What is it? A World Café is a method for discussion where a larger group is divided into rotating smaller groups. These smaller discussions are focused around one topic or question with which a community is currently engaged. The whole process is carefully designed to be welcoming and comfortable for participants from all segments of the population. In addition, designers also deliberately plan the questions and process to encourage meaningful dialogue leading to productive learning and insight. Participants begin with a timed small group discussion on the provided question. After a designated time, facilitators prompt the participants to disperse and move to another table. At this point, new groups form and continue the discussion, by building on the conversations and ideas from the previous session. This table-based dialogue may be repeated a number of times. Eventually, representative from the small groups are asked to share the most compelling insights or results, with the larger audience. Facilitators compile and record ideas for all to see. A World Café process focuses on broadening the perspectives and understandings of the participants, in a way that illuminates some of the complexities and tradeoffs of the topic.
How has it been used? Alderman Harry Osterman of Chicago used a world café while working to develop a Master Plan for Ward 48. He decided that it was vital to hold a community visioning process and that the world café model would work best. So, 150 community members met together with the Alderman and his staff to talk about how to create a vibrant future for their community. This event was held in an empty retail space to emphasize the importance of filling empty buildings in the community. As the small groups talked, broke apart and formed anew, participants were asked specific questions to delve into their feelings about community issues. By the end, the group as a whole had settled on 15 actions to be undertaken by the community to create positive change. (Source: The World Café)