A world café is in effect, a large group dialogue. It is run based on a set of seven design principles and follows a 5-step method. It was developed in 1995 when a group of academic and business leaders’ large-circle discussion was interrupted by rain. The business and academic leaders split into smaller groups to explore aspects of the larger topic and then swapped between tables to talk with other leaders. What they found was that each time people moved tables, they brought with them new insights and ideas and were able to add to the existing discussion, allowing the larger topic at hand to be explored in more detail than previously imagined.

Running a World Café is simple and effective and can be used for bringing together large groups of people. In order to run a successful World Café follow this 5-step process and adhere to the seven principles of a World Café.

5-step method:

1)    Setting: Create a themed environment. This can be a traditional café, or something suitably themed to the larger topic. Ensure that the environment is set up with a number of small tables with four chairs at each.

2)    Welcome and Introduction: Welcome participants, explain the process of the world café, the purpose/aim for the session, as well as any etiquette standards you will be implementing.

3)    Small Group Rounds: There are usually three small group rounds (this will vary depending on your time constraints), each running for twenty minutes. On each table there is a table host/scribe. At the end of the 20 minute round they stay at the table, ready to brief the next group of people, whilst the other participants move onto a different table.

4)    Questions: Each round or table is designated a question that the participants must try to answer and explore through discussion. The same question may be used throughout, or participants can be allowed to alter the question to guide the conversation direction and build on their response.

5)    Harvest: After the three rounds are complete, everyone will come together in one large group to share the results of their conversation. These can be presented visually; presenting the paper tablecloth, or the “host” may have created a visual presentation over the three rounds.

The seven principles of World Café’s are:

1)   Set the Context

Have an established purpose and outline various parameters of your discussion. In order to do this, think of some predetermined questions and/or themes for each of your discussion tables.

2)   Create Hospitable Space

People are more productive when they’re relaxed and comfortable. You could create a mock café, or get more creative and come up with your own theme. Having food and beverages available may also assist in creating a welcoming environment.

3)   Explore Questions that Matter

Compelling questions will lead to intriguing answers. Questions that are self-relevant (to the participants) will be most effective. In addition, you will need to decide whether the discussion will revolve around one central question that is broken down into themes, or several questions that aim to answer a larger issue.

4)   Encourage Everyone’s Contribution

Participation is crucial to the success of a World Café, but it is important to remember that some people may just want to listen. Encourage people to have a say, but don’t make them uncomfortable.

5)   Connect Diverse Perspectives

Move people between tables to spark new lines of inquiry. The most outstanding revelations can be made when people with different beliefs and ideas are brought together.

6)   Listen together for Patterns and Insights

Encourage participants to listen to each other and keep an open mind about what is being shared or presented.

7)   Share Collective Discoveries

Make time for a reflection at the end of the World Café where the main ideas, interesting insights, and patterns can be looked at as a whole. This process is called the “harvest” and it can be very beneficial to record this segment for future use.

For more information on World Cafés and their implementation, visit or read “The World Café Book: Shaping our Futures Through Conversations that Matter” by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs.

– Mary