Setting the context for a world cafe

(Poster: Giselle Chow)

(Poster: Giselle Chow)

Over the next couple of days I’m facilitating some conversations at my daughter’s school which are essentially part of a visioning process. As with any school there are some parents who will attend with specific concerns. I want to ensure that they feel heard but that the conversations are positive and, particularly as we hope teachers will be joining in the conversations, that the is a sense of cooperation. I’m hoping that the conversations will help strengthen the partnerships between staff and families.

Here’s how I’m planning to set the tone.


I’d like start by giving a bit of an overview of the process we will be using today.

The approach we’re adopting is strengths-based. Often when people work with a community (or a school) they start by focusing on what isn’t working. They might start with a needs analysis, which essentially tells us what we don’t have, what’s missing and what’s broken. It can help shape priorities, but it is too often done in a way that emphasises problems. In a strengths-based approach we start with the strengths and resources of the community (or school), we find out what’s working, and we focus on people’s passions.

We don’t ignore problems or challenges; but we come at them from a different direction. By starting with our strengths and resources, we have something to work with. As we think about what action we will take, our focus is on the future we want to create, rather than the problems of the past.

So if you have come with an issue that is concerning you, we ask that you think about how things would be if you no longer had this concern. Think about times when things have gone well – what made it work? We don’t ask that you pretend everything is fine; we invite you to think about how we can draw on our strengths to create an alternative. We ask that you help us develop a clear picture of where we want to head.

I know that our school is full of people with skills and ideas; that there are many people (both families and staff) who are passionate about the school and our children; and that together we can make the school even better.

One of the strengths of a community is the diversity of experiences and insights that can be found within it. Thus, during the conversations today, we want to hear as many voices as possible so that we get a range of perspectives. The process we are using is World Café, because many of us have solved the world’s problems while sitting in a café. In a way, this is the atmosphere we want to create here today. We are going to have a number of conversations at tables of four or five. After each conversation, we will hear the key ideas from each table and then, in order to help cross-pollinate ideas and to hear from a range of people, we are going to move tables and join a different table.

I have a few assumptions about how we are going to work together today. Let me check them out with you.

  1. I assume that we are going to treat everybody with respect, and that we won’t put down people or ideas we disagree with, we will listen to other points of view, and we will be gentle with each other.
  2. At the same time, I assume we will be honest and that it is OK for us to disagree with each and to have different perspectives. I hope we will have some great discussion, but that these will be based on trying to understand each other’s points of views, rather than trying to convince other people that we are right and they are wrong.
  3. I assume that we will let everybody have a say and that we will actively listen to them.
  4. I assume that we will share the voice space. This means that people who generally have a lot to say might pause a bit to make sure others get a chance, but it also means that people who generally don’t say much will have the courage to bring their insights and wisdom into the conversations.
  5. Finally I assume that we are going to enjoy ourselves and have a bit of a laugh.

Does that sound OK?

Today we are going to look at four questions:

  1. What do we want our children to gain from the school?
  2. What do we value about our school?
  3. What do we want our school to be in the future?
  4. How can families and staff work in partnership so that our children and the school reach their full potential?

The conversations will help the school and P&C in thinking about the future of the school and how we can make it even better.

There are a few guidelines that help make a World Café work well:

  1. Focus on what matters – time is going to fly so we encourage you to focus on the things that really matter.
  2. Contribute your thinking – we really want to hear from everybody and we value everybody’s input.
  3. Speak your mind and heart – don’t be afraid to say what you think.
  4. Listen to understand – really try to understand what others are saying, particularly people you might disagree with.
  5. Link and connect ideas – one of the beauties of this process is that we can cross pollinate ideas. So during the conversations and as you move from table to table, think about how the conversations and ideas connect with each other.
  6. Listen together for insights and deeper questions – after each conversation, we will be inviting you to share two or three pieces of gold from your table, so listen together for what the key insights that come from your conversations.
  7. Play, doodle, draw – you’ll notice there are a number of textas on each table. We don’t want one scribe; we encourage you all to pick up a texta and to take notes. We encourage you to be creative and doodle or draw. You might want to link themes or to highlight great ideas. Colour is your friend!
  8. Have fun – although we are discussing very important issues, it is fine to have fun and to relax. We often do our best thinking when we are enjoying ourselves and being a bit creative.

I’m really looking forward to hearing what you have to say. So, unless there are any questions, let’s get going.

I’d welcome any feedback about how well you think this will create a positive, cooperative environment.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

  1. What is a World Café?
  2. A World Cafe in a school – a step-by-step description
  3. What is the Strengths Perspective?
  4. Making parents feel welcome in schools
  5. Schools engaging families and the local community
  6. 10 Ways to build school-community partnerships

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Strengths-based approaches & ABCD, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

I'd love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.