World Café makes a world of difference

Still energized thanks to the success of the chat show, I woke up bright and early and got myself ready for the new challenge: holding a World Café with 70 Eastern and Southern Africa colleagues.

The room we were assigned was nice and hospitable. They had provided us with real tablecloths which I covered with 8 pieces of flipchart paper. To spice up the tables in the absence of flowers, I had got some Swiss chocolate in Zurich and put these on the tables.

I took a deep breath as my 70 colleagues filed in the room. Each table hosted 6 people. It was a challenge to stop people from moving chairs from one table to another. As the participants were coming in I asked them to form tables with a good mix of different roles and functions, different types of projects from different countries, gender balance and with at least one member of another Eastern and Southern Africa thematic networks.

I briefed the participants on the methodology, which was a mix of individual work, World Café and reporting back in the plenary. I must thank two wonderful people - Nancy White and Dan Newman - as I applied a lot of their facilitation techniques and methods in this session.

We started off with an individual exercise - which I borrowed from Dan's methodology - SCAN-FOCUS-ACT. I asked the participants to use the post-its on their table to jot down 3 priority activities that they would like to do together with the network. After which we clustered the activities. We used this output as the basis for the World Café.

The instructions for the World Café were to prioritize the priorities, identify three activities for the three strategic components of the network (a) capacity building, (b) knowledge harvesting and (c) policy dialogue and answer the following 8 questions:

  • What is the objective of the activity?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who is it for?
  • How will it be done?
  • What are the expected results?
  • When will it start and what is the expected completion date?
  • How will you monitor the impact and results of this activity?
  • How will these activities link up with and/or use the knowledge and experience of ESA thematic networks? (How will the ESA thematic networks integrate with IFADAfrica?)
The tables selected a host and started off by prioritizing the priorities and to answer the above questions. During the first round they managed to cover one activity. They were a bit disconcerted when after 30 minutes I asked them move tables!

It took about 5 minutes to get everyone moved. At their new tables, they listened to the table host and started building and validating the work of the previous group.

10 minutes into the second round they started getting the gist of the exercise and seeing the value of the exercise. So when they had to move for the last time, they did it much faster. However, they were so engrossed in the conversation that they asked for some additional time before moving along.

World Café generated such a buzz and energy. The energy level in the room was almost tangible. Our own Helene who was busy taking care of administrative matters was coming in and out of the room. At a certain point she said: "Gee these people are having a great time, they are so dynamic and energetic".
After the last round, the table hosts presented their respective work in a "plenary" session. We had an excellent exchange and everyone contributed to the discussion. The inputs from this session fed into a further group work, when we divided ourselves in three groups to produce the draft work plan for each of the components.

By then, the group had bonded, they had got to know each other and built trust. Abdi said: "this method was great, not only I learnt from others, but also met a colleague who I had not seen in 26 years!"

Bernard Ulaya came up to Helen and said: "I was about to go home yesterday, but this session was so great and am now so excited and learnt so much".

Other participants mentioned that they saw the value of validating and building on each others work, as it allowed them to reconsider their thinking and look at things from different perspectives.

Miriam, Helen and I had agreed that one of the major outputs of this workshop besides the workplan was to create a conducive environment for colleagues to interact with each other, to learn from each other, to share their knowledge and wisdom with each other. Well, we finished the second day felling that we had made great progress and achieved our most important goal!!!

At the end of the day we may have been exhausted but comments such as Abdi's and Bernard's and others were so rewarding and gratifying that we forgot how tired we were!

We had planned to use World Café as workshop method. However, our Western and Central Africa colleagues did not feel comfortable with this suggestion and indicated that they preferred not to embark on this knowledge sharing method.

We hope that next time the network comes together, they will agree to adopt this knowledge sharing method so that our Western and Central Africa colleagues also can benefit from this type of rich and dynamic interaction and also to mingle even more with their other network colleagues. After all FIDAfrique-IFADAfrica as a network belongs to our Western and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa colleagues, partners and stakeholders!

I remembered what my mentor Nancy White once told me: "It will not be easy, you will need to build on small achievements and celebrate them".

So to celebrate the day's achievement with the help of Mary, Miriam and Joyce we agreed to reward the group for their wonderful work and also for having indulged in using a new method.

You'll need to check this blog to find out how we rewarded our wonderful colleagues! Make sure you tune in.... same time, same place, same blog station! Until then, good bye and good nite.

More on World Café at:


Hi Roxy-

looks like you are doing a great job! Pity that the world café was not used by our WCA colleagues-it was highly valued in the Mauritania retreat. Teddah, from the PASK project in Mauritania is attending the workshop in Kenya, and I am sure he will confirm the energetic exchanges which the World café renders possible. Anyway, good luck with the rest of the workshop!
miriam said…
Roxy, I would like to thank most sincerely for introducing us to different KM tools during the launch workshop. Using the world cafe to develop the ESA workplan priorities was very interesting and it was amazing how engaged the participants were. The chat shop was a different way of presenting and allowed people to speak from their hearts. We look forward to learning more from you vast experience.
Helen Gillman said…
Miriam Cherogony and I were initially a bit concerned about whether or not the World Café method could help us to achieve our objective: the basis of a workplan for the regional network by the end of the day. It was a tall order and we placed a lot of demands on Roxy. We decided to forge ahead with this new and different approach because we really want to "model" good learning and sharing behaviour, and introduce innovative approaches (especially to move away from boring PowerPoints). Well - by the end of the day we had a very good basis for the workplan - and not only that! Eastern and Southern Africa project representatives had also developed a much better understanding of KM and how to build it into their projects. And, most importantly, there is a much greater sense of buy-in to the new network. People can see the network's added value. All of this in one day - it was certainly an achievement! At 6 pm after a full day of intense work, the room was buzzing - no-one was nodding off to sleep. It was fun - but now the real work begins. Thanks to Roxy for her great work, as well as to Shalini Kala from ENRAP, German Escobar from FIDAMERICA and Ariel Halpern from PROCASUR for their help and support during the day.
Roxanna Samii said…
Thanks everyone for your comments and kind words.
Cristiana - Teddah actually came up to me and told me of his wonderful experience with world cafe which you so ably conducted!!! I think between you and I he wanted to be in ESA group. Baci
Nancy White said…
Ohhh, I am smiling SO BIG from the other side of the globe to read of this fantastic story.

People are powerful -- all we need to do is create hospitable conditions, give the barest minimum structure and an IMPORTANT TASK OR QUESTION and then let it happen. What I see here that was done so well, is identifying what you wanted to accomplish, discerning an appropriate process and making sure you were ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. That buzz in the room tells you that you had it right.


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Peggy Holman has really put language to why we get resistance and ways to help move past it.

Keep it going!