10 March, 2010

Help me make up me mind

I've come back to Thailand for a week of work with FAO, facilitating the second workshop of a regional project on food consumer market research. The project involves researchers from four countries: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Yunnan Province of China. From the various interests of the national researchers, the objective was to come up together with a few common research problems that we might all resolve in the four different countries using the same research methodology.

To achieve this convergence, I proposed to use the world café method, which we implemented yesterday. World café involves breaking up into small groups seated at separate tables with a large sheet of paper on which to take notes. All groups discuss a common question separately. Participants then shift tables so as to share the findings between groups while one person - the table host - permanently stays at a table to report previous discussions to newcomers at the table. For more information, visit the KS-toolkit.

We are a small group of 14; I chose to set up three tables of four or five people. The common question to be discussed was: "What are the COMMON research problems that could be investigated in ALL four countries?" I had anticipated that the world café method would allow all participants to become aware of all the wishes of their colleagues, and we would use another facilitation method to do the convergence of views to select a few common research problems for all countries to implement.
In fact, the convergence process happened naturally through the world café. The sheets of paper on the tables were scribbled with all the various ideas coming up from participants but the discussions being held at the three tables also allowed everybody to spot the common research problems that would be relevant for all four countries and the three food products we were working on.
When the three table hosts presented the synthesis of their table discussion, we naturally ended up with just one common research problem to be investigated using one conceptual framework, which was illustrated in a graph form on one table and in a matrix form on another table. The convergence process happened naturally during the world café, which made the plenary discussion afterwards much easier. Perhaps the very precise question for the café helped; it already asked participants to set their minds in a converging mode.

The lesson I have learned: the knowledge café method is not just a useful way to share experiences and results, it can also be used to converge different views in order to take a common decision.

David Guetta
Choose, One love, Virgin Music


  1. Hi Jo, thanks so much for this post! Just linked to it from the FAO Knowledge Cafe Sharing in Action blog. All the best with everything! Nadejda

  2. I like this World Cafe method esp. when we were having newcomers visiting the table. I wish we had more time to hear more on each visit. I'm trying to apply this to my work and school too. Thank you for introducing/demonstrating this.


  3. Good observation! I find WC helps a group either discover its convergence OR divergence and own it.

    By owning it, I mean they can feel empowered to act on whatever they find. If it is convergence, they can move forward to action. If it is divergence, it creates a time/space/place to explore the ramifications of the differences. (Important: we don't always need to resolve difference, but instead use it creatively, eh?)

    Love reading this story, Jo!

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  5. Found a spelling mistake in my comment. Here it is again.

    Thanks Nadia, Nancy and Saovanee for commenting on my post.
    I've added the pictures to illustrate the post.
    The first three posters are a bit crumpled because our meeting room got flooded overnight by a burst water pipe. All our posters (and the computer and printer) had to be put out to dry before we could use them again.