When an event runs really smoothly and the participants are in a setting where they can dedicate 100% of their energy and creativity to participating in a dialogue, you know that a group of dedicated people have been working hard to make this a reality. Careful attention to these issues provides the platform for a dialogue which has a sustainable impact.
It was clear when the European Voices for Active Ageing (EVAA) project was conceived that both content and infrastructure were going to play a key role in its success. For over 18 months, World Café Europe had been in discussion with Dr. Janet Hively, a prize-winning gerontologist (Boston) and Moira Allan of the Cercle des Seniors Actifs (Paris) about the thematic emphasis of a series of participatory dialogues on the topic of fostering active ageing in adults aged 50+. The selection of 6 topics informed by research in the field and inspired by other successful efforts throughout the world which foster active ageing. Based on these topics, World Café Europe identified 6 European partners to cooperate on the design and facilitation of Thematic Cafés focused on active ageing. Both the EVAA concept and partners were established. Now on-going attention to project management and infrastructure planning during the course of the EVAA project was needed to provide an optimal setting for all these 6 dialogues throughout Europe.
World Café Europe recognized that planning the infrastructure across 6 countries in 6 languages would be a logistical challenge. It was fortunate that first of the 6 Thematic Cafés took place in Bilbao together with our partner Innobasque which had previous experience with hosting World Cafés. This cooperation enabled World Café Europe to showcase „Best Practice“ to the rest of the EVAA project partners – many of whom had never experienced a World Café previously. It also provided a key baseline for the preparation of the other 5 Thematic Cafés which were to take place in a short timeframe of 8 weeks.
This is why the ‚EVAA Epicenter‘ – the GPS of the EVAA project – came to be:
The EVAA ‚Epicenter‘
After the successful EVAA Bilbao Thematic Café, two full days were dedicated to create an integrated overview of the necessary project management and infrastructure for the next 5 Thematic Cafés. The EVAA Bilbao Thematic Café served as a reference as the issues were discussed and mapped out. Flipchart paper and various sized post-it notes served to visualize the results emerging from these discussions. Like a detailed mind-map, the central tasks in each of the key project categories – Thematic Café design, infrastructure planning, public relations/communication, results harvesting/analysis, project documentation and project finance/accounting – were discussed, worked out and outlined in detail. The results of this reflection was the ‚EVAA Epicenter‘ which served to guide all the pre-Thematic Café planning efforts in the months to come.
By dedicating time for reflection and discussion early during the course of the EVAA project, World Café Europe was able to identify detailed project management and infrastructure planning issues. In addition, this mapping process had other unexpected value-addeds for the EVAA project: it visualized the inter-connectedness of tasks across functions to support a fluid project management as well as uncovered additional areas for attention during the course of the project development. As a result, the ‚EVAA Epicenter‘ served as a kind of GPS for World Café Europe’s on-going efforts during the EVAA project.
There are software applications which assist project management of this complexity. However the ‚EVAA Epicenter‘ was a helpful low-tech version which worked efficiently. As a result, ‚epicenters‘ for World Café Europe’s future projects will certainly adorn the walls of our offices to inspire effective project management and infrastructure planning in the years to come.