individual as an older adult could play to help create an age-friendly Prague. To quote one of the EVAA Prague adult facilitators, the dialogue’s design approach was to empower the participants to “catch the fish not give the fish.” In other words, it was about unleashing the potential of collective wisdom of the older adults in the room in order to identify the issues of an age-friendly city which were most important to them. Hundreds of suggestions were generated during the course of the dialogue, over 1oo ideas in the first hour alone.  At the end of the dialogue, all the participants were asked to select the ideas which in their opinion would be the most useful.

Best Ideas for an age-friendly Prague (c) World Café Europe

Best Ideas for an age-friendly Prague

What ideas and recommendations emerged from the EVAA Prague dialogues?

Like their counterparts throughout Europe, these adults in later life want to have a voice about the issues that matter to them and be actively involved in policy making which affect their daily lives. They also saw the need to foster more intergenerational dialogue and cooperation to address the ’soft issues‘ of creating an age-friendly city such as community support, social participation, respect/social inclusion and employment/civic participation. 58% of the participants stated that age discrmination and intergenerational fairness were issues of interest to them.

In the response to the question „What specific aspects of Prague  could be MORE age-friendly?“ during the early phase of the dialogue, the participants emphasized the infrastructure issues such as outdoor spaces/buildings, housing and transport along with  respect/social inclusion. As the dialogue developed, dialogue questions were posed about the role which adults in later life can play to create an age-friendly city. During this phase of the dialogue, these adults began to identify their specific role as a player to foster the  ’soft side‘ of age-friendly cities. From their perspective, simple steps to create an age-friendly city could be taken in the area of respect/social inclusion (39,6%) civic participation (20,8%) and social participation (18,8%). When asked to select the best ideas emerging from the dialogues, respect/social inclusion was mentioned three times more (52,4%) than the other top two best ideas of communication (14,3%) and outdoor spaces/building (14,3%).

EVAA Prague: Comparison Best Ideas vs. Simple Steps

Perhaps the most interesting result of the EVAA Prague – Creating an age-friendly Prague dialogue emerged when a comparison of the evaluation results (questionnaire with closed and open questions) and the ideas/recommendations from each of the dialogue rounds were made with each other. This review revealed that during the course of the dialogue, the participants developed a deeper understanding of the issues relating to creating an age-friendly city and their role in that process. One in three participants stated that the dialogue enabled them to better understand their role in society. During the course of the dialogue, the nature of the ideas and recommendations began to reflect their understanding that older adults have a central and important role to play. This is confirmed by their self-assessment as reflected in the questionnaire results of their personal ability to show empathy for others and have wisdom to offer based on their life experiences.

Sharing life's wisdom Photo (c) Lukas Zentel

Sharing life’s wisdom Photo (c) Lukas Zentel

The impact of the dialogue was also reflected in the motivation of the participants to continue their active participation in the process to create an age-friendly Prague- 52% were very or extremely motivated to further engage with the topic of age-friendly cities.

These results confirm that the inclusion of adults in later life in the creation of age-friendly cities and communities in all its aspects offers a wealth of wisdom and experience to enrich the process. World Café Europe would like to continue its cooperation with older adults throughout the city of Prague. We are also exploring options to share the insights of our EVAA Prague dialogue and process with the age-friendly city and community movement in Europe and worldwide.

Exploring the talent and potential of an older workforce – EVAA Bologna

Posted by & filed under Allgemein, European Voices for Active Ageing (EVAA), World Café Europe - EVAA Bologna, World Café Europe in general.

Who better to ask about the specific recommendations for an increasingly ageing European workforce than the employees and entrepreneurs aged 50+ themselves?  Such a dialogue on the changing nature und understanding of work for Europeans aged 50+ was one of six Thematic Cafés held as part of the European Voices for Active Ageing project.

World Café Europe’s partner in Italy was AIP2 Italy, an organization dedicated to fostering the use of participation in Italian society. It is also the Italian regional organization for the worldwide organization IAP2 -the International Association for Public Participation.


Bologna Café (c) World Café Europe

The Thematic Café entitled „Work after 50“ brought almost 100 participants from Italy and throughout Europe to Bologna (Italy). The purpose of the dialogue  was „To explore what change is necessary within organizations in order to tap into the talent and potential of adults aged 50+„. The participants of the EVAA Bologna dialogue reflected the workforce age profile described in a recent report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions „Employment Trends and Policies for Older Workers in the Recesssion“. 58% of the participants were in the age group 50-65 years of age and 24% were aged 66-75. This provided  an ideal mix older workers of to mutually reflect upon the issues affecting the ageing workforce and offer recommendations about how to create an age-friendly workplace. The post-dialogue project evaluation confirmed that 58% of the EVAA Bologna participants thought that diversity  – not only of age but sex, ethnicity, sector and EU country –  enriched the conversations. 47% othe participants were very or extremely motivated to further engage with the topic of  „Work after 50“.

Three stated goals were formulated for the EVAA Bologna Thematic Cafè

  1. To create a consciousness among older adults that they have a key role to play in order to change the image of adults aged 50+ in the workplace
  2. To find solutions within the current societal milieu to recognize the value of adults aged 50+ in the workplace
  3. To envision a future generation of age-friendly companies which embrace and utilize the potential of adults aged 50+ in the workplace

This Thematic Café was designed to foster a collective inquiry and reflection on these areas of focus. In the case of EVAA Bologna, the design took the form of a Swarm Intelligence Café . This kind of World Café design utilizes a a special mix of harvesting and dialogue which enables a group to collectively identify issues of complex topic (such as an ageing workforce) and recommends approaches to address these issues innovatively.

What did the dialogues reveal?

Created a consciousness among older adults that they have a key role to play in order to change the image of adults aged 50+ in the workplace

The harvesting results confirm that the participants of the dialogues developed a deeper understanding of the potential of older adults in the workplace. They recognize that older adults are an important (and mostly un-tapped) resource of knowledge about the field in which they work. This resource includes not only hard facts and knowledge but also the ability to use soft skills effectively to achieve desirable results.  Ensuring the transfer of this knowledge to others – especially to the younger generations of workers  – is a key element of this process. However to take on this new role, older workers need to be offered new challenges and learning opportunities by their employers.  This requires that older workers obtain the new skills which are needed for an effective knowledge transfer. This centers around the older worker’s ability to communicate, mentor and coach others. This implies that employers need to consider and invest in new opportunities for life-long learning for their older employees. This includes (but is not limited to) fostering older adult leadership, coaching and mentoring capacity, teaching ability, and cross-sectoral teamwork.

Rosa Smiling with talking stick

Sharing wisdom – Photo (c) Lorenzo Pondrelli

Found solutions within the current societal milieu to recognize the value of adults aged 50+ in the workplace

The recommendations from the participants of the EVAA Bologna Thematic Café are numerous and specific.  Older adults experience the challenges of an ageing workforce on a daily basis.  While specific recommendations differ due to sector and job responsibilities, a consensus of what needs to be done emerged among the participants.  (Please note: Only an overview of these ideas can be made here; an article which will present the specific recommendations is currently in planning.)

From the perspective of the EVAA Bologna participants, the role of older adults in the workplace needs to be fundamentally re-considered in light of the current demographic realities. This poses new challenges for employers both in the corporate and public sectors. How do these employers create age-friendly organizational cultures which are not just imposed by national and EU-legislation but is experienced in all facets of the business on a daily basis? This re-thinking of the workplace will require a new work structures which  addresses both the issues of an ageing workforce (such as BMW’s age-friendly factories). New ways need to be explored to pro-actively deal with intergenerational issues which acknowledge the experience of older workers as well as prepare them to take on a new role as leader, mentor and/or  coach.


Ready to collect ideas from the EVAA Bologna participants – Photo (c) World Café Europe

Envisioned a future generation of age-friendly companies which embrace and utilize the potential of adults aged 50+ in the workplace

The EVAA Bologna participants recognized that the creation of age-friendly companies is embedded in a larger societal attitude towards ageing.  Ageism exists not only in today’s society; it is reflected throughout the workplace as well. Ageism needs to be fought by changing attitudes about the role of older adults in the workplace. This poses a necessary balance between employer and employee. Managers are asked to create more age-friendly companies and proactively work to combat ageism in the workplace. Employees on the other hand, are encouraged to maintain and/or develop a healthy self-esteem of their own potential and as members of teams in the workplace. The participants of  the EVAA Bologna dialogue see a special roles for government on a regional, national and EU level to develop innovative policies which encourage and reward employeers to hire  workers aged 50+.

The EVAA Bologna dialogue provided a rich forum for adults aged 50+ to start envisioning  which steps will be required to create age-friendly workplaces. Through the dialogue with each other, the participants mapped an initial landscape of the issues to consider. This plethora of ideas and recommendations  provide a rich foundation to build upon to uncover new solutions for an older – but vibrant – workforce in the 21st century.

Bologna Hands-Up!

Innovation from adults aged 50+ – Photo (c) Lorenzo Pondrelli

The energy and creativity of the Thematic Café on „Work After 50“ confirms that the answers for this challenge are waiting to be discovered and voiced.  Holding more participatory dialogues  like the  EVAA Bologna are needed. These dialogues will provide a forum  for an exchange of experience and ideas by those who are most affected by the demographic shift.  The first step is to create opportunities for active participation in order to create this future workplace. Such a process will embrace the potential of  adults aged 50+  as one of numerous generations which can make invaluable contributions towards the realization of a truly age-friendly workplace.