The World Cafe
I have been reading The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter. I was introduced to this book and this method of planning at a conference, “Resources for Positive Change” hosted by Sustaining Pastoral Excellence earlier this year. The idea for this type of conversation is that participants sit around small tables of four surrounded by an atmosphere similar to a Café. On the tables are markers and a table cloth that can be written on. The groups of four are given a question to discuss, they are encouraged to take notes, draw, or doodle the ideas that are presented on their tablecloths. After about 10-20 minutes three of the people around the table get up and move other tables. One stays behind as a host, greeting the new participants and summarizing the discussion that happened at that table. The tables are then given a follow-up question to discuss, write, draw and doodle about. Each question builds on the other, guiding the groups to move forward. This exchange happens two to four times, each time the host stays the same. At the end of the Café time, the large group gathers together to share what came up at each table.
As I watched Synod last month it struck me how different this method of planning and discussing an issue really is. I can't help wondering if there is a place for this type of conversation at our classes and synods. What if some of our advisory committees, instead of coming up with a report of advice would come up with two or three strategic questions for all the participants to discuss in a World Café setting? Delegates would then have a chance to contribute to the conversation without having to speak for or against something, ideas could be shared without taking sides and everybody could be heard. Themes would begin to emerge and the advisory committee could then take what was gathered at the Café and write a summary report.
Could this work? Are we ready as classes to try something different or are we stuck in our usual ways of doing things? Many non-profit agencies and some large corporations are beginning to use alternative ways to discuss issues and decide the future of their organizations and companies. Should the church be learning from those experiences and trying something new?