The World Cafe

The first World Café Video!
Using footage from interviews conducted at the World Café Stewardship Dialogues in August, Aeron and Emmett Miller created this video introduction to the World Café, used in conjunction with Brazil's International Day of Peace celebration


What is the World Café?
Through both our research and a decade of practice, we have come to view the World Café as a conversational process, based on a set of integrated design principles that reveal a deeper living network pattern, through which we co-evolve our collective future.

As a conversational process, the World Café is a simple methodology that can evoke and make visible the collective intelligence of any group, increasing people’s capacity for effective action in pursuit of common aims. One reason for this is that regardless of the size of the Café, participants experience each conversation at their table as linked and connected to the unfolding conversation in the room as a whole. We have successfully used it with groups of from 12 to 1200. The integrated design principles evoke collective intelligence through dialogue. These principles can be used in a plethora of settings helping people at all levels of a system develop greater collective capacity to shape their futures through conversations that matter.

As a living network pattern, the World Café provides a lived experience of participating in a dynamic network of conversations that continually co-evolves as we explore questions that matter with family, friends, colleagues, and community. The metaphor of the “World as Café”, helps us notice these often invisible webs of dialogue and personal relationships that enable us to learn, create shared purpose, and shape life-affirming futures together.

When is the World Café useful and how does it work?
A well designed Café is useful whenever you wish to access the intelligence and best thinking of groups. Tens of thousands of people on six continents have experienced the World Café in settings as disparate as multinational corporations, small non-profits, government agencies, community-based organizations, and educational institutions.

In a World Café conversation, four people sit at a café-style table or in a small conversation cluster to explore a question or issue that matters to their life, work or community. Other participants seated at nearby tables or in conversation clusters explore similar questions at the same time. As they talk, participants are encouraged to write down key ideas on large cards or to sketch them on paper tablecloths that are there for that purpose.

After an initial 20 to 30 minute “round of conversation” in these intimate groups, participants are invited to change tables––carrying key ideas and insights from their previous conversation into the newly formed group. One “host” stays at each table to share with new arrivals the key images, insights, and questions that emerged from their prior dialogue. This process is repeated for several (generally three) rounds and is followed by a harvesting of the dialogue to which all participants contribute.

The Seven Design Principles of the World Cafe are:

Clarify the Context
Create Hospitable Space
Explore Questions That Matter
Encourage Everyone's Contribution
Cross-polinate and Connect Diverse Perspectives
Listen Together for Patterns, Insights and Deeper Questions
Harvest and Share Collective Discoveries



Café conversations are designed on the assumption that people already have within them the wisdom and creativity to effectively address even their most difficult challenges. The World Café works because it is based on something we all know how to do—engage in a good conversation. It draws on the quintessential processes by which people around the world naturally think together, create shared meaning, strengthen community, and ignite innovation.

The World Café enables leaders in any setting to create generative networks of conversation focused on the questions that are critical to the real work of their organization or community. Given the appropriate framing and focus, Café conversations allow participants to access mutual intelligence in the service of desired outcomes. Those using it often report an unexpected leap in their collective capacity to establish trust, nurture relationships, expand effective knowledge, and create new possibilities for action, even among people with no previous history of working together. Consequently, the World Café and its design principles have immediate, practical implications for meeting and conference design, strategy formation, knowledge creation, innovation, and large-scale systems change.

As a metaphor, the World as Café helps illuminate a core process that underpins large-scale organizational and societal change. Throughout history, new ideas have been born through informal conversations in cafés, salons, pubs, places of worship, kitchen tables and living rooms. Major change efforts often begin when the people most affected by an issue simply start talking together. Members of these small groups then share the questions and ideas that touch them with others, who do the same. Over time, sometimes quite rapidly, the exploration ripples out and engages ever larger constituencies in widening circles, stimulating new conversations, creative possibilities, and collective action.

The World Café offers an easily accessible experience of how conversations create shared meaning, which in turn shapes individual and collective behavior. For example, our colleague Carlos Mota brought diverse stakeholders together for a World Café in Mexico. High government officials were seated with rural farmers and city-dwelling business people and invited to engage questions vital to their collective future. These diverse voices cross-pollinated their perspectives through multiple rounds of conversation contributing substantially to the direction and focus that Mexico’s National Fund for Social Enterprise undertook as a result. Imagine the resulting behavior had the congress been dominated by academic experts presenting papers to a passive audience of government representatives!

For a more information on the World Cafe see: The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter by Juanita Brown with David Isaacs and the World Cafe Community, pubished by Berrett-Koehler. Or visit our website below.


The World Cafe Community Foundation


Ken Homer (webmaster)

City: Mill Valley, CA         Country: USA

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