The World Cafe Community

Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter

Hey there good people,

i am holding the perspective of this online space being a rich pool of ressources, a place that gathers many very interesting people around the world and is a plattform for meaningful conversations.
I believe that there is hardly anything more inspiring and motivating as to be in an environment where you feel heard, appreciated and where people care about what you think and follow-up on ideas that are in the air... 
so, of course this works better face to face, but i like to see this virtual playground we have as a great chance and invitation to create nurturing and vibrant places for sharing online.

one important notion that needs to be in place to do that is to enable the community to see itself - so i am experimenting with ways of visualizing the collective and put different mirrors in the center with the intention to inspire a perspective of abundance. Enabling the circle to see it's own brilliance and potential. 

In this spirit i made the collage of profile pictures in this community, created the Tag Clouds of peoples profile answers and installed the Member Map as an application. 

Some other notes and thoughts on that line here. And i actually have a really cool idea on how to make the whole content of the site visible at once and make latest activities or contributions from specific people easily visible... let me know if you want to hear more ;) i am looking for start capital and programmers who can help me realize it. 

I am looking for ideas on some sort of "immersive gaming" / "strategic weaving" where we invite people to leave comments on the profiles of 10 people they find interesting...
I am looking for ways to encourage the use of the advanced search function... does the interactive Tag Cloud make sense to you for instance?
Is there a way to visualize and extend the Latest Activity feed
Is there a whole new perspective that i haven't thought of? please surprise or confuse me...

I invite you to join me in this inquiry on what could be fun and meaningful to play with - we are almost 2500 people in this online community and i believe there is endless potential to discover when we keep flirting with the possibilities that are just waiting to be harvested :)

I am interested in hearing from you how you do this in your work with groups out there in process consultation or any other social setting... what is it that makes a group feel that they are a group? and what conditions are fostering motivation and inspiration to play with this group of people?

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Replies to This Conversation

Inspiring questions Benjamin, that would also apply to the Art of Hosting community, and many more I suppose... although I can't offer you answers...
... Enabling the circle to see it's own brilliance and potential...
First of all, it is not really a circle, it is more a bunch of people sometimes having good conversations and sometimes not...
... Enabling the network to see it's own brilliance and potential...

I can't see any further than having a meta-harvest team that would dig through the content and keep a close eye on what is going on and what not...
sorry, not much to offer here; although really interested in the questions!
Hey Ria,
Nice to hear your thoughts. And I agree - Benjamin's insights are applicable to many communities like ours in the World Cafe, Art of Hosting. etc. Interestingly, though, I actually do see us as a circle, which is "only" a metaphor but we all know how powerful metaphors are for shaping reality. If I hold the "bunch of people" here as a circle, even in my own mind, different things are possible. If I imagine a circle of circles, the possibilities multiply.

I love your idea of a meta harvest team - I am always energized by teams - and there is some interesting technology out there that can do some of this cross-pollination for us. I really love the visual approach that Benjamin is taking too - the visual of all our faces in the collage really moves me and when everyone has added themselves to the map (note to Benjamin to add this to the next community update) that will be very juicy too - to see the world lit up with our presence.

I also love to see the Wordle patterns of our conversation, and am fascinated by the work that is being done on visual clustering and clumping at Global Mind Shift and the meshwork system at Gaiasoft. Unfortunately both of those are prohibitively expensive for us at this stage, but I hope the technology will become more accessible as time goes on.

Thanks so much for starting this thread, Benjamin. We are so lucky to have you as one of the key hosts here - I really appreciate your creativity and the energy you bring to pushing the boundaries of what we are learning.
thank you Ria! yes, rather a network than a circle, that's true! and still... holding the intention of a circle in the way i do my work here might be the attitude that fosters coherence in the network.
meta-harvest team... yes!
wondering what's on the horizon here, wondering about making the 'behavior' more visible besides the content to enable emotional resonance and attraction from a nonverbal space...

thank you Amy, thank you for holding space for me to let me explore this things on the edge :)
Hi Benjamin,

Interesting questions.

As a new member I thought my experience so far may be useful. The unfortunate side-effect is that it highlights that I can be a little slow on the uptake. Never mind.

The tag-cloud is a great way to go considering my first couple of searches found nothing! (too specific). I found it a useful approach as it communicates something about the focus' of the participants here. Perhaps it could be even more useful in this regard if the profile tags were weighted by the amount of activity (replies etc.) contributed by the member, although that would change the tag cloud considerably and I don't pretend to know the effect you're going for. It did make me think that perhaps I filled out my profile ineffectively!

I think ways to make more of the site visible at once would be very beneficial for somebody just arriving. The "12 quick ways to join in" was good. I didn't know much about TWC when I joined and it took me a while to work out that most of the group meetings are in person and not online (please correct me if I'm wrong?). I would have liked to know this a little earlier and given my options more explicitly:
1) Meet with a group in your area through negotiations on the site
2) Convince a group you are already part of to try TWC experience
3) To participate online you will need teleconference software such as Maestro etc
4) All the stuff I haven't worked out yet! lol

... or something like this anyway.

So, as it seems increasing visibility of the people here is essential to being included and participating, I feel your aspirations are well-aimed. At the moment it seems my options are to find a conversation thread or two I feel I can contribute to. I haven't been much of a blogger/online chatter in the past so I'm just trying to get the ball rolling. Although the more in-depth discussions are what are appealing to me here I also kind-of wish there was wider selection of topics that I could be bombarded with, requiring shorter answers that could evolve into discussions or not. five provocative questions a month, or something! What causes crime? Why don't more people use public transport? Just teasers to get people involved in some way, contributing, visible. That's something that makes a group feel like they're a group. I realize that too many threads mean each one gets less attention and won't be developed as far so take my thoughts with a pinch of salt of course. I just hate the idea of my intruding on an established conversation which has gravitated away from my experience.

Still, I'll keep looking.
Dear Oren,

I love that you're responding to this! And your "beginners mind" is very useful in reflecting back to us what we can't necessarily see as clearly at this point as you can. Your comment about not knowing that World Cafes are generally a "face to face" experience is particularly interesting to me and helps me remember that people find their way here from all kinds of different places - lately many find us on the internet without having any context to go on other than their various search terms.

So your comment got me wondering how we could best communicate this kind of thing... (any ideas are welcome, of course)

Not that it's that simple, I suppose, since the answer is multi-faceted. On perhaps the most commonly understood level, the World Cafe is a particular conversational process (up until 3-4 years ago almost exclusively face to face, but now occasionally online as well) whose design is conducive to bringing forward the collective wisdom in a room. It is almost always focused on some particular issue and a large number of World Cafes are hosted for specific clients (business/corporate, government, healthcare providers, educational organizations, etc.) to address specific internal issues, although World Cafe is also often used to address community issues of various kinds and those are more likely to be open to the public. One of the most common ways people experience a World Cafe for the first time is at a conference where the process is used as part of the proceedings - as I mentioned earlier this process is really good for engaging the collective wisdom in a room, and sometimes you can see this most clearly when there are a LOT of people in the room.

On the other hand, many new hosts start by identifying an area in their lives or work or in their community or institutions where they think a World Cafe conversation would be of benefit and just decide to host one, or they might bring in an experienced World Cafe host if they are more comfortable with that, or if the situation they've identified is particularly delicate.

But I love your idea of simply connecting with a few people in your geographic area and hosting a World Cafe on a common issue or set of questions. I think that could be really cool - you could start a trend! Keep us posted if you decide to do it - and don't forget you can post the event in the calendar.

We do offer free online Community Cafes that everyone in the community is welcome to attend, and our intent is to host one every month. You don't have to have special equipment to participate - to date the most effective technology we've found to support them is MaestroConference, which works through the telephone - exactly like a conference call for participants. We haven't had one for a while and are due to schedule one soon...

I suppose it's fair to say that the primary purpose of this community is 1) to offer both new and experienced World Cafe hosts a place to share their experiences and learn from each other and 2) an opportunity for all people to engage with each other in meaningful conversation. The World Cafe is all about asking the questions that really matter and listening to each others' responses for whatever insights and patterns we can see, cross-pollinating what we are hearing and learning and sharing it with others... so these conversations too can be part of experiencing a World Cafe and applying the World Cafe principles.

I very much like your idea of starting a number of conversations to see what comes from your questions, and I also want to encourage you to join in "established" conversations with your own perspective, to share your experience. The variety of response is what nurtures a robust inquiry - and one of the benefits of an asynchronous forum is that a conversation can be picked up weeks or even years after it was first started, and it's still relevant if someone finds meaning in it.

Anyway, thanks so much for your stimulating response to Benjamin's post - a warm welcome to you! I hope you dive in and find/stimulate/initiate interactions here that are deeply satisfying to you and the new friends I know you will meet here.

Hi Amy,

Thank you very much for your welcome, particularly your overview. It was sorely needed! I'm glad to be here and I'll look forward to the next community cafe I can attend.

My interest in the WC is driven by trying to understand more about key phases in design processes to get the most out of everyone involved. Participatory-design and co-creation have big overlaps with TWC in terms of the attitudes and ground rules needed to hear and be heard, and to enable real changes in thinking and these are focuses which my studies were a little light on.

Could you help me think about where to place this "sorely needed" information (and how to best word it) so it reaches the people it needs to? Your viewpoint is much appreciated.

I'll start by saying the information I needed so sorely was only needed by me because I have an over-active imagination ; )

I came here hoping to take part in some collaborative group work (immediately because I'm so impatient!) and imagined there would be meetings online to talk about various issues, and perhaps I could just plow into one! Not knowing what to expect, and coming here from references in a discussion on the various mind-mapping applications such as Compendium in the context of global sensemaking, I half-expected to be able to start contributing to an online dialogue tree or something.

What I did find that kept me interested was:

Intelligent people genuinely engaged
Conversations on issues I feel are important
A welcoming atmosphere
Examples to show that collaboration was possible here

There are resources (videos and stories etc) that explain how some of the process works, but I didn't feel like any of the ones I checked out covered everything that happens here (and around the world) in the name of the WC. There are many snapshots but none indicated that they were exhaustive and so I kept looking for something that wasn't there. In saying that, I don't know if it is a good idea to have a resource that shows the borders of what's possible here as that can (and will!) be challenged. However it is possible to show in bold strokes what has been done previously in one resource, be it a diagram, flash video or any other media. If there is stuff like that I just missed it or misinterpreted it. The "12 quick ways..." are good but I felt like I missed a step - perhaps how the visibility I cultivate leads to something, and to what? The last few tips are about giving feedback on TWC experiences and hosting but I didn't know how I would get to there. Of course, I don't need to know now so maybe I just needed patience! lol

I was also wondering if there is a diagrammatic walk-through of one or more processes that have been used? That would certainly be a useful introduction. I was picturing this in a couple of different ways (which probably have no relationship to what actually goes on!) :

The first could be a Dr-Suess-like simple walkthrough in flash showing a birds-eye view of groups of four. the first round, each person utters a word, which are pieced together into sentences. The second, people shuffle, and share their sentences which create longer sentences, and so on, creating a story. I'm slightly cringing right now as I know I'm taking a wild guess! But anyway.

The second approach could be a practice run in blog form. It would be slow motion, as not everyone would be online at the same time. People would need to be shuffled into groups somehow, perhaps letting anyone read the conversations going on in each but only the members can contribute. It could be a week-long series of conversations on a topic of interest, part-time when you can get to it. New members could join any table with less than four people provided they have gone through the ground rules, etc...

This may be asking too much? I'm not sure. I like the idea of getting some experience with the types of questions asked, and how different people approach them.

Anyway, I hope this helps in some way.
Hi Benjamin,

I am really interested in the use of "mirrors... to enable the community to see itself" and I'm still trying to get my head around it.

Maybe when I wanted to snap off some answers to simple questions I just wanted a prompt or something. A mirror?

I started thinking about a movie - Good Will Hunting? Dead Poets Society? Anyway, in it a teacher was telling a story about one of his students who was having problems writing an essay. She was supposed to write about a particular building. What he suggested was that she write about a brick - one brick, in a particular corner of a building. Disbelieving, she went ahead and tried, and found she could fill pages and pages.

I think commenting on people's walls is a type of brick and a mirror. Is that the kind of understanding you have? Is it possible to make this type of approach voluntary?



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