The World Cafe Community

Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter

We are starting a conversation to explore research topics, the evolution of The World Cafe, the evolution of Fielding Graduate Institute, and how all of this intersects into a whole that we do not quite see yet. What are the questions that you have that are arising from your cafe work? Is the question a good topic for research? We would like to create a conversation about this and other topics.
Sergio and I are both moving down the path of PhD at Fielding and this ongoing conversation will be a great forum for exploring how we can all work together to create a future that none of us individually may see but collectively can create together.

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Todd, on number 4, I am wondering about human power of association and what that means. In TWC, there is no facilitation so no power differential inherent in facilitated processes. No manipulating, exploiting, or engineering consent. It is a process specifically designed to let the wisdom of the group emerge and individual input is not the intent. So back to the human power of association, I would love to hear your thoughts as I am not sure how this relates or what it means.

Thank you for the contribution. I wish you well.

John, "understanding the human power of associations" as in recognition, identity, symbolism that stimulates thought, feeling, and the interpretation of what is, what was, and what could or should be … the connections and interpretations of what one perceives when one senses and what connections are made with what one has experienced, is experiencing, and anticipates experiencing … the triggers, the buttons, the bells, and the whistles. Since the introduction of and advancements in the sciences of sociology and psychology, the knowledge of the power of associations and suggestion have been used more as a means of controlling human behavior … marketing, advertising, politics, etc rather than the advancement of human consciousness. The beauty of World Café is the sharing of these individual associations as a means of advancing human consciousness. The emergence of wisdom is facilitated by the understanding of this, by engaging all the senses, tapping this collective subconscious, and making the participants conscious of it and sharing something new with themselves and each other.

Perceptions and Interpretations … Thank you for yours. Your thoughts?
Yes I see the context now. I do know the techniques used in political language, marketing, and other asynchronous targeted verbiage to create action in others. The reason that I was baffled was that I do not think of small group dialogue as a medium for these techniques as it is synchronous and not about generating messages to influence others. Now if we want to really get down and analyze the language, Habermas provides an excellent critique of how language is used and what each type is and how utterances are used and for what purpose etc. Of course we attempt to create understanding and agreement in our communication using all of the techniques that Habermas talks about, I just am not all that interested in the field of linguistics. So yes I now get it. I see conversation as autopoetic and the foundation of complex social systems but do not break conversations down to specific types of utterances etc. What I see as wonderful is that you have personal meaning around what makes TWC process a powerful medium for the emergence of wisdom of a group. Thank you so much for the clarification. I wish you the best.

John, interesting interpretation. I'm thinking more along the lines of two or more people given words that are used day to day in the public sphere to express thoughts, feelings, and actions with their definitions taken for granted, are asked to define them. Example: democracy ... thesis democracy (stucture) v antithesis democracy (function) = synthesis democracy ... not breaking conversations down to specific types of utterances but imagination and creativity being used for the realization of the whole ... no agendas ... no preconceptions ... words, concepts, and "what comes to mind" conversations building on new perceptions ... a conversation resembling Eschler's "Drawing Hands" ... two complementary hands can draw each other, but one hand cannot draw itself.

Perceptions and Interpretations expressed; Meaning revealed; Understanding emerges ...
Thanks again for your consideration and perspective ... Todd
...with their definitions taken for granted, are asked to define them. I tend not to think this way. The only time that I give or ask for a definition is when I believe what I am saying will not be understood or when I do not understand what is being said. In other words, only when I need to make sure that we understand each other in conversation. Habermas invests quite a bit of time on this topic as his whole framework is about creating understanding through socially constructed speech acts. Yet I only consider this issue when I feel understanding is in jeopardy.

I do not see imagination and creativity being used for the realization of the whole, I see them as the natural outcome of conversation. Conversational learning is experiential and it is through conversation that new knowledge and wisdom emerge. We really do not need to do anything but ask the questions, create the container, get out of the way, and let the conversation happen. I also tend to insist that the system be in the room so that wisdom can fully emerge.

As far as meaning is concerned, I would say that it is socially constructed in conversation. If one wants to insure that a specific meaning is understood by all in the Cafe, that should be defined before the Cafe. This will in no way insure that other meaning is not constructed through conversation however. I have watched over and over again extraordinary meanings and models emerge that were never envisioned before the Cafe. Quite an amazing process I would say.

John - I’ve heard it said that the novice looks for similarities and a connoisseur looks for differences. I am seeing our conversation as a metaphor for that statement, with you the connoisseur and I the novice in a sort of “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” philosophical position. If life is a conversation then "Which came first, X that can't come without Y, or Y that can't come without X?" applies, doesn’t it … with Eschler’s "Drawing Hands" as a metaphor for conversation?

What is man? Why is man? How is man? … all identity questions. Is man objective? Is man subjective? Is man intersubjective (social) … all ways of framing the questions.

Is man a source or a resource? In conversation he is both. We form ourselves as selves through the interaction of other selves; we cue in; we adjust via association, comparison, and resemblance driven by a need to give reasons to things, to be more reasonable, to give answers to the questions of what, why, and how; it is how we understand or a least what gives us a certain orientation to what, why, and how we understand.

Hopefully putting the content in context,

LOL yes I would say yes to all of the above even though by nature and practice I land on the intersubjective. And yes the "Drawing Hands" is a good metaphor for conversation. I use the metaphor of a dance for conversation. It is an intimate and emergent process which yields a beauty which is not available in the objective or subjective self. I wish you the best and thank you for your ideas.

"Researching social transformation through inter-generational dialogue using TWC in a living systems framework." – John Inman

Reading your comment, I couldn’t help but think of the allegory of Plato’s Cave* as a metaphor for social transformation through inter-generational dialogue using TWC in a living systems framework.
*Allegory of the Cave -“Plato imagines a group of people who have lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to seeing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.”

A little background information - I’ve spent a great deal of my life in the construction industry (a microcosm of community), a conscious path choice I made because of my notion that the construction industry would offer me the most diverse environment to explore and express my diverse interests. I’ve dealt with every type of person, in every type of conceived category, in every type of situation and have been situational aware of the experience and its relevance and significance to my fascination with and interest in the dynamics of community interactions. The past few years have not been kind to the construction industry. Economic conditions being what they are, I made the conscious choice to step back from the helter skelter for a while and take the time to make some sense of my life experience, contemplate its relevance, and discover its significance in respect to the concept of community. Study, thought, and conversations shared were the impetus for recalling this allegory … Prometheus giving fire back to mankind (a metaphor for my life in purpose and consequences) … which in turn catalyzed the facilitation of this experience, which is new, revealing, and never disappointing:

People are sitting together at night in a quiet and secluded spot around a fire; everyone’s face a neutral grey; each identified only by their silhouettes, the sounds of their voices, and their contributions to the conversation of reflective, contemplated and expressed:

thoughts about childhood: asking each other about childhood neighborhoods –relationships (father, mother, sisters, brothers, sisters, friends and associations - games, treats, chores, books, songs, television, movies – home life, school days … ~

thoughts about history: thinking about important changes in your past - major events remembered - technological advances – consequences intended and unintended; philosophy, science, sociology, psychology ... ~

thoughts about today: the best of times and worst of times - what is difficult, hard – what is important, relevant, significant - what is fun - changes you would like to see in your life and things you wouldn’t do any differently - problems of the world today - your needs, wants and desires … ~

thoughts about the future: contributions that would make the world a better place - the major pros and cons of life in every category of identity; being young, maturing, aging and being old; being a student of the world how students and older folks can help one another – what does it all mean … ~

Just a thought.
Given the philosophical tenor of this conversation, I may be my thoughts in the wrong place, but they seemed worth offering up anyhow...

I had a vision over the weekend, arising out of my nascent efforts at hosting WC using Maestro Conference. While this platform is adequate for the bare bones requirements of TWC in a conference call format, it leaves much to be desired. I thus began an email to Tim Bonnemann, who has been cataloging existing virtual resources for collaborative work ( and also developing his own platform, "Zilino," with the idea of asking about tools that I could combine with Maestro to improve the virtual WC process. But as I began creating a wish list of capabilities, my thinking shifted.

Rather than grafting together various software to form a WC "toolkit," why not create a dedicated WC platform? And as I played with this idea, I began to stretch my thinking around the seven core principles and ways to bring them more fully into the virtual arena. "Setting the context," for example, via invitations that went beyond standard email, along with elegant ways to provide additional information about the cafe subject in advance.

Next, I began seeing ways in which the virtual space, although in many respects an impoverished substitute for the true face to face WC experience, might in some ways elevate that experience as well. The potential for interaction both before and after the cafe is certainly one aspect of this. And the potential to create a pool of participants that are looking for various types of WC opportunities seems perhaps the most exciting. Imagine thousands of people with highly diverse backgrounds ready, on very short notice, to join a cafe. Then imagine them connecting beyond individual cafes to create ongoing meta-cafe conversations, linking one cafe to the next and cross-pollinating with other meta-cafes.

It is possible that TWC could, in this way, gain an audience orders of magnitude beyond that which it currently touches. It might even transform into something beyond a tool or even a community of practice--something that translates the notion of collective intelligence onto a whole new plane.
I love the last bit very much: "It might even transform into something beyond a tool or even a community of practice--something that translates the notion of collective intelligence onto a whole new plane."

Imagine when we had a kind of Maestro Conference, with special attention to all the principles of TWC? It could be useful for so many, many conversations...

Wondering if Amy is in conversation with the Maestro juys around this...



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