The World Cafe is a method which makes use of an informal cafe for participants to explore an issue by discussing in small table groups. Discussion is held in multiple rounds of 20-30 minutes. The event is concluded with a plenary.
The World Cafe is a creative process set in a cafe setting. The event either takes place in an actual cafe or else the room is set up to resemble one as much as possible: participants are seated around small tables with tablecloths and tea, coffee and other beverages.
The cafe ambiance allows for a more relaxed and open conversation to take place. Often participants are provided with pens and are encouraged to draw and record their conversations on the paper tablecloths to capture free flowing ideas as they emerge.
Participants discuss the issue at hand around their table and at regular intervals they move to a new table. One participant (the table host) remains and summarises the previous conversation to the newly arrived participants. By moving participants around the room the conversations at each table are cross-fertilised with ideas from other tables. At the end of the process the main ideas are summarised in a plenary session and follow-up possibilities are discussed.
The choice of question(s) for the cafe conversation is crucial for the success of your event. In general it is useful to phrase the questions in a positive format and in an open ended format to allow a constructive discussion. If participants do not find the questions for discussion inspiring the event is unlikely to be successful, it can therefore be good to develop the question together with some of the intended participants.
• The method has been used with groups from 12 to 1200 participants.
• The World Cafe has been used by a wide spectrum of participants, ranging from community members to global business executives.
• The flexibility does not mean that it is not important to think carefully about whom should be invited.
• If the venue is an existing cafe and the process only involves a few dozen participants the cost can be very modest. As the World Cafe does not require a large number of trained facilitators it can be a cheap way of running creative meetings.
• For large events involving hundreds of participants and a special venue costs can quickly reach thousands of pounds.
Approximate time expense
• A World Cafe is not difficult to organise. The time required to organise the event depends on how easy it is to recruit the participants and how complicated the logistics are.
• You should allow at least three or four hours for a World Cafe event. If you have an ambitious topic you may want to have a series of events.
• It is good at generating ideas, sharing knowledge, stimulate innovative thinking, and exploring action in real life situations.
• The World Cafe process can deliver new thinking, meaningful conversations, an inclusive and relaxed atmosphere and deeper relationships and mutual ownership of outcomes in an existing group.
• The process can give a group a sense of their own intelligence and insight that is larger than the sum of the parts.
• Requires a clear and relevant question.
• The World Cafe process cannot deliver clear and accountable direct decisions, detailed plans or a statistical view of different opinions.
Although the knowledge that the informality of a cafe is a good setting for meaningful conversation is several centuries old, the World Cafe methodology was written by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in 1995.
Image by itupictures.
Gather informed and considered opinions (deliberation)
Generate new ideas (innovation)
Create a shared vision amongst participants
Reach consensus and overcome conflict
Number of participants
Representatives of wider interest groups (stakeholders)
Level of awareness and interest
participants know about some aspects/can roughly articulate some interest
participants are well informed and can articulate their interests
Crime and justice
Culture and arts
Environment and climate change
Health and well-being
Housing and Planning
Science and technology
Limit search to...
... face to face processes
Level of involvement
Children and young people
Ethnic minority groups
Groups with low levels of literacy/confidence
People with learning difficulties