What made the European Voices for Actve Ageing (EVAA) dialogues so unique? These large scale dialogues were planned and hosted by older adults themselves. The oldest of the EVAA facilitators was 82. After her first experience as a World Café host before an audience of more than 100 participants she shared this insight: „I have learned a lot about the World Café but after today I realize that my learning journey has just begun.“
The EVAA project was conceived as a way for older adults to have a voice about the key issues facing an ageing society and make recommendations about what can be done to tap the wisdom of Europe’s older citizens. Not only were the participants of the dialogue given a voice, these dialogues on active aging issues were informed and enriched by the active participation of older adults during the entire planning process itself.
Why did this make a difference in the quality of the dialogues?
Even though none of the selected EVAA facilitators had previous experience in hosting large scale dialogues, they brought a lifetime of experience and wisdom to the process. As Jeffrey Beeson, one of the World Café Europe coaches for the EVAA participants noted: „This depth of perception was something particularly special about this experience of working together with older adults.“
World Café Europe aimed to foster both adult leadership and life-long learning through a custom-designed coaching process embedded in the EVAA project. Our previous experience has demonstrated that the combination of an experienced World Café host and a newcomer to the process provides an optimal learning platform. This personal coaching goes beyond an intellectual understanding of the fundamentals of the World Café to fostering a deep authenticity in the stated purpose and goals of a World Café. In his reflections about the EVAA project, Jeffrey shared his personal understanding of a truly meaningful World Café which has evolved from his years of experience: „You host a World Café because you are really passionate and the topic really moves you. If you are doing it from the heart, if you are doing it from a deep personal commitment, this is a great inspiration for any World Café.“ It was this deeper understanding of the World Café which the EVAA coaching process aimed to imbue in the older adult facilitators for the Thematic Cafés.
Each of the EVAA partners was asked to select 2 – 4 older adults to participate in this coaching process. It consisted of two modules, each lasting 2 full days. Since the idea of a World Café was new to most of the faciltators, the first module introduced the spectrum of issues key to convening an effective World Café: fundamentals of quality conversations, setting the container, creating powerful questions, designing and hosting a World Café, the process of harvesting ideas and post-Café feedback analysis /evaluation. The purpose of this first module is to initiate the process of developing the know-how and skills for an older adult to become a resource for convening effective high-impact World Café dialogues in the future.
The second module was dedicated to the content design of the World Café, using the up-coming Thematic Café as a focus for the specific implementation of all the concepts learned in the first module. This second module began by a focus group with invited stakeholders. These individuals were invited by the EVAA project partners to discuss and provide insights about the Thematic Café’s formulated purpose and goals. Their input formed the basis for a reflection which informed the detailed development of the Thematic Café’s design: questions, design elements and harvesting methods. The end result of these discussions amongst the EVAA facilitator was a first draft of the World Café design. Last but not least, a conversation about the invitation strategy for the target stakeholder group for the specific Thematic Café was held. This set the stage for the next phase of development and realization of the World Café itself. Between this last module and the date of the actual World Café, a number of conference calls were held between World Café Europe and the facilitators to discuss the emerging World Café design and deepen their understanding of their role as a World Café host. The penultimate phase of the coaching process took place the day before the actual Thematic Café. The facilitators and their World Café Europe coach dedicated time to review the design and seamless integration of their facilitation in order to create an optimal World Café experience for the Thematic Café participants.
Like the collective wisdom which emerges from a World Café, World Café Europe’s collaboration with its EVAA partners provided new insights about structuring the coaching process. Our partner Age UK decided to form a Steering Committee of older adults to lead this process. Individuals interested in the EVAA London Thematic Café were asked to formally apply to participate. The result was the selection of a group of highly motived older adults who took responsibility for the development and realization of the Thematic Café with support from Age UK‘ s dedicated Engagement and Volunteering Team. This Steering Committee approach was a great success and provides inspiration for empowering groups of facilitators of any age for future World Café Europe endeavors.
Interviews with the EVAA faciltators at the end of the EVAA project confirmed that the coaching and facilitation experience had inspired them to deepen their ability to plan, design, host and analyze the results of a World Café independently. They recognized how their work ‚behind the scenes‘ led to the realization of the spectrum of issues to be considered when designing a World Café for both meaning and sustainable impact. Towards this end, the EVAA facilitators acknowledged that their learning curve to work towards this level of quality and effectiveness had just begun. They expressed a desire for additional advanced coaching modules. By developing advanced coaching modules, World Café Europe will be able to continue the wave of enthusiasm for participatory dialogue to foster active ageing and spread ‚Best Practice‘ throughout Europe.
World Café Europe is committed to continue empowering older adults – not only to have a voice to host conversations about issues of importance to their lives, their communities and Europe as a whole but take on an active role by leading these conversations themselves.