The World Cafe

World Café

See also Café Mundial / Le Café du monde
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Brief Description:

The World Café is a whole group interaction method focused on conversations. A Café Conversation is a creative process for leading collaborative dialogue, sharing knowledge and creating possibilities for action in groups of all sizes. The environment is set up like a café, with paper-covered tables for four supplied with refreshments. People sit four to a table and hold a series of conversational rounds lasting from 20 to 45 minutes about one or more questions which are personally meaningful to them. At the end of each round, one person remains at each table as the host, while the other three travels to separate tables. Table hosts welcome newcomers to their tables and share the essence of that table's conversation so far. The newcomers relate any conversational threads they are carrying -- and then the conversation continues, deepening as the round progresses.

When to use:

  • Sharing experiences, stories or project results.
  • Problem solving.
  • Planning.

How to use:

From the CGIAR KS Toolkit: Cafe Conversations at a Glance
  • Seat four or five people at small Cafe-style tables or in conversation clusters.
  • Set up progressive (usually three) rounds of conversations of approximately 20-30 minutes each.
  • Questions or issues that genuinely matter to your life, work or community are engaged while other small groups explore similar questions at nearby tables.
  • Encourage both table hosts and members to write, doodle and draw key ideas on their tablecloths or to note key ideas on large index cards or placemats in the center of the group.
  • Upon completing the initial round of conversation, ask one person to remain at the table as the host while the others serve as travelers or "ambassadors of meaning." The travelers carry key ideas, themes and questions into their new conversations.
  • Ask the table host to welcome the new guests and briefly share the main ideas, themes and questions of the initial conversation. Encourage guests to link and connect ideas coming from their previous table conversations, listening carefully and building on each other's contributions.
  • By providing opportunities for people to move in several rounds of conversation, ideas, questions, and themes begin to link and connect. At the end of the second round, all of the tables or conversation clusters in the room will be cross-pollinated with insights from prior conversations.
  • In the third round of conversation, people can return to their home (original) tables to synthesize their discoveries, or they may continue traveling to new tables, leaving the same or a new host at the table. Sometimes a new question that helps deepen the exploration is posed for the third round of conversation.
  • After several rounds of conversation, initiate a period of sharing discoveries and insights in a whole group conversation. It is in these town meeting-style conversations that patterns can be identified, collective knowledge grows, and possibilities for action emerge.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

From Nancy White:
  1. Think very carefully about the question you use to convene the cafe conversations. Like many interaction methods, the question is at the heart of the interaction. It has to be clear and it has to MATTER to the participants, because World Cafe is about "conversations that matter." If it isn't important, don't do it.
  2. Don't let anybody talk you into using large tables and groups over 6 people. Cafes thrive in conversation sizes of 4-6. When you go beyond that, you move back to speech making and less chance for everyone to speak and be heard. So if a facility only has large round or rectangular tables, skip the tables and just huddle up chairs and put the flip chart paper and pens on the floor in the middle. Or if it is culturally acceptable and physically comfortable, people can sit on the floor. But the intimacy of a small group is critical.

Examples and Stories

Who can tell me more?

  • Nathan Russell (n.russell [at]
  • Simone Staiger (s.staiger [at]
  • Gauri Salokhe (gauri.salokhe [at]
  • Sophie Treinen (sophie.treinen [at]
  • Petr Kosina (pkosina [at]
  • Gerard Sylvester (gerard.sylvester [at]
  • Hannah Beardon (hannahbeardon [at]

Related Methods/Tools/Practices:

More Information/References/Related Resources: