The Café Conversations

This week we continue discussing different dialogue structures, and are highlighting The World Café and The Conversation Café.  Out of all the dialogue structures we utilize, these two are the most open, friendly, and fun.

If you want to get the public brainstorming about an idea or issue, the World Café method is highly effective.  To conduct one of these sessions you set up four to five person tables with a little decoration to lighten the mood.  At each table you will provide paper, pens, crayons, and markers.  After setting the stage with specific questions, participants are instructed to write down or draw up all of the ideas that emerge from their focused conversations.  Once people begin, you give them 20 to 30 minutes at a given table before instructing them to switch tables.  In this process of cross-pollination, participants spread thoughts and ideas and their notes will allow you to identify potential areas of common ground or further inquiry.  It can be useful to have a “host” or facilitator at each table or have a few facilitators walking around the room.  Music, theater, and other forms of entertainment can be intermixed with conversation at this event, although this is not required.  We have also incorporated elements of the World Café structure to promote comment both before and after a formal presentation of information.  This can help to capture both the questions and thoughts participants have as they come into a session, and their comments and ideas following a session.

Where the World Café is structured to capture and encourage the cross-pollination of ideas among a fairly sizable group of people, the Conversation Café is structured to begin civil dialogue regarding a provocative or complex question within small groups.  These dialogues begin with a single prompt or question, and evolve through “rounds of conversation” structured to build personal connection and trust among the participants.  This can be a great way to start dialogues and begin to build relationships among diverse participants.  Utilizing these sorts of discussions can help to build a ‘culture of conversation’ that allows individuals and groups of to refine their ideas and and thoughts before sharing them with a wider audience.

These two processes are not deliberative processes of the sort intended to result in a decision among competing options, although they both help lay a strong foundation for subsequent deliberative processes.  The Café conversations are, however, a comfortable introduction to civic engagement for a wide range of participants.  They help build both civic capacity and a sense of community while sparking new relationships and ideas.  In each case it is a good practice to continue the conversation by providing for follow-up communication and additional opportunities for involvement or action.

6 responses to “The Café Conversations

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