Brown Bag Lunches

Brief Description

From a knowledge management perspective, a brown bag lunch is “a structured social gathering during an organizational lunch time period which is used specifically for the purpose of transferring knowledge, building trust, social learning, problem solving, establishing networking or brain storming.” (Source: Bob Dalton, KMnet,


For more about the origins of the term “brown bag lunch”, as well as explanations of the many variations this method can take on please see the thoughtful, extensive KM4Dev Dgroups discussion that started on 11/03/2010. Most of the content of this entry is the result of thinking following this exchange.

When to use

A brown bag lunch (BBL) allows staff a real time exchange of knowledge and experience. At the core, however, it allows staff to socialize and get to know each other in a relaxed situation and promotes learning and trust building among staff.

The BBL can be used when an informal atmosphere is desired, and/or when there is a particuarly need to move away from formal, structured events.

How to use

A staff member or a guest who is knowledgeable about a specific subject, technology, programme, etc., or has a topical issue that would benefit from the input of others schedules a 45 minute session during the one hour lunch break period, and sends out a notice of the topic and time. Optionally s/he prepares a one page flier to share with colleagues during the BBL as background or for talking points. There is no formal presentation. The focus is on informal discussion, networking, learning and problem solving. Staff are invited to bring their own lunch and eat during the discussion, and can arrive and leave as their schedule requires.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

  • Not everyone will be comfortable with (or convinced of the value in participating in) such an informal event. However, it will give others the chance to flourish. Just do it! It is something that seems to grow with time and as its reputation develops.
(add yours)

Examples & Stories

  • BBL at FAO's Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension (OEK) - During the staff retreat for the newly created OEK it was observed that the office would benefit from some informal form of dialogue between colleagues, to learn more about the work of new colleagues as well as to get to know each other better. At that time Michael Riggs offered to kick off a “Brown Bag Lunch” for the office. After consulting with KM4Dev on current practices, the first OEK BBL was held on 23 March. A one page flier was created - one side describing a BBL, and one side with statistics and information relevant to the topic. Thirteen people (about 10% of the office) attended, and there were many useful ideas and contributions from the group. Three weeks later another colleague hosted the second BBL, with 15 people participating. A third and fourth BBL are now being planned, each at the initiative of the host. It seems momentum is building around this format of interaction.
  • In UNICEF we make extensive use of "brown bag lunches" with each section organizing their own, with often several being organized per week but the format is slightly more formal. Sometimes the speaker gives a Powerpoint presentation, other times they just speak, but in either case its always important to make plenty of time for Q&A/Discussion. We always create flyers and send around internal announcements to inform staff of the event. Often we identify a speaker for a brown bag lunch by taking the opportunity of asking someone who visiting HQ from a country office, or an external visitor coming for a formal meeting to present.

(add your story)

Who can tell me more?

  • Gauri Salokhe (gauri.salokhe [at]
  • Michael Riggs (michael.riggs [at]
  • Ian Thorpe [at]

Related Methods / Tools / Practices



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Page Authors

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  • Michael Riggs (michael.riggs [at]