Randomised Coffee Trials



Knowledge Management

A Randomised Coffee Trial or RCT for short is a rather fancy name for an incredibly simple idea.

RCTs are used to connect people in an organization at random and give them time to meet to have a coffee and talk about whatever they wish.

The original idea was inspired by Pedro Medina and developed by Michael Soto and Jon Kingsbury of Nesta UK in 2013.

Nesta is an innovation charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life.

An RCT can be run in a wide variety of ways but one way is like this.

Anyone interested in taking part, sends an email to a central address and asks to be randomly connected with someone else in the organization.

An administrator collects these requests and enters them into a specially designed spreadsheet that matches people at random.

Some organizations use a simpler technique like drawing names from a hat or use more sophisticated software that aotomatically does the matching. (See the commercial services listed below.)

The administrator then tells the person with whom they have been connected.

It is then up to them to get in touch with that person and organise a 30 minute chat over coffee.

It need not be a coffee - it could be tea, lunch or dinner. What ever works best for them.

Better still, in a geographically dispersed organization - the meeting could be a virtual one say over Skype.

This is what Nesta says about the benefits
  • Provides legitimacy to chat to people about things that aren't directly work related. Although every time there have been direct beneficial impacts on various projects and programmes.

  • Totally random conversations, as well as some very useful work related conversations. Breaks silos at Nesta in a really effective way.

  • Offers the chance to make time to talk to people they should be talking to anyway, and to meet people who they won't be directly working with but it's nice to know who they are!

  • It's a really good way of revealing links within the organisation and encouraging us to collaborate. It's interesting that being part of the wider 'RCT' banners gives permission to spend and honour the time. Less likely to cancel a catch up if it's an RCT coffee than a social catch up on a busy day.

  • They like the prompt to talk to someone new (or someone they already know), and the permission to take 30 minutes just to see what's going on, without any particular agenda or goal.
See more at: Institutionalising Serendipity via Productive Coffee Breaks

As of September 2014, I know of the following organizations that are running various forms of RCTs:
  • Nesta
  • Cabinet Office (UK)
  • Scottish Government (UK)
  • Royal Society of Arts (UK)
  • KHDA (Dubai) (Called Shareachino sessions)
  • Mars (UK)
  • 4Ps Marketing (UK)
  • Surrey County Council (UK)
  • National Audit Office (UK)
  • MWH Global (UK)
  • BAE Systems (US)
  • SABMiller (UK) (They call them Random Beer Collaborations)
  • Red Cross Red Crescent (Global)
  • Bank of England (UK) (They call them CoffeeFours and match 4 people together)
  • Linklaters (UK)
  • NatCen Social Research (UK)
  • The British Library
  • UK Trade and Investment (UKTI)
  • Aberdeenshire Council, Scotland

These short videos in various languages explain how the Red Cross Red Crescent are using them globally via Skype.

Some early feedback from the Red Cross Red Crescent trials

  • I came to know that in Austria students are teaching the way of building disaster shelters as well as awareness in hygiene promotion and disaster where in my country it's such a technical session we have not introduced in schools. But I realized this is a very good practice and of course I will introduce it here in Bangladesh also.

  • It was a great experience and I think we definitely will connect again! We also exchanged email IDs to keep each other posted on new youth developments specifically (since we're both involved in youth work).

  • I have a coffee partner from Trinidad and Tobago. She is a volunteer leader overseeing Red Cross activities for children and teachers in her District. She is so passionate about her work! I was very inspired and will have our next meeting next month

  • The first round went remarkably well, as I was paired up with a brilliant woman from Australia who provided me with a good picture of the Australian Red Cross and general Australian civil services; amazingly, our different countries have very similar strategies in our communities! We're also planning on keeping in contact with one another for fun / for cultural education (including Red Cross information)

  • I wanted you to know that I just did the first coffee meeting at 6am this morning before work and it was such a lovely way to start the day! Great idea to link up volunteers and staff from different national societies. As well as a good chat, we both learnt a fair bit and hope to maintain the connection.

  • What were the chances that I got connected with someone who shared the same name with me! We had a wonderful chat...I am looking forward to my next "hook up" :).

  • Thank you for providing the opportunity to share and forge links with other volunteers world wide. I had my first virtual coffee trial today and it was an awesome experience. Discussing our work and sharing our experiences just added the right flavor to what we do regardless of the distance. We are not alone . We have a voice. Thank you. Looking forward to the Second Round.

There are a number of commercial organizations that provide an RCT type service:

Spark Collaboration from Trackmind on Vimeo.

This is how Spark Collaboration describes their RCT service: "Spark is a simple tool to help people meet. Colleagues who spend time socializing are more innovative and more productive. The problem is, it's hard to socialize with people you don't already know. That's why Spark was built. It's a tool that introduces people who work together and invites them to meet for lunch or coffee."

Footnote: Where did that seemingly crazy name Randomised Coffee Trails come from? Well its a play on the concept of Randomised Control Trials. Ben Goldacre of Nesta talks a little about them here in this post on his launch of Randomise Me - a free online trials generator.

Further Reading:

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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