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What in the world is The World Cafe? by Joan Zachary, Director Best Practices for Internals SIG

02/14/2014 1:07 PM | Deleted user

“The World Cafe is a natural & effective way to host meaningful conversations that awaken collective wisdom & engage collaborative action.” (www.theworldcafecommunity.org)

What in the world is The World Café?  We’ve all sat through group discussions, brainstorming sessions, and other types of meetings, but The World Café is special.  You won’t know until you try it yourself.

I encountered my first World Café at ALC in 2005.  The national staff of ASTD wanted to gather ideas from chapter leaders on how the national organization could support local chapters, and vice versa.  It was a room filled with lots of ideas, lots of opinions.  How could we capture those ideas and discuss them, so that everyone could contribute?  How could those ideas be saved for later review?

Well, there we were, in a hotel meeting room with about eight tables, each one covered with large sheets of paper and supplied with markers and crayons.  I wish I could remember the name of our hostess; I do remember her “Kiss the Cook” apron.  She’d led many World Cafés before, and her enthusiasm spread quickly – which was a good thing, because I was a bit skeptical.  I’d been in countless idea-gathering sessions before, so how would this one be different?

For starters, it was fun.  I opted to be a “table host” to gather and organize ideas.  As soon as Ms. Kiss-the-Cook rang her bell, six eager participants filled the other seats at the table, and I would work like a beaver to listen and record the conversational gems.  Twenty minutes later, the bell would ring again and a whole new set of faces would appear.  This was repeated until everyone in the room had been to my table. 

Despite the diversity of the groups, I was amazed to see a number of common ideas starting to emerge.  For someone who had experienced many challenges in facilitating group discussions, this was a revelation.  My amazement continued during the full group debrief; pulling together a set of common ideas was amazingly simple!  It was easy, it was fun, and best of all, everyone felt as though they had been heard.

Since that first café, I’ve had the opportunity to attend many more, and to even act as a host once in a while.  Now, almost ten years later, we’ve got a chapter-wide World Café event coming up in March – and I’m psyched!  I’ve seen how the World Café process gets the juices flowing, to produce thoughts and ideas you could get no other way.  When you join us on March 20, you’ll get to see for yourself!

Take advantage of Early Bird registration and sign up for our March World Cafe event now!


  • 02/17/2014 7:21 AM | Wendy Whiteash (Administrator)
    Great summary Joan! I had no idea what the topic meant and now I'm excited to participate and see the power the World Cafe can bring! Thanks.
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