Beyond Brainstorming + Speed-dating: Designing World Cafés for Results

Posted by & filed under Allgemein, World Café Consulting, World Café Europe in general.

It’s been 5 years since World Café Europe was founded „to transform the way in which citizens engage in and take responsibility for the key social challenges facing Europe.“  One of the ways which we fulfill this mission is to model and disseminate ‚Best Practice‘ in the innovative design, facilitation, harvesting and analysis of participants‘ input from a World Café.  Our efforts are driven to move beyond what we see as the ‚watering down‘ of a powerful process by categorizing the World Café only as a method. It is much more. The World Café process offers civil society, government and business with a deeply strategic process which – when conceived and carried out in the spirit  of „Best Practice‘ – unleashes the creativity, motivation and innovation of people everywhere.  World Café Europe strives for this kind of excellence in our journey to deepen this practice and, by doing so, aspire to create a new culture of communication in society which is inspired by the use of dialogue.

World Cafe tables ZGP - Renoir style

Tables of 4 ready for the World Café to begin

Together with our colleagues from all over Europe, we have been experimenting with new approaches in the design, facilitation, harvesting and analysis of participants‘ input and learned a lot about the realization of World Cafés  which have a sustainable impact.  Such dialogues offer a rich resource of collective wisdom about dealing with issues. They enable a group to discover new paths and identify realizable solutions.

World Café Europe is committed to share this accrued know-how with others. We do this in a number of ways and are continuing to discover new avenues to communicate our know-how and experience:

1)  By modelling  ‚Best practice‘ in all the World Cafés which we do – either on a paid or volunteer basis

2) By mentoring and coaching individuals who are dedicated to learn, improve their practice and make a difference through their use of the World Café in society

3) By partnering with other organizations to undertake pan-European or country-based projects which use the World Café process in an innovative way about an issue that matters

4) Through sharing the process and results of our work on our website as well as a variety of social media such as this blog as well as via Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, and  SlideShare.

5) By providing consulting services to both non-profit and businesses to plan, design, facilitate and analyze both the results and impact of a World Café.

During the course of our cooperation with a broad range of organizations and businesses, World Café Europe has identified a variety of kinds of World Cafés. Each has a clear purpose which fulfills specific goals and provides a platform for an organization’s desired impacts and/or results.

Most traditional World Cafés to date have taken on the form of a Generative World Café. This kind of dialogue is characterized by the creation of many ideas on a certain question or topic. By fostering ‚out of the box‘  thinking in a collective environment, it can be used to generate new ideas as well as provide an environment for feedback from the participants as a whole.


Harvesting from EVAA Prague Thematic Café on Age-friendly Cities

The World Café is often  relegated to a role as a brain-storming method or a large-scale version of speed dating at conferences. Our experience has revealed a far greater potential of the use of the World Café than these helpful – but in our opinion limited – uses of the World Café.

World Café Europe has designed Decision-Making World Cafés which are aimed to create consensus for decision-making on a key strategic issue(s). By fostering alignment among stakeholders on a specific task or issue, priorities can be established among a list of potential options. This process results is a mutual feeling of ownership of a collectively developed strategic approach.

Sylt Zweck Ziele Botschaften

Emerging collective understanding of the vision, purpose and goals of a National Park in Germany

The ability to work across internal teams and with other partner organzations is becoming increasingly important in today’s world. World Café Europe has used the World Café to help participants discover ways of collaborating with each other  more effectively. This Collaborative World Café encourages systemic thinking, and by doing so, provides a platform for diverse representation of both participants and ideas, thus breaking down silo mentalities. It  fosters cooperation across new structures/functions and enables the participants to discover new ways for cross-sectorial collaboration.

The challenges which organizations and business face on a daily basis are becoming increasingly complex. We must discover new ways to learn together. Charles Handy advocated this approach with his „Wheel of Learning“. An Absorption Café provides the enviroment for a reflection process which is key to nurturing learning and renewal of an organization’s efforts. This kind of World Café makes complex issues accessible on an individual basis. Through the collective dialogue,  new horizons open to the participants to enable them to envision the whole, not just the parts of a challenge or issue. It encourages in-depth understanding on an individual basis and cultivates communication about policies, ideas and/or projects.

Reflection + bubbles

Reflecting about „Changing the Perception of Ageing“ at EVAA London Thematic Café                                                                          (c) Alex Rumford

The  Swarm Intelligence World Café is specifically aimed to tap the experience and wisdom of a group as a whole.  It provides the milieu for a group to collectively identify issues and map a terrain to realize a specific (and often complex) approach together. This World Café approach identifies ‚hot spots‘  which can be addressed by the group as a whole. By stimulating collaborative innovation, it uncovers new opportunities for further exploration. In addition, it offers a new approach to strategy formulation as a group process which enables the prioritization of issues in order to to successfully implement a strategy as an entire organization.

EVAA Bologna Word Cloud Italian

Word Cloud from EVAA Bologna about the issue of „Work over 50“    (c) Aip2 Italy

All of these kinds of World Cafés offer a broad horizon of opportunities for organizations of all sizes – whether non-profit,  social business or a for-profit enterprise – to untap the wisdom of the people in their organizations and discover new paths for action and sustainable activities.

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