Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lessons learned from training on "World Café" method at an International Organization

Nadejda Loumbeva, Sophie Treinen, Marco Piazza, Stefka Kaloyanova, Julie MacKenzie, and myself recently organised training session at our organization on World Café method. The training sessions are part of the follow-up to the Share Fair, and especially to the extremely high demand for training in knowledge sharing tools and methods.

World Café is a face-to-face participatory method which can be used to share tacit and explicit knowledge within groups and teams. It can help facilitate learning and gain a collective understanding of an issue through conversation. It can be an effective vehicle for opening up discussions that lead to solutions. The purpose of the training sessions on World Café was to:
  • Show participants how World Cafés can be used as part of face-t0-face meetings and workshops to address and solve specific problems and challenges.
  • Help participants understand the fundamental principles and benefits of the World Café process.
By the end of the session participants were expected to understand how to run World Cafés and identify opportunities to integrate World Cafés in the events they organize.

The methodology used for the 2 hour session is as follows:

1. Introduction (10 mins)
  • Link to Share Fair
  • Self introduction of Presenters/Participants
2. Theory (10 mins)
  • Present basics of World Café.
  • Give a brief introduction of the session. What is expected, what will be shown and what will NOT be covered.
3. Hands-on (80 mins)
  • Divide into groups and discuss around specific questions. (5 mins)
  • Rotate groups after 20 mins, 15 mins, 15 mins.
  • Summarise the outputs (25 mins)
4. Debrief (20 mins)
  • Discuss how the method worked? Didn’t work? How and when could it be applied? specifically within the context of FAO.
The idea behind this break-down is that participants learn the method by actually participating in a World Café. This learning by doing approach is extremely helpful as it increases the understanding of and modalities for conducting World Cafés. During the two sessions conducted so far the following questions were asked during the hands-on session.

Session 1:
  1. Do you think there is a need for knowledge sharing related activities in your organization and why?
  2. In your experience, what are the key enablers and deterrents to knowledge sharing in your organization? Do you have examples of activities which have worked?
  3. What knowledge sharing activities should be part of your organization's strategy in the next 2 years to help you in your daily work?
Session 2:
  1. How "green" do you think your current workplace is and where could we improve?
  2. Do you think there is a need for a "greening" strategy? Who should it involve and what should be its main targets?
  3. How would you like to be informed and kept up-to-date on ways to "go green"?
Lessons Learned

  • Because these kinds of methods are not so commonly used, the training sessions in World Café have provided the participants with an opportunity to get to know new colleagues and see that there can be interactive and participatory ways of communication without necessarily having to constantly revert to Power Points! Participants felt that it was amazing and refreshing; it gave them an opportunity to be creative. The learning by doing allowed participants to see how these methods can be used in different contexts such as to find solutions, reach a shared understanding of issues common to a team/group/etc. Many participants observed that the World Café method could be used to start a workshop as it allows people to be at ease with one another. It can be seen as a form of speed dating technique.
  • Giving out information about the World Café (1 page flyer) was a good idea. It should/could also be sent out to everyone attending the day before. As many participants didn't know each other, having name tags for participants was a good idea. We could see that the facilitators had an important role in keeping the session lively and fun!
The major problems and how they were addressed

  • The number of participants should be kept as close to 25 as possible with 5 to 6 persons maximum per table. (This as per what the room allowed us to do, as well as the couple of hours allocated to the training). In the first session, we had too many participants and thus it was too noisy in the room. Also, if there are too many people at a table, not everyone has an opportunity to participate and join the conversation.
  • It is important to explain the theoretic concepts behind World Café (roles of participants, set-up of the room, etc.). In the second session, this was coupled with a one-page hand-out on World Café.
  • We realised that we should perhaps be more clear on the roles of the hosts (i.e., they stick to their tables, at all times) and how questions get asked during the debriefing, as well as how time gets allocated to them to quickly summarise the main points. Aiming for more interaction among the participants and not just among the hosts during the 'reporting back' (i.e., debriefing) phase is good, however keeping in mind the special role of the hosts (see below).
Hands-on session
  • The questions were sometimes double-barrelled and so maybe not so clear to some participants.
  • One suggested alternative to the option of asking 3 questions is as follows:
    make the group circulate and contribute in all tables with the same question. In my case when I summarize what the previous group discussed, I felt that people wanted to contribute and discuss a bit more as it was a new group on the same question; however we couldn't because we suppose to discuss the new question. My previous experience with world café (used another name: panel) were to have three questions in each table and the group circulate and give their contribution, in this way everybody would contribute to the three questions but with different perspective. I would be happy to try this model in a future session of the world café.
Application within International Organizations
  • We thought we should spend more time discussing applications of the approach to work people are doing, already, and the organization. This could be done by giving 2 minutes to the participants to discuss the application of the method in the context of the organization before the final debriefing on method.
  • At the very beginning, we could see we should state clearly that this training is part of a series of trainings on knowledge sharing methods and tools, focusing on its relation to the Share Fair, rather than just point this out at the end.
  • Concern was raised that there were not enough rooms to facilitate similar events. The lack of infrastructure and resources (facilitators) are an issue which needs to be addressed.
Reporting (Content)
  • The approach used during the two training sessions on World Café has been to ask the hosts to summarise the main points. Another option could be to ask everyone to summarise together in order to enable more participation. Then the hosts could be asked whether there's been anything not mentioned in the points that are brought up.
  • There was too little time assigned for summary at the end of the two World Café trainings we’ve conducted so far. This should be at least 15 – 20 mins in future similar sessions.
  • It is important to keep the informality and the spirit of the session.
  • In both sessions, we were too many facilitators. Two would have been enough with clear understanding between them of their roles.
In summary
Doing only a couple of trainings in World Café has shown a lot of interest in the method and demand for practicing it in order to learn it and about it, then apply it to the work. This is why we intend to organize more trainings on World Café in the near future.

Do you use World Café method in your organization? What have been your lessons learned? Have you used it to discuss highly technical issues (we used it to discuss more generic topics like knowledge sharing and greening)? Do you think it can be used in more formal meetings?


Special thanks to Nadejda Loumbeva and Sophie Treinen for their co-facilitation of the event as well as useful feedback on the contents of this post!


Nancy White said...

Thanks for the great report on your World Cafe training. I will tag it so the global World Cafe community will find it as well.

One thing I noticed was that you talked about hosts "sticking to their tables" -- there are quite a few variants (and beliefs about those variants) around table hosts.

I tend to NOT ask people to pick table hosts up front because the "usual suspects" pick up the role and sometimes dominate. I ask them to pick at the end of the first round.

I also don't always ask the same host to stay, but to pick a new one each round. This spreads the work around.

For me there are contextual issues for these decisions - culture, the complexity of the work/questions (you had a TON of complex questions!) and generally the mood of the group.

For me, the strength of WC is a) small conversations of 4-5 which allow EVERYONE to participate (and never let people talk you into larger groups. This is one area where I'm pretty dogmatic!), b) the cross fertilization of ideas as the tables mix and remix and c) the overall intelligence that comes out at the end.

Oh, that reminds me. There are lots of different report out options as well. You might check out the world cafe community to learn about the variants if you haven't see them

Amy Lenzo said...

This is fantastic! It's wonderful to hear about your work, Gauri! Many thanks to Nancy White for having shared this link with us!

I wanted to let you and your readers know that although it would never replace a face-to-face World Cafe, we have also begun offering World Cafes in a virtual format too, using a variety of online tools including Skype and Second Life.

I'd also like to invite you to join the World Cafe online Community of Practice that we have just re-launched on a new platform (that we LOVE) so you can share these experiences and learnings with other practitioners from around the world. We'd love to have you there!

Just go to this website and "sign up":

P.S. I agree with Nancy on both points - sticking to groups of 4 (no more than 5) and not choosing table hosts until it's time to change tables, and doing so each time you move. That really helps everyone recognize their personal responsibility for the quality of conversation, which can get lost when there is a sense of someone "facilitating".

In addition, I'd emphasize the importance of choosing powerful questions to lead your World Cafe. There is an excellent guide to this part of the process in the Resources section of either the World Cafe website or in the online community Resources area under "Hosting Guides". The question is of seminal value in the success of a World Cafe and we would always make sure the questions chosen are powerfully engaging for the group and based on the values of appreciative inquiry.

Thanks again for your good work - it's wonderful to have met you.

Warmest Wishes,

Amy (Lenzo)
Director of Global Communications for the World Cafe

Gauri Salokhe said...

Thanks Nancy for your comments and suggestions. I am really glad you said what I have been also trying to push for: small conversations of 4-5 which allow EVERYONE to participate! I think these are important otherwise the usual few dominate the conversation.

In one of the sessions (not mentioned above) we ran, the participants were asked to select a host at the end of first session but what happened was that people who didn't want that role just got up and so the last one remaining was reluctantly handed the job. Lesson learned there was to first ask them to choose the host and then tell them to rotate! I think it’s a good idea to rotate the role, as you suggest. Will surely try that out next time!

Amy, thanks for the feedback and pointing me to the community! I have just joined and look forward to learning more. As you say, the questions make the difference. This has been one of our biggest lessons learned over the last few sessions. It is an area which I would like to learn more about. I have not participated in a World Café carried out online but am curious to learn about the technology that can be used to facilitate this. I will take a look at the resources available on the community site. Thank you for stopping by! I really appreciate it!

Peg said...

I found your material through a link on the World Cafe Community and really appreciate you sharing it. I will be designing a workshop for young women on leadership and I think this might be a good topic. Have you conducted this type of training since your initial training and do you have additional lessons from those subsequent experiences?
thanks very much,
Peg Carlson-Bowen
Silicon Valley, California, USA

Gauri Salokhe said...

Thanks for your comments Peg.

If I understood you correctly, you are designing training on using facilitation methods? If yes, then I have done a few more and blogged about them as well.

> A colleagues recent posts about lessons learned from using Peer Assists {}

> Facilitating as a team - few dos and don'ts {}

> using icebreaker {}

> Example of a previous use of World Caf'e {}

> Use of Samon Circle method {}

Hope this is what you were looking for. I hope this helps!

sankuchy said...

Nice post Gauri! We tried mixing World Café with Multi-stakeholder platforms (MSP) in our project and it did wonders. Here's the link to my post.