Joe and Allan often use the World Café method when they are invited to help a large group of people — a faith community or a district — engage in meaningful conversation.
The process begins with Joe and/or Allan working with a hosting team to consider what the intention of the work is, and the “harvest” that they intend for a World Café gathering. The harvest can be specific and tangible outcomes, like a clear direction or a list of new program ideas, or it could include intangible outcomes, like deepened relationships or new friendships among a diverse group of people.
The hosting team also plans the logistics for the gathering — creating a setting that is conducive to comfortable and focused conversation. Joe and Allan then help them craft an invitation to the event that clearly poses the primary question and intended harvest. The invitation often includes a question that begins with “What if ….” and includes list of “what to expect” and “what not to expect” from the gathering.
When the day for the gathering arrives, the room will be set up café style. Using small round tables set for 4 people, often covered with a checkered tablecloth café-style, flip chart paper, colored pens, participants are given instructions about the World Café process, the context and the intended “harvest” for the gathering.
The process begins with the first of three or more twenty minute rounds of conversation for the small group seated around a table. At the end of the twenty minutes, each member of the group moves to a different new table. One person remains as the table host for the next round, who welcomes the next group and briefly fills them in on what happened in the previous round.
Each round is prefaced with a question specially crafted for the specific context and desired purpose of the World Café. The same questions can be used for more than one round, or they can be built upon each other to focus the conversation or guide its direction.
After the small groups (and/or in between rounds, as needed), individuals are invited to share insights or other results from their conversations with the rest of the large group. Referring to the writing and doodling on the flip chart paper on the tables and recalling their conversation, participants write their emergent responses on large post-it notes and then place them on a harvest wall. The responses are usually grouped together as themes and related ideas begin to appear. Sometimes a graphic recorder is also present to create a visual harvest of the gathering. The collection of post-it notes is often photographed so that the hosting team has a permanent record. A group conversation is usually led by Joe and/or Allan as everyone views the collection of post-it notes and the visual harvest and begins to “make sense” of what they have learned.
Following the World Café other methods can be used to make sense of the learning, or to move from sense-making to a response. For example, the organization can continue meeting using small group practices, they could employ an Open Space process, they might move into a Circle conversation, or they could engage a Design Lab to begin creating specific project plans.