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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I’ve enjoyed this thread and the document Civic Engagement & the Restoration of Community . In it Peter Block describes commitment in communities:

“This will occur when we create a public conversation based on communal
accountability and commitment. This is the essence of what restores community.
The most difficult challenge is to create accountability and commitment among those
people and in those places where history and the past seem overridingly restraining.”

“To be committed means we are willing to make a promise with no expectation of
return; a promise void of barter and not conditional on another’s action. In the
absence of this, we are constantly in the position of reacting to the choices of others.
The cost of constantly reacting to the choices of others is increased cynicism and

And this on current methods of accountability:

“The existing public conversation claims to be tough on accountability, but it is
unbearably soft on accountability. It keeps screaming for accountability, but in the
scream, it exposes its weakness. The weakness in the dominant thinking about
accountability is that it thinks that people, citizens and leaders, can be held
accountable. The current conversation believes that retribution, incentives,
legislation, new standards and tough talk will cause accountability. One example of
this is the belief that incarceration can eliminate crime.”

This got me thinking. I have some insight into this from my own experiences. I was a petty criminal in my teens and together with my friends had committed a number of offenses by the time we were 18. It wasn’t because we were amoral, or had no ethical code. We had a very precise moral code to which the group would hold you accountable, outlined in our many conversations. The difference was that our values weren’t shared with our local community.

People might put my transgressions down to lack of discipline, being raised by a solo mother or other socio-economic criteria but that sort of response wouldn’t be looking at the causes of the behavior, or the place from which the choices were made. I think I can speak for all of my friends in one simple assertion- our greater community wasn’t our community.

I remember thinking often that I never agreed to societies rules and laws, and so I shouldn’t be held accountable to them. If I was to play a sport, I’d agree to the rules of the game or not play. I just wasn’t playing. You may step in here and say that I automatically owed my community because I enjoy many of the benefits created by its being in place, an argument put to me by a boatbuilder I worked with in Nelson many years ago. This did take me aback, and caused me to ponder for some time. I kept coming back to the assertion - I didn’t choose to be a part of society, and I didn’t have a say in how it was run. Nor did it want me to have a say. We all see social systems that are imperfect. As a kid I had all the opinions in the world about how things should be improved, an understandable attitude for somebody who lacked depth of knowledge. One thing that I did feel was deeply wrong back then and still feel the same way now, is that our methods of evolving our communities will not by themselves lead to a good place. What I didn’t see was all the people trying their best to improve communities within those systems, recognizing the flaws. I needed a forum to make my ideas heard.

So do I feel like part of my community now? I’m happy to say that all of my friends now, on some unconscious level, want to be part of various communities. They play the game. Luckily nobody went to prison and there are some beautiful young families emerging from my little corner of the world. So what took place?

I can only speak for myself on this, as we all had our own demons. I read Dostoyevsky, Neitzsche, (the latter didn’t help in reining me in btw!) Steinbeck and others who all raised my awareness on issues of morality, community etc. but it wasn’t until I started reading various books on evolution that things started falling into place. A sense of being part of a larger whole emerged and with it a sense of responsibility. In hindsight I think the most important transformation took place about the time I was reading “the Future Of Life” by Edward O. Wilson where the need for cooperation was so lucidly explained.

We need to control people. With that revelation I became one with the law-makers and my community. They need urgent revisions, granted, but until then they are the best we have. My sense of community stems from a feeling of ownership for it. I think this is a less-usual way of getting to a sense of community than say, an emotional connection to other people who are connected but I’m not sure.

What makes you feel like part of a community? Where does it stem from? I’d really like to know. If the methods of inclusion Peter describes were in place in my local community I imagine I would have contributed and been on-board much earlier in my life. A strength of a good idea is independent of the person who discovered it or the people who carry it. Unfortunately we can’t say the same for the value of a good idea. Communities such as this provide a forum where ideas can be shared and built off, judged on their own merits. Is the future of social systems a decentralization of power? Putting systems in place with no positions of power to aspire to? Taking power out of the equation, so our decisions are made without politics? Is that what social insects do?
Hi Oren,

Great post! Very thought provoking.

Some of the contributors to this thread know that I run World Cafe-style "Conversations That Matter", a monthly conversation salon in Seattle coffee bars. The very first topic was, "Where does our sense of community come from?", probably because I've moved around so much in my life.

I've lately been thinking about workplace culture because I'm in the process of returning to full-time employment. I have not-so-happy memories of said cultures in previous jobs, and so I've been paying particular attention to cultures as I vet the org'n I may be joining. I have also been an organizational trainer for five years, focusing on communication and leadership, and your talk about being a member of society created a very useful link for me in both aspect, of training and joining a new company: each organization is a mini-society, often with multiple communities. By parlaying your phrases, then:

If we want to feel part of the community (the corporate or departmental culture), then the society (organization) needs to consciously want us and encourage us to have a say. This means responsibility on the part of the leadership team to be a role model and put the processes in place that enable safe dialogue (ie no fear of reprisal if people don't like what they hear or think the idea is bonkers). It also means responsibility on the part of followers, who have just as much a responsibility to trust the intention behind the leadership and their colleagues even if they don't always get it right.

Oren, I encourage you to start a conversation salon in Auckland - there may not always be a huge number of people turning up, but the conversation is always fascinating and it's a great way to connect with people.
Hi Ellia,

thanks for your reply. I would have enjoyed being part of your first conversation salon. I agree whole-heartedly with what you ask of leadership. As a follower in my current role I must admit I often find it hard to trust the intention behind the leadership I am to follow, but I will certainly take that responsibility on board.

I would love to hold a conversation in my area and see there are a few members close by. At the moment however I am still new to the different approaches and don't feel confident in how I would like it to be run, let alone how to run it. I've started "Theory U", and I'm learning a little more each day but at this stage I'm just looking to participate and build skills.

Best of luck in finding an organization ready for change.
Hi Oren,

thank you for sharing your perspectives and questions.

What makes you feel part of a community?

I like this one very much. It is so important to explore the different answers that exist to this question. And how to weave this knowledge into our communities!

The question about the role of power is also very fascinating and important to explore. I'd like to recommend the books by John Heron in this respect. This for me is a very inspiring resource to think about the whole spectrum from hierarchic decision making to participation to delegation. He is most explicit about these topics in his »complete facilitators handbook«. He is writing about facilitating groups – this was not exactly your point, but what he outlines might be insightful if we transfer this to the realm of communities.

As this conversation thread had been a starter for the European Salon last year, the energy has moved toward the European Salon group where we are continuing our inquiry on dialogue, leadership and a new face of community.

Take care, Ulrich
Hi Ulrich,

I'm going to look at buying the "Complete Facititators Handbook" this week, as well as take a look at what's going on in the European Salon Group. I am getting an impression of the wealth of information available on this... field? movement? uniting effort? I'm not sure I can identify it yet. It has me hooked though.

Thanks for your direction.
Hurrah! I'm so glad to see you digging in here, Oren, and "hooked" as you say. :-) Might you consider being part of the European Salon this year? I was able to be there last year and it was amazing. This year will be even better.

Other seminal books in this field/movement that you might consider (I assume you already have the World Cafe's Shaping our Futures through Conversation that Matter) are Peter Block's books on Community, Peggy Holman's recently published book on Emergence, Christina Baldwin's books on Circle, and the upcoming Art of Convening by Craig Neal.

Writing this makes me think we could use a collective "bookshelf" that everyone in the community could add to...
I think a bookshelf is a great idea, it could help paint a picture of the fields which these sorts of inquiries span across as well as provide some suggestions. So many books!

Hi Ulrich and all members,

Community is a topic which should be vitally important to us all, after all in the broadest sense we are a community of mankind and it's a matter of how we live and survive together. We all belong to smaller communities and our lives are very much shaped by these. If we live in a violent aggressive community we will either become aggressive and possibly violent, or afraid and cynical. Whereas if we live in a caring supportive community, it will affect us in positive ways - we will grow.

Community is at the heart of life and we should care very much about our community. To me a community is very much like a garden and we the plants within it. If the community is rich and vibrant, we will flourish but if it is lacking in vitality and toxic, we will diminish and become sick.

I feel that on-line communities have a positive role to play but if they become a substitute for real communities, we are going to be in trouble. On-line I can't give you a hug or dry your tears. There are too many lonely and sick people in this world because they can't share their feelings with others and they can't get a hug.

At my newly created website I wish to create a community of people who are prepared to be themselves, get to know each other, share their highs and lows, and offer support to others in some tangible way. And my long term wish is to establish a real life community.

People need people - the foundation of happiness is to feel wanted, accepted as you are, to be able contribute and to be creative.

Best wishes - Geof


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