The World Cafe Community

Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter

I'm back, with another report from the trenches of Maestro Conference Coffee Party dialog.  I was fortunate to have Amy Lenzo with me as tech host once again, after flying solo the last time.  With two of us on the call, I was able to participate in the breakouts, which was a very nice addition to the overall experience.

Having done this three times now, I am definitely learning about what works well and what doesn't.  Formulating the questions remains a serious challenge for me.  Thanks to David Shaw, John Inman and Amy Lenzo of this community for their very constructive suggestions in this regard (although I must say I was a bit surprised that I didn't get a few more of the members here to provide me with some guidance).

There was one major snafu that speaks to the special challenges of doing WC on the phone.  Shortly after the third breakout began, we moved someone from one "table" to another (because he had already been in pairings with some of the same people there) but failed to tell his new group that he was there, assuming he would introduce himself.  Instead, he stayed quiet for some time before jumping into the conversation and freaking out a couple of the people at his table.  It didn't help that he was someone high up in the Coffee Party hierarchy.  From now on, we will make absolutely sure that we announce any such transfers!

There is another call scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday 6/3), 6-8pm Eastern/3-5pm Pacific, in case anyone is interested in joining us.  The subject will be a continuation of last week's topic on the soon-to-be-drafted Declaration of Principles for the Coffee Party Movement.  Please register in advance by clicking here.  It would be great to have some experienced WC practitioners join the call both to make the conversation more productive and to give me some expert feedback on what I could be doing better.  

I'm also interested in forming a "working group" to explore an expanded vision of what virtual world cafes might become, and will post something on this to the World Cafe Online group here shortly.

I have attached a report on this call, which covers both the harvest, some technical lessons learned and some general thoughts on the coffee party and world cafe.  Here is the conclusion of the report (apologies for the weird formatting--Ning doesn't like MS Word very much!):


A number of valuable insights appear to have emerged from this world café call, along
with a validation of some key themes to be addressed in the DoP.  Hopefully the DoP’s authors will find this material useful in their drafting work.  The
development of processes that will reconcile the tension between creating a
“Big Tent” and engaging in advocacy for change remains a challenge.  Similarly, the idea of finding unity as a movement via democratic processes while respecting and encouraging diversity of opinion is a critical issue that concerned many of the café’s participants.

The virtual café process itself was largely successful, with the Maestro Conference
technology performing well in most respects.  Some valuable suggestions were made for improving future calls.  In general, the challenge of “creating a
hospitable space” (the second of the seven basic world café principles) in this
virtual environment is something that bears additional consideration. 

It is recommended that the CPM continue to embrace these calls as a valuable tool for generating ideas, for connecting members throughout the country (and at varying levels of
the CPM organization) and for bringing in outside voices to assist in our
collaborative thought processes.  Perhaps we are at a point where we might consider extending invitations to the broader membership directly, rather than spreading the word downward through the organizational hierarchy. 

To be sure, not everyone was fully satisfied with their café experience.   But positive comments, often paired with constructive criticism, were the norm.  Here
is a selection of general comments received:

"I had no idea you could do breakouts in conference calls! Very cool, but I still
prefer being a part of a bigger group…  Although I understand the need at times to
have smaller sessions, this early on I have to say that I'm far more interested
in hearing what MORE people have to say, not fewer…  [O]therwise, I thoroughly enjoyed my second break out group once I got my bearings. In my first group my feeling was we felt like children suddenly forced to go to our rooms to be quiet and
contemplate what we had done wrong. . . we didn't know what to say or where to

"Thank you for the delightful World Cafe experience last night. Few things are more gratifying to me than collaborating on something meaningful with people who think well, and you all certainly qualify. I'm glad to have been part of it, and I look forward to doing more in the future."

 "I like the concept of a World Cafe, but I think we need to have a very short introduction of the process when people are on the call... [to] quickly go over the process that the group will go through.  It still is hard to know when someone wants to talk--some awkward pauses as we are in the small groups.  Perhaps you could sort of 'warn' people about this, and to acknowledge that it's a bit stilted, but seems to get better as the small group figures out their own process… Several small group participants expressed that they thought there would be more participants.  The impression is that hundreds of people are invited, and when only 20 or so show up, they wonder if they should participate.  (I think it is so amazing that we can talk to people all over the country in a small group that I'm blown away by that alone!)…  Perhaps we should open this up a bit more .”


  • "I thought it is a great forum to engage with a lot of people.  I really appreciated the approach you took and believe that the polling capability is great as well as the control of the conference with a lot of people.  We are breaking new ground with these collaborative techniques."

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Ben, I thought the last session went a lot better--you did a good job. I congratulate you on continuing to hold these, and on your success at having the national leaders recognize it as valuable and expand it! That being said, I'm sure you're scrambling now to get ready for these next calls. Hang in there.
Thanks for the support, Peg! I haven't done a report for #4, but your notes and Bruce Schuman's are pretty good. I have transcribed the harvest too, but haven't done anything with it yet either. And as you say, hands are full now! Two 50 person calls Sun and Mon will be fully subscribed (although 25-30% will probably no-show. 250 person call Tuesday has lots of room--about 90 signed up so far.

Maybe instead of Maestro training, we should spend that hour together thinking through the questions?
We can do either or both. I will be able to review the questions tomorrow or later tonight (it must be midnight there where you are.) I'll get online tomorrow after 10 my time and we'll connect.
Will do.



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