The World Cafe Community

Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter

Hi all,

I would like to invite you to join a conversation on »The New Face of Community«.

Community is one of the central topics a group of practitioners gathering in Dresden, Germany, has been exploring over the last weekend in preparing a meeting of World Café and dialogue practioners in autumn. We haven't found any answers yet, but we found new questions. And we'd like to explore together with you if this is a topic that resonates with you.

Do we know how to create and maintain communities?
What is the relation between shared meaning and community?
We know how to behave in associations, but do we still know how behave in communities? What would be possible if we could find ways to transcend competition?
Why is community important?
What kind of communities do we need in order to contribute to a sustainable world? And how do we create them?
What is the relation of dialogue and the new face community?
What is the relation between leadership and the new face of community?

Just looking at this website, a new set of questions is emerging:
What is the essence of an Online community?
Is it similar or different from a not-online community?
How can we find out together if there is an answer to these questions?

Well, this is the beta team, isn't it? Could we create a beta team to test new communities in general?

I am looking forward to have conversations on this topic. If you feel slightly overwhelmed by this lot of questions, could you be interested in finding out about some underlying structures in this chaos?

I just wonder under which category this conversation should be located. For the moment I think »Ideas and Passions« could be a good category. I think this conversation should center around the application of World Café. World Café – what for? Why do we think World Café is wildly important?

Warm best wishes from Germany,


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(Full disclosure right up front - I was part of the conversation in Dresden last week)

You've set out some very wide-ranging and provocative questions, Ulrich, about a subject that feels very important in these times - "what is the new face of community?" With the dispersion of family and the "always on" connection offered by the internet, how do we truly connect in meaningful ways? How do we find the collaboration and personal support that a sense of community can give us when we don't live next to each other anymore? Most of us don't bring in the wheat together during harvest, but are there other ways in which we are inter-dependent? What does community look like in this age of dispersion, in the age of internet? How do we find each other and what does it mean to choose to be in community? Is it that easy? What's needed to make it real?

The background to the question about associations and communities was interesting to me - it came up in a (Skype) conversation with Charles Savage, who pointed out a historical shift tied to the beginnings of the Industrial Age where we transitioned from an agrarian sense of "community" to the more urban and less personal realm of "association" in which we pretty much forget what community is.

There are wonderful benefits to association, but there are also deep longings for community, another level of connection altogether. I was reading the profiles of many of the people in this forum, for example, and it's striking how many put some kind of reference to community or collaboration in their desires for what they would receive from participation here.

I think these questions are important on the national and international levels too as we move into an age in which nations too must develop the capacity for collaboration and collective understandings or be swept away by the waves of violence and distrust that have ruffled the shores of humanity since the beginning but never until now had the capacity to effect us all the way it does now.

What do you mean, Ulrich, when you suggest "a beta team to test new communities in general"?
Hi Amy,
thank you for your reply. Thinking back an our skype call with Charles Savage, I personally ask myself about the price we all have paid for living in associations. When economic links are stronger than friendships, what will be the long term results for friendships and communities?
In the last several years, I invested several times in communities that broke up after a while, and I wonder why. There are some »surface« reasons of course, but what might be the deeper reasons that so many of us live in serial relationships and evolve by changing communities, not within communities?

A beta team to test new communities:
That was a peripheral idea while writing. What I mean with this: Can we form a team that is exploring what the new face of community might be? You can't use a beta team, because life is »online« already, and you don't have time to check things out before starting to live ... But you can create a team or a cirlce of friends to explore the possibilities of community – what contributes to sustainable communities, what does not, how can we embrace our shadows, ...

What is it that holds people together? What is the glue of a community? The beta team might be a metaphor to guide a collective inquiry on communities. Does this make sense?

Cheers, Ulrich
Yes, it makes sense. Lovely idea ... kind of like an exploration team, advance scouts with our eyes peeled for the sort of terrain that best supports community. :-)
Hi Ulric,

I love your question in your last response to Amy:
What is it that holds people together? What is the glue of a community?

I'm reminded of my parents 60th Wedding Anniversary Cafe attended by their "mispukah"--a beloved community of dear friends who had stayed together around key social action projects for over 50 years. In the Cafe we asked them exactly your question "what has held you together over all these years?"-- And their responses were so touching---things like: our deep personal friendships; our shared values; our lost causes as well as the ones we won, that we knew that if one of us called many in the group would respond; being there for eachother personally through both tragedies and triumphs, and FOOD...sharing food!!

We then asked them what advice, as elders, would they have for their children and grandchildren-- and they said: build continuity--which they had done through being in the same physical community (maybe its for us on-line and through projects we do together; ; let differences be resources...etc etc...

My question for this conversation might be: What's the difference between a network and a comunity? My parents group were not a network--they were a true and abiding community....Can we who are so dispersed most of the time geographically and are not place based truly evolve the power of community that we know is possible? I think so as we've seen this evolving among subsets of folks who see themselves as "kindreds" in one way or another.

Anyhow, those are my initial thoughts. I love this conversation!!
Dear Juanita,

thank you for sharing your story on this special café. It sounds very intersting and very inspiring.

While I am far from being an elder myself, I'd like to add one way of building community: Working together on something that really matters. It can contribute to building a community if you reflect the collaboration, by learning from each other and together. You have to plan for extra time to create this special kind of container. It requires the willingness to learn together – to give and to receive feedback. Learning together in and through action requires the willingness to be changed by the collaboration – inquiring on this assumption might lead to some surprising discoveries.

The willingness to stay even in the face of contradicting positions opens a huge space for transformational learning.

Have you heard of or read the book: »How the way we talk can change the way we work« by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey? Kegan and Lahey introduce seven languages for transformation. They present a language tool for embracing individual and collective shadow. They reframe leadership in terms of leading a language community.

They introduce 4 languages for personal transformation, and 3 languages for collective transformation. The four individual languages are called
• »Language of Commitment«,
• »Language of Personal Responsibility«,
• »Language of Competing Commitments / diagnosing the immunity to change«, and
• »Language of Assumptions We Hold / disturbing the immunity to change«.

The three collective languages are called
• »Language of Ongoing Regard«,
• »Language of Public Agreement«, and
• »Language of Deconstructive Criticism«.

Ongoing regard is about how we can support each other by drawing on a unlimited natural resource of being human. Prices are limited, regard is not limited. The language on deconstructive criticism is about conflict resolution.

Public agreements are about empowering whole communities to be attentive for violations of the agreed upon roles and rules. This is one of the paradoxies in Kegan's thinking that I really admire: You create public agreements to make violations visible, not to putting an end on them. To nail down this idea even further: You create agreements to produce violations. Having public agreements empowers a community to watch out for violations collectively. If you don't have public agreements, you can't violate them in the first place. You should not bring the »violators« to a court room, but to a class room, so that everyone can learn from the violations that occured. It is like setting a compass and to use this compass for feedback.

The whole notion of transformational learning in this context is not about solving problems, but about »being solved by problems«. A good curriculum consists of a series of good problems thad leads students to learn and grow. If the problems are solved too easily, no learning occurs.

Here is one idea for this community: Could we make the further inquiry on stewardship a search for public agreements? Could we create a beta-team to explore these languages of transformation, and find out if this might be contribution on how to create sustainable communities?

I have started to explore these languages for me personally and I have included my wife in this »project«. I'd like to share a personal example. The other day I have been talking about a summary report on a meeting we just hosted in Dresden. On this call have been Chris Chopyak, my wife Sabine and myself. I was ready to produce a very detailed summary so that interested people can understand where we got and how we got there. Chris suggested to prepare a visual summary with little words that makes others curious and invites others into our discussion.
While I am deeply committed to communication, in this moment I understood that my implicit logic is more about: How can I produce a text that can stand for itself? A good report should eliminate the need for further dialogue, so that I can stay quietly for myself.
My wife burst in laughter when I shared this thought, Chris was quiet for a moment and then joined the laughter, it took me a little longer to join the laughter – there might be some truth in my reflection ...
This was an eye-opener for me. A competing commitment might consist of: How can I stay out of communication? I have not resolved this inner contradiction yet, but it might lead to some interesting insight. What might be an assumption that is holding me here, and how could I transform this in an assumption I hold?

Enjoy the weekend!
Rich explorations here... thank you. I feel how the asking of the questions, sharing stories, listening and engaging starts to weave connection here in this space right now. I imagine there is already a relationship between the 3 of you and I also feel how something sings when you talk about this topic that has deep meaning for each of you. I wonder how you feel your connection as you write and engage here... and is that related to what holds people together? What is the glue of a community?

I recently read this comment and I believe it comes from a high school aged individual: "Community is an oppressive word," Arielle, Seattle. It came from the Imagine Learning Project. I'm very much looking forward to talking with them next week to learn more about this perspective. It was such an eye-opener for me, yet again, about how some words that can be so inviting and meaningful to me can be oppressive for others.
Dear Ashley,

for me the glue in this online community is not clear now. I suppose it is related to World Café. But what might be the meaning of this notion? Each of us has an understanding of what World Café is about. Each of us has an implicit understanding of the essence of World Café. But is there a shared meaning as well? How do you discover / explore / build shared meaning? Tom Hurley's text on the »old« website on the essence of the World Café: Is it Tom's meaning or is it shared meaning?

If you refer to Sabine, Chris and myself, I think the topics we have discussed have a meaning for each of us, but on top of that there might be some shared meaning between us that we build by working together on World Café Europe, leaving World Café Europe, co-creating something new, collaborating on several other areas like graphic recording and strategic illustration. You start by offering trust, you get to learn each other in and through action, and if the initial trust is confirmed, you start to grow together, building a new social entity.

I like Juanita's question: What is the difference between a network and a community?
I don't know if this is related, and excuse me if I might be a little rude here: I came up with a question on the relation between dialogue and community and I put it this way: Is it similar to the difference between a one night stand and a relationship?

For me, the difference lies in building a shared set of rules and roles between the partners, the co-creation of a social system / relationship. This co-creating can be conscious, but does not have to. Many of our assumptions remain implicit. It might be that we turn the attention to our assumptions only when we find some that disagreements occur. If we can stay long enough in this place of disagreement to learn from the conflict, this might enhance the common ground.

A tentative answer for me, thus, is: Shared meaning is holding people together.

Ashley, what are your thoughts on what is the glue of community?

Referring to the second part of your comment: »Community is an oppresive word« I think it could be interesting in thinking about community in terms of developmental levels / stages. There are different theories and ways of describing levels or stages of development. (Robert Kegan: The Evolving Self, In Over Our Heads; Beck & Cowan: Spiral Dynamics; Ken Wilber: Integral Psychology; Bill Torbert: Action Inquiry). Depending on how you construct yourself and others, how you make meaning of the world, the meaning of community might take a very different shape. It might be wise to include this developmental perspective in the conversations on community.

Community from an adolescent point of view might have the meaning that you have to get rid of the rules of your family. Community might be an opposite to freedom. That is just a suggestion, I am curious what your inquiry on this topic will reveal.

Cheers, Ulrich
Hello Ulrich, and all others,

I think the only way out of this conversation is indeed the developmental levels/stages as you have pointed out yourself.
It is not just the meaning of the word/concept/experience of community that changes, but also how you define 'I/myself', 'we/us' etc.

Can you also tell what will happen in November 'for WC practitioners and others'? I am a steward of the Art of Hosting network and also thinking (not more yet) of a gathering of AoH practitioners... might be good if we - at least - now from each others initiatives - also for spreading the word!

With love,

I know Ulrich is away on holiday for the next few weeks and won't be able to respond to this question right away, so I'm happy to step in and say this is an event that several of us will be hosting in Austria this October - it's something we would very much like to do in a collaborative way - and your name as well as others in the Art of Hosting community have come up as just the people we'd like to partner with on it.

The idea is to put forward a clear set of topics - in this case "Leadership, Dialogue and The New Face of Community" - and offer an open format so that whoever is there designs the agenda and different approaches are honored and explored. I'll attach the flyer that Ulrich and Sabine made for it.

I know the dates are coming up quickly and it's late notice, but it would be great if you could be there and a part of it. It is an "at cost only" event, put on by friends for friends, with the intent of deepening the connections within and between our communities by coming together to address these issues that are so important to all of us.

I am a little sensitive about putting up too much material here on the new online community right now, and since I am only one of many who are planning this event (and I'm not even European, to boot!) I have not taken the lead to put the event on the calendar - but I'll see if I can shake a few trees and get the information up soon.

Love to you, Ria, my sister GiGi,

Ulrich, I will pick this book up for sure. How we communicate is a huge influence on building community I think. Great insight.

Hello all~

I'm new here and would like to begin by thanking you all for "showing up" for this conversation. There is so much already to look at and consider, so allow me to start small. Juanita's questions concerning the glue that holds community together brought to mind two words: desire and intention, both individual and collective. If we consider that both desire and intention are forms of energy, I can be more specific by saying the energy of desire and the energy of intention. This, I believe, is what makes the World Cafe so attractive and gives it the potential to be so effective. Speech, another form of energy manifested through words and tones of voice, culminates out of one's (or many's) conscious and unconscious desires and intentions. So, my question here can best be posed as: How is each individual's desires and intentions defined and illuminated within each individual's mind? And.....what tools of expression does each have available to them?

Hugs, Debbie


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