How to run a Knowledge Café



David Gurteen




Knowledge Cafe

Knowledge Cafés can be run in many ways - there is no definitive format but some ways are more effective than others. If you wish to look at a quite sophisticated format then see theworldcafe.com  or another resource is www.conversationcafe.org . The theworldcafe.com  is an extensive resource site on the subject and includes a free downloadable guide  that helps you to set up and run your own cafés.

For a variety of process reasons and in the interests of keeping things simple and saving on set up time I usually run my Gurteen Knowledge Cafés and in particular my Community Cafés to a simpler format than the one outlined in theworldcafe.com . A Gurteen Knowledge Café usually runs for 1 1/2 - 2 hours in total depending on how much time available. It is difficult to run one in less than 1 hour. The number of people should be at least 15. Ideally 30. 50 max. Any more than this then it is impossible to hold the whole group conversation at the end without the need for microphones which somewhat curtails the dynamics of the conversation.

The only hard and fast rule is that the meeting is conducted in such a way that most of the time is spent in conversation - it is not about one person presenting to the group.

A simple session may go something like this.

Optionally, the facilitator gives a presentation on what knowledge cafes are all about and the role of conversation in business life. (anywhere between 5 mins and 1 hr with a few conversational exercises). I usually only do this at a conference where people are not already familiar with the concepts and this turn the whole event effectively into a half-day workshop.

The facilitator welcomes people to the Café - about 5 mins.

The facilitator spends 10 - 15 minutes outlining the subject or theme of the Café and poses a single open-ended question.

e.g. if the theme is knowledge-sharing then the question for the group might be 'what are the barriers to knowledge-sharing in an organization and how do you overcome them?'

The group breaks into small groups of about 5 each and discusses the questions for about 45 mins and then we come back together as a whole group for the final 45 mins where the individual groups share their thoughts. Optionally in the small group sessions, people change tables every 15 mins to broaden the number of people they get to interact with and thus the differing perspectives of the group.

Usually no attempt is made to capture the conversation as doing so tends to destroy the conversation. The value of the Cafe is in the conversation itself and the learning that each individual takes away. In some circumstances though it makes sense to capture things from the Cafe depending on its purpose and there are ways of doing this that interfere minimally dynamics of the conversation.

Video: Knowledge Cafe at KMAP 2006

Gurteen Knowledge Cafe at KMAP 2006 in Hong Kong, December 2006, facilitated by David Gurteen and Raksha Sukhia. Courtesy of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University Knowledge Management Research Centre.

Media Information: Image

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David Gurteen

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