World Café with Anna Wohlesser

How to get 150 people talking


As a facilitator and process designer I regularly work with large groups during workshops/conferences or similar events. Creating interactive and meaningful and not too long and motivating and effective settings with 150 or more people in the room is often required and can be a challenge due to time requirements, participants that don’t know each other… World Café is one of the methodologies I often go back to in this case, as it allows for exploring a topic openly, from many different angles in a relatively safe setting with a certain timeframe.

So how does it work?

For a World Café, participants sit in small groups, often around tables that have paper or flipchart “tablecloths” with markers lying on them. The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, which can even be supported by coffee and drinks being available and/or served during the process.

Participants are invited to explore and exchange thoughts on a given topic or question over several rounds following a certain “Café Etiquette” that encourages active listening, speaking the essence and doodling on the paper tablecloths in front of them so as to document the thought process of the group.

One person is the “table host” and his/her role is to moderate the discussion if necessary and encourage people who are rather quiet to contribute. After every round the “table host” stays on the table while the others switch and find a new group to explore further. The ”table host” gives the newcomers a short summary of the previous discussion on the start of the next round. This allows for the newly formed group to build on the insights of the previous round thus enabling a deepening of the dialog while simultaneously understanding again new and different perspectives.

The last step in a World Café is to bring together the main insights from each table and share them with the whole group.

And where can this be used?

I have seen World Cafes in small traditional Tyrolean mountain huts with 20 people, on a conference with 150 economic researchers as well as 500 people sitting on a town square in Cluj, Romania. It is a versatile and effective format that really allows for the collective interests and ideas of the group to emerge.

Anna Wohlesser

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