World Café: The Power of Discourse

Originating in the mid-nineties in the non-profit sector, the World Café research technique has incredible benefits for the non-profit, public sector and corporate spheres, but has seen less use in the corporate context.

World Café is a design research technique based on the principles that good ideas can come from anywhere, and that the best ideas evolve from cross-pollinating discussions across different and often quite disparate areas of expertise within a group.

Here at Usability Matters, we use the World Café as a way to engage multiple stakeholders in projects that undertake organization-wide changes. Two key benefits of the technique are enabling researchers to gather desires, objectives and requirements from many stakeholders in a short period of time, and breaking down silos in the crucial first phases of a large project. Running a World Café might seem daunting, but the results are well worth it! Here are two key tips to keep in mind:

The Environment

Getting your team to interact outside their normal group can be challenging. But to have varied discussion, it is absolutely essential that you facilitate eclectic groups that are mixed horizontally and vertically across your organization.

In order for that to happen, the World Café team and the participants need to be comfortable in the space as well as encouraged mix and move around it. Simple props like round tables, soft lighting and snacks can make a really big difference to the experience.

Conversational inquiry

Your team has an infinite number of creative solutions simmering within – you only need to access them. One method used during the World Café technique is conversational inquiry, whereby you generate potentially innovative solutions and ideas through loosely structured – but focused discussion. Skilled facilitators who can congenially focus the conversation allows for addressing specific challenges without stifling creative potential.