The World Cafe

By Shae Hadden | Bio

Conversations can change the world. When we speak openly about what matters most to us, we can build authentic relationships. We can tap into the wisdom and collective intelligence we need to address our problems. We can create the future together.

I’ve been excited in the last few weeks to learn about The World Café through conversations with Juanita Brown, co-founder of the World Café and Anne Dosher, who at age 85 serves as the “elder” of this global movement to create cultures of dialogue. Based on living systems thinking, this relatively new technology (discovered in 1995) works especially well in large groups where a traditional dialogue circle would not normally be possible. Like a microcosm of the macrocosmic “world as café”, each World Café gathering allows participants to inquire into powerful questions at multiple tables.  Participants contribute to several table conversations, freely build on others’ contributions, observe patterns in the dialogues and create new links between ideas. An expert graphic recorder/facilitator often captures the key thoughts and connections between ideas, and the visual ‘graphic harvest’ produced can be used later for planning. Fundamental to the process are the values of mutual respect, inclusiveness and generosity.

This conversational process has been used by conferences and groups—from large multinationals like Coca-Cola and Intel Corporation to educational and community-based organizations like the Fielding Graduate Institute and the Girl Scouts of America—in a wide variety of cultures in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. World Café participants have developed innovative approaches to healthcare, education, environmental protection and sustainable development.

The design of every World Café event relies on these principles:

  1. Clarify the context of the conversations
  2. Create a hospitable environment
  3. Explore questions together
  4. Encourage everyone’s contributions
  5. Cross-pollinate and connect diverse perspectives
  6. Listen for insights, patterns and deeper questions
  7. Share the group’s collective discoveries

In the last few years, the World Café has been incorporating a multigenerational component to their events. They have been involved with hosting multigenerational dialogues at the Shambhala Institute, the Quest for Global Healing Conferences in Bali and several Bay Area events in which youth and elders come together to connect, communicate and collaborate on issues of passionate concern for our common future.

To learn more about the principles, process and history of this exciting social innovation, I’d recommend reading The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter.

If you’re interested in attending a World Café event, check out their calendar of events or contact a Café steward in your area.

More on this tomorrow…

Sincere thanks to Juanita Brown for being in conversation with me about this innovative way to support multigenerational collaboration.