The World Cafe Community

Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter

Making change stick is one of the hardest things we face in community and organizational development. That is why the World Cafe is such a crucial piece of the process in the upcoming Staging Change Institute.   At Community Performance International, we have worked for over 20 years to bring our story-performance process to communities across the US and abroad because we have found that when people share their personal stories in a safe environment and perform those stories together, it is possible to grow relationships across traditional lines of difference (race, age, educational attainment, sexual orientation, homeless/homed, economic status).  We have seen people that would never have met before come together and, like a family, create a new community identity on stage.  

This process always produces an upswell of energy and positive community identity.  The problem we have found, in the long run, is sustaining that energy and utilizing those amazing new relationships to forge real, lasting community change.  

That's where the World Cafe comes in!  In 2011, David Isaacs and Juanita Brown worked with us in the community performance project in Jonesborough, Tennessee, called The Jonesborough Yarn Exchange, to include World Cafe conversations as part of their performance process.  

We then took the World Cafe into the first ever Staging Change Institute.  So now, following the surge of energy brought by a community performance process, we engage the performers AND the audience (where possible) in a world cafe conversation with Graphic Recording.  Now the participants can explore the discoveries they made in sharing stories, performing together in a new community, listening to stories that evoke experiences they are familiar with, hearing stories about your place that you never heard, and on and on.  All of the emotions and ideas that are brought forth by the story-performance process can provide the background for the Cafe conversation process that follows.  This in turn can lead to individual and community action plans.

One of the action plans formulated at the first Staging Change Institute has come to fruition over the last 12 months.  In Jonesborough, CPI collected stories, wrote and directed a play  called I AM HOME, and it highlighted the deep desire to be "at home" in community, utilizing stories as diverse as a Puerto Rican immigrant standing up to intolerance and claiming her place in her Tennessee mountain town, and a young mother  fighting  to feed her family and caught between allegiances during the Civil War.  The play bonded and energized both the players and the audience.  The challenge was to convert the energy of that performance process into the change the community wanted to see.  And with new economic hardships facing the community, the I AM HOME cast  (known as the Jonesborough Yarn Exchange or JYE) was facing the possibility of not being able to continue this work.  

So, at Staging Change 1, our playwright Jules Corriere worked with some of the JYE folks to develop her own Action Plan for keeping the momentum going forward and building on the work of the first play.  For the next 12 months, Jules wrote a radio show each month with her friends in Jonesborough.  For a fraction of the cost of a full one-year play process, they were able to 1. continue story work 2. keep the JYE family working together for the community 3. provide a new artistic offering to the community of Jonesborough and 4. highlight different issues and community sub-sectors in each monthly show.  
Last month, the Town was awarded a grant to convert the "radio show-style stage play" to a real, NPR radio show. You can listen to one of the radio shows here. The show went live this month, and the community is bursting with pride.  But more importantly, through the work of Staging Change and the World Cafe conversations we convened, the JYE community was able to assess and appreciate their existing resources, build on the creative energy of I AM HOME, and continue to involve new participants in the work of sharing their community's stories.  In essence, they succeeded in making change stick!  We are so very proud of them, and feel that the foundation they were given at Staging Change 1 provided them with the tools to keep moving forward, taking the minimum elegant next steps and keeping their goals in sight.  
We feel very fortunate to be working with Juanita Brown and David Isaacs at Staging Change 2.  This year, the Institute will examine how we make change stick using Community Performance, World Cafe Conversations, and Community-Based Rites of Passage -- with Story being the focal point, always.  
The plan for SCI2 is to create our own Staging Change Community, that stays connected beyond the Institute, supporting each other in the action plans we create following our World Cafe conversations. We would love to hear about how others are using story and conversation in their communities and what challenges you face in making change stick.    

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Hi Melissa - what a marvellous post and will be sharing out with my network!

Thank you Amanda!  I'm excited to see the responses from the WC Community:)

Me too! I love what you said towards the end in "that stays connected beyond the Institute, supporting each other in the action plans we create following our World Cafe conversations".

In whatever space I work I try to encourage change-seekers to build in those little velcro hooks after the 'event'. One simple approach I've used is to invite any people who step forward as action champions at an event to come back together a few weeks after the event for a circle, World Cafe or Pro-action Cafe conversation. I think it shifts the role of change-seekers to one of holding space and purpose for a group of action champions to stay connected, learn from each other and support each other. Network nurtures and change incubators! 

I can't wait to hear what other ideas and suggestions the community has.


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