World Café is a fun, flexible, and scalable technique for group conversations that leads to creative solutions to complex problems. World Café has some similarities to Open Space Technology: both techniques work for groups ranging from a few people to a few thousand; both are frameworks that support individuals and interactions. World Café is useful for generating and communicating ideas, making decisions, and even doing hands-on work. We’ll be teaching product owners how to use it in our upcoming Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner (A-CSPO) workshop.
How It Works
The facilitator breaks the room into groups, then sets them to explore a set of related topics, one per table. Each table has a host whose job is to stay with the table and provide continuity while the groups discuss the topic. The other participants rotate between tables on a regular schedule, perhaps every 15-30 minutes. The idea is that those who travel between tables will cross-pollinate ideas between the topics and bring fresh perspectives. By participating in each topic, the participants come to have a holistic understanding of the main issue, and are able to understand each sub-issue within this context. In the last round, people have the option of returning to a previous table so there is opportunity for closure and continuity.
How It Came To Be
World Café was created in 1995 when a group of business and academic leaders were meeting at the home of Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in Mill Valley, California. The plan was for a large-circle dialogue outdoors, but rain necessitated a change. Here’s what happened next.
Participants spontaneously formed into small, intimate table conversations about the questions that had drawn them together, recording their insights on makeshift paper “tablecloths.” They periodically interrupted these conversations to switch tables so the insights and ideas that stayed with them might circulate, deepen, and connect. Harvesting the table conversations enabled them to notice the emerging patterns in their thinking, which then enriched subsequent rounds of conversation. Over the course of the morning, the innovative process they improvised gave birth to an experience of collective intelligence that transformed the depth, scope, and quality of their collaboration.
I first facilitated a World Café at P-Camp 2009 with Ainsley Nies. I’m excited to be using it in my Advanced Scrum Product Owner (A-CSPO) workshop. It’s a technique that can really help product owners build an engaged stakeholder community, and get the development team and the stakeholders more engaged with each other.
You can learn more about the seven design principles behind the simple method of World Café at TheWorldCafe.com or by reading the Wikipedia page on World Cafe, or by enrolling in our next A-CSPO workshop.