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Knowledge Cafe

A knowledge café or world café is an innovative way of bringing individual ideas together in a collective, open way. It is suitable for groups of between 20 to 40 people. It may be suitable for larger groups, with additional supports required.

What you will need to run a successful knowledge cafe:
VENUE: It is important that the venue has sufficient space for tables and chairs, laid out in a flat open plan room. A large room is required. Each table should have a minimum of 4 chairs and a maximum of 8. Depending on the size of the group, the room needs to hold up to 5 tables.

For a group of 20 or less, one facilitator is sufficient. The facilitator sets the questions for the cafe for each table in advance of the event. The role of the facilitator during the event is to give clear instructions to all attendees on the logistics of the cafe; outline the objective of the cafe and encourage all attendees to participate. When the cafe begins, the facilitator should move between the tables and make sure that the conversations are active, engaged and ask participants if everything is clear or if they have any questions.

At the end of the cafe, the facilitator asks each table host/hostess to feed back to all attendees what conversations were had and to summarize the findings. Usually this is done on flipcharts, using post-its to capture the main ideas.

For groups of 20 or more a second person (other than the facilitator) will be needed to ensure the cafe runs smoothly and to time. It is important that each table is given sufficient time to discuss the items on the menu and that the conversation moves along without spending too long or too little time on each menu item. Generally 15 minutes per menu item is sufficient. After 15 minutes one half of the participants at each table are directed by the time keeper and/or facilitator to move clockwise to the next table, the other half are directed to move anticlockwise to a table in the opposite direction. This is important because it ensures that different people are meeting at each table and varying conversations are taking place. It also means that everyone meets each other who are attending the cafe. make a note of the

The purpose of the knowledge cafe is to gather people together to share existing knowledge through conversation. A successful knowledge cafe is when new knowledge is generated through the collective sharing of ideas. Before the event, a number of questions or statements should be generated which will in turn make up menu items for each of the tables. One way to do this is to have the same starter at 4 tables and a second starter at the remaining 4 tables and likewise with the main course. Alternatively different menu items could be set for every table. The decision lies with the convenor of the event and perhaps the subject matter. Once the menu items are set, the next preparatory piece is to invite people to be table hosts or hostesses during the cafe.

You will need 1 host/hostess per table. If time allows, set up a preparatory pre-cafe meeting either in person or by teleconference to prepare hosts for the event. The role of the table host is to make people arriving at their table welcome and to encourage participation from everyone. The table host is the
only person who stays at their table and is assigned to one table. Their role is to summarize the conversation for newcomers arriving at the table. The table host also gathers thoughts from people at the table on post-its or on the paper tablecloths. At the end of the conversations, the table hosts feedback the synopsis of the conversations that took place at their respective tables during the townhall feedback. A good overview of the role of the table host/hostess is available here.

Like any event, it is important to invite people and give them sufficient notice, an invitation and an agenda for the day. A free tool which may be used is eventbrite.ie.

Part of creating a hospitable atmosphere is being made to feel welcome. Either the facilitator or the timekeeper (or both) should meet and greet each person as they arrive at the venue. The approach should be similar to the way that people are welcomed when arriving at a restaurant or eatery. It is optional to invite guests to sign in upon arrival. A short introduction should be made which gives an overview of the knowledge café and how it works. An ice-breaker exercise is also a good way to get people to know each other and feel engaged. For example you could ask everyone to find the person that they know least in the room and share with them what each of you would like to gain from the day.

It is important that the room you are using has the feel of a cafe. It needs to be welcoming and casual. One idea is to get paper tablecloths in plain colours – white, pink, blue – whatever is available. Markers should be put in colourful cups on each table. People should be encouraged to doodle, draw and capture thoughts on the paper tablecloths during the event. The worldcafe website has a variety of table etiquette cards which may be printed out and laminated and left on each table. Fresh flowers on each table is a nice touch too.
Townhall feedback/Knowledge Harvest
When each of the tables have discussed all menu items and the cafe has come to an end, the facilitator calls upon each table host/hostess to stand at the front or back of the room and give feedback on the conversations that took place at the table. This allows for harvesting of knowledge into themes or common occurrences of viewpoints.

It is worth handing out a simple, one page evaluation form for each attendee. You can use this to see what worked well, what could work better and any other insights into the day. It will help with planning for future events.


Download Knowledge Cafe as a PDF here.