All you need is space to sit down, some enthusiastic and open-minded individuals … oh, and some coffee!

Submitted by Jo on Fri, 20/04/2018 - 11:29

Jonathan Norman  takes us through how to use Knowledge Cafés and why they are such a powerful tool in his latest blog.

There are several reasons why a Knowledge Café is a wonderful resource for anyone developing a professional network or community.

They are very easy to organize and run. You’ll find them very inclusive and engaging for a mixed group. Cafés invariably generate enthusiasm and ideas amongst everyone who takes part. And they can be used for a variety of purposes (you do need to fix on a definite purpose for a café as that will influence how you run it). You may run a café as a one-off activity, perhaps a brain-storm around a particular problem? Or use it perhaps as part of an ongoing effort to break-down siloes within an organization or introduce people from across a peer network.

Allow enough tables (or separate rooms if you wish) for the group to subdivide into manageable numbers. Each of the tables should have a theme or a question to address. Explain to everyone that you will invite them to choose a table with a theme that interests them – with the proviso that they may need to opt for their second choice of theme, if there are too many people (8 or more) at any one table.

They will then have 15 or 20 minutes to discuss the theme amongst themselves and capture any thoughts or observations. You may choose a flipchart and invite one person from each group to volunteer as a scribe. If you want to be a little more sophisticated, then you can add a facilitator into the mix too, but most groups should be able to generate a reasonable level of conversation on their own, if they are motivated enough.

At the end of the 15 minutes, you may invite the groups to split up so that individuals may move to another table and join another conversation. Repeat the cycle as many times as you wish.

Alternatively, if you want individual groups to spend more time on some larger issues, you can extend the cycle so that each discussion period is 30 or 45 minutes. In which case, invite participants to move between conversations as the mood takes them.

You may wish to invite groups or individuals to feedback any particular pieces of insight they have generated at the end of the café and/or you may capture the observers’ notes and circulate them following the event. It’s worth allowing a little time at the end for a quick review of the process, when you can invite people to comment on what they have just done, how they feel about it and what they would like to do differently, if you repeat the exercise.

It sounds deceptively simple … and it is. Give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised at the energy and the ideas you generate.

You can listen to David Gurteen, who has been running cafés for the last 15 or 20 years, talking about the power of the process, when I interviewed him recently for the Major Projects Knowledge Hub.

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