Opener: World Café

The World Café is one of the best Opening methods for harvesting ideas and bringing diverse stakeholders together. More structured than Open Space, the World Café directs the power of simultaneous diverse group discussions towards set questions. Participants break into small groups and have a chance to answer the questions and build on the ideas of others by rotating from one question to the next. A table host/scribe stays behind to orient the next group as to what the preceding groups discussed. After the rotations are complete, the ideas are reported back to the plenary. 

Prepare for a World Café by working with the client to develop a list of open-ended questions you'd like participants to answer. Questions can be two-parters, such as, "Who are the key stakeholders" and "What do we believe their greatest needs are?" Avoid closed-ended questions, which can be answered with a one-word response.

The time to allot to the World Café is governed by the number of questions. Give participants about five minutes to discuss each question. For example, for four questions (one on each of four tables), a full rotation would require 20 minutes to discuss plus a little time to physically move from one table to the next. You may choose to allot an additional five minutes for participants to return to their original table and hear from the table host/scribe what everyone else added. 

Ideally, have four to six participants at each table. For large groups of 30 participants or more, consider running two simultaneous World Café cycles in the same space. Regardless, make sure you clearly understand the rotation cycle of the World Café. It may be helpful to map out the cycle of questions, tables, participants, and time intervals visually.  

Set up the room with a series of small tables, ideally hightop cocktail rounds, one table per each question. Place a sheet of flipchart paper on each table, or if possible, cut a piece of large chart paper to fit the size and shape of the table. Write one question in the center of each paper. Provide markers at each table for the table host/scribe to capture ideas from the participants.

Introduce the World Café by sharing the instructions below:

The flow of a World Café follows these instructions. 

The flow of a World Café follows these instructions. 

Answer any questions, then start the clock. After five minutes, call time, ask participants to wrap up any final thoughts, and move on to the next table. Allow about a minute for movement. Repeat until participants have had a chance to add their ideas to each question. Again, you may choose to also give participants time to return to their original question and orient around how others have added to their initial ideas. 

Each table should brief out a summary of the ideas against their questions. This could be the table host/scribe, but doesn't have to be. Graphic record highlights of each summary brief out. 

Make the completed paper tablecloths available to the participants to refer back to. 

The World Café comes from Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. For more on the World Café, see this Wikipedia article or Learning Map No.2: World Café by Neuland