There are a number of questions that should be considered when designing a Knowledge Café before actually running it. Not all of them are applicable to every situation and they should be reflected on and refined iteratively, not in strict sequence.
- What is the purpose of the Café?
The place to start is to clearly identify the purpose of the Café. This could be about gaining a deeper understanding of a topic or it could be about increasing engagement, surfacing problems, building relationships, breaking down silos, generating ideas, stimulating action or more.
Usually there is a prime purpose and one or more secondary purposes. For example, the prime purpose might be to better understand an issue; a secondary purpose might be to learn about the Knowledge Café process or to start to build relationships.
- What is the context?
Why is the Café being run?
Who is it being run for?
What risks or limitations are there?
How much time is available?
- What is the theme of the Café and what will be the question posed to the participants to fulfill the purpose?
The theme of the Café provides the context for the question that is posed.
There is normally only one question that the Café is designed around but occasionally there may be more.
The Café question is the trigger for the conversation and should be carefully thought about. It needs to be powerful, relevant and meaningful to the Café participants.
- How will the theme be set and who will pose the trigger question?
The Café theme may be implicit in the broader context in which the Café is run; it may be a simple one set by the Café host (facilitator) or it may be set by a short talk by a speaker who is more conversant with the subject. It may be a short video e.g. a TED Talk. There could even be more than speaker.
- How do we minimize the problems associated with group-work?
Most applications of the Café are not overly prone to these problems but they should be thought through nevertheless.
- What do we wish to capture?
The outcomes from a Café are often what people take away in their heads but frequently there is a need to capture more tangible things like ideas, problems, risks etc.
- How do we capture things in a way that minimally interferes with the free flow of the conversation?
The capture could be part of the Café or if the Café is part of a larger process then the capture could be separate. e.g. a Café can be followed by an Open Space session in which outcomes are captured.
- Do we wish to capture the essence of the Café in photos or video?
It is sometimes useful to take photos of the Café or even a video recording. Or to ask one or two people to blog about the event. The idea is not to capture anything that is particularly actionable but to capture the essence of the Café and the energy it generates to help promote future events.
- Who should we invite?
People should never be coerced into participating in a Knowledge Café and care should be exercised in deciding who to invite. It is important to get a mix of perspectives and people who feel passionate about the topic or issues to be discussed.
- Who should we NOT invite?
The presence of senior managers in some cultures can kill the conversation stone dead. Dominant personalities can also have the same effect.
Thought needs to be given as to how to avoid these people killing the conversation. Not inviting them is not necessarily the answer as longer term everyone needs to be involved in most conversations.
- How should we invite people?
The Café invitation is important.
- How do we measure the success of this Knowledge Cafe?
Although there should be no preconceived outcomes from a Knowledge Café it is still important that thought is given beforehand as to how success will be measured as it may make sense to get some feedback from the participants during the event. Clearly any success measures should tie in with the purpose of the Café.
- How do we select and layout the venue/room?
The selection of the venue, the room and the layout of tables and chairs in the room is critical to the success of a Knowledge Café. Often room availability limits the number of participants and the way in which the Café can be run.
Note: A Café need not be held in a room. It could be a boat, a park, a café or some other place conducive to conversation. A separate design document is available on this topic.
- Do we need to follow through on this Café and if so in what ways?
A Knowledge Café can be a one-off event or it can be run as a series of Cafes over several months – even indefinitely. So the question to ask is: “should this be a one-off or a series of Cafes?”
Also, depending on the purpose of the Café it may make sense to follow through in other ways. For example, if the purpose of the Café is to surface ideas that are captured, you need to consider whether you should give some sort of feedback at a later day and how you might do that.
- What opportunities does this Café provide?
A Knowledge Café is rarely run in isolation of other things going on in the organization. Think about how the Café might offer opportunities to integrate with other activities.
You may also find these principles that underlie the World Café design useful.
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