World Cafe at EuroComm – how it worked

A participatory workshop was held during EuroComm 2016 to actively involve and engage the conference participants and have them converse on the purpose of communication and on how to create better outcomes in their professional frameworks.

This post will give an insight on the outcomes of the workshop, and on the methodology used, called “World Café”.

A word cloud created from the “one-word checkout” of the World Cafe session

A word cloud created from the “one-word checkout” of the World Cafe session

World Café got its name because it imitates a café setting where small groups (4 or 5 people) are all conversing together around tables. It is an ideal way to find out what a community is thinking and feeling about a topic.

After the first conversation, someone stays at the table as ‘host’, in order briefly to share the previous conversations with newcomers, while the others move to a new table, taking their previous conversations with them. The various conversations are woven together and the participants get a sense of what is being discovered and developed between us.

On the final question of the World Café (How could your outcomes be improved?) the replies of the participants could be grouped into a number of clusters:

  • People first and pursue passion
  • Purpose, focus, and accountability
  • Put comms in the centre of your actions
  • Data driven
  • Simplicity, creativity, authenticity

“Leadership support and buy-in” was mentioned, but it was an outlier.

Participatory Building Blocks

In a world characterised by increasing complexity it is hard to imagine any one management team, let alone any one person who could have all the answers that would help trace a path through the difficulties and demands faced by your business. The simple solution would be to involve everyone concerned, be that the people affected by a change, your stakeholders, your clients, or the entire system you are part of.

It may still be hard to find answers, but you will be sure to have heard everybody’s voice. And what’s more, you will have helped host those conversations that will allow people to learn from each other and improve sharing of knowledge.

Listening is the essence of good management.

Participatory Leadership and, Hosting and Harvesting conversations that matter is not a pastime. You will need to work on issues that are important to the participants, and in order to get useful results you will need to design the process you use with the purpose and desired (types of) design the process you use with the purpose and desired (types of) outcomes in mind. It is essential that you are completely clear about that you are completely clear about why you are doing, what you are asking people to be part of (unless, of course, the question is “why are we doing what we are doing”).

A properly hosted process entered into in good faith will inevitably produce constructive engagement.

Of course, you may also find criticism – criticism that you should cherish and take seriously. It takes courage to speak against company policy in open sessions and you would do well to assess its basis.

For communicators, this means training and acquiring a new skill set. We are well placed because we already have a fine understanding of communication processes and what works, but we will need more skills to continue to be relevant in the post-broadcast world.


With thanks to Ian Andersen (@Antusheng), who facilitated the World Café session

Posted in EuroComm conference.