Tapping into the Collective Wisdom of a Group

A world cafe is a great solution if you are looking to tap into the collective wisdom and creativity within a group. A world cafe consists of three rounds, each between 15-20 minutes long. Participants gather in small groups of 3-5 and each group explores the same question for each round. After a round is complete, one person remains at the table as a host while the others travel to new tables and conversations – spreading the insights from previous discussions.

There are many ways you can arrange the questions for the three rounds, but a good starting point is to think in the following order:

  • Round 1: Question to Focus Collective Attention
  • Round 2: Question to Connect Ideas for Deeper Insight
  • Round 3: Question to Create Forward Momentum

Below are a few questions you might consider using in your design.

Round 1: Questions that Focus Collective Attention

  • What question, if answered, could make the greatest difference to the future of the situation we’re exploring here?
  • What’s important to you about this situation and why do you care?
  • What draws you / us to this inquiry?
  • What’s our intention here? What’s the deeper purpose – the “big why” – that is worthy of our best effort?
  • What opportunities can we see in this situation?
  • What do we know so far / still need to learn about this situation?
  • What are the dilemmas / opportunities in this situation?
  • What assumptions do we need to test or challenge in thinking about this situation?
  • What would someone who had a very different set of beliefs than we do say about this situation?

Round 2: Questions that Connect Ideas for Deeper Insight

  • What’s taking shape here? What are we hearing underneath the variety of opinions being expressed? What is in the center of our listening?
  • What’s emerging that is new for you? What connections are you making?
  • What have you heard that had real meaning for you? What surprised you? What puzzled or challenged you? What question would you like to ask now?
  • What is missing from the picture so far? What are we not seeing? Where do we need more clarity?
  • What has been your major learning or insight so far?
  • What’s the next level of thinking we need to address?
  • If there was one thing that hasn’t yet been said but is needed in order to reach a deeper level of understanding / clarity, what would that be?

Round 3: Questions that Create Forward Momentum

  • What would it take to create change on this issue?
  • What could happen that would enable you / us to feel fully engaged and energized in this situation?
  • What’s possible here and who cares about it?
  • What needs our immediate attention going forward?
  • If our success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose?
  • How can we support each other in taking the next steps? What unique contribution can we each make?
  • What challenges might come our way and how might we meet them?
  • What conversation if begun today, could ripple out in a way that created new possibilities for the future of [our situation. . . ]?
  • What seed might we plant together today that could make the most difference to the future of [our situation. . . ]?

Mix and Match for Your Event

The beauty of a world cafe is the flexibility you have for arranging questions.

But that means the most important part of the facilitation process is the intention you put into the type of questions you ask, and the order in which they are delivered. The more care you put into selecting your questions, the more generative the conversations will be for your participants.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like to explore specifics for how to integrate a world cafe in your own work.

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