In my view the large-group facilitation method World Café is an Open Source method (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source). Its sources, though not licensed, are publicly available and people discuss their experiences with it in public. Unlike most Open Source software, World Café is not (yet?) structured in a modular design.
In this article I'm going to share my experience with the 'Kick-off' Add-on module and World Café that took place early May 2011 at an international conference of the Co-Counselling International (CCI) at Wiston Lodge, a conference centre near Edinburgh, Scotland.
Co-Counselling International is a peer-led network providing support to its members through reciprocal sessions using techniques from therapy and coaching. It has a consensus culture for getting and keeping the network organized and for developing the methods behind their approach further. In this context it is obvious that World Café is a distinctively appropriate method to be used. Since a year plus it has been experimented with under the name of CoCo-Café in the UK, Ireland and the USA. Several applications has been tried out at several conferences: using CoCo-Café as networking tool of bringing people together around issues that matter to them, as a conference reflection-café, as a 'What is really the issue here?' café and recently for further developing co-counselling theory.
Back to the CoCo Café with the 'Kick-off', early May this year in Scotland.
The topic of this CoCo Café was 'The Evidence behind the Science of Emotions'. Or more specifically worded: 'What are the research findings about the encouragement of catharsis in therapeutic and coaching processes?' This issue really matters to Co-Counselling International because the expression of emotions belongs to the core of CCI.
Organising a CoCo Café about this topic posed several challenges to its organisers.
Complexity of the Evidence topic
Theoretical issues: Working with emotions is seen from different theoretical frameworks: Humanistic Psychology, Cognitive Behaviour Psychology, NLP etc. Within some of these frameworks catharsis is a really controversial discussion topic.
Evidence issues: People have different opinions about what 'evidence' is, varying from anecdotal, own experience, philosophical reflection to what the value is of scientific, research-based evidence.
Self-help issues: Apart from the above issues, what self-help tools can be developed for people to work with their emotions and catharsis while avoiding such risks as retraumatisation.
The diversity among the Café participants
Participants have very diverse experiences of working with emotions:
- Participating in the coco one-to-one sessions while taking turns in the role of the client as well as in the role of the counsellor.
- Teaching the coco self-help tools in the core training workshops.
- As professional one-way therapists and counsellors who work with emotions and catharsis from different theoretical frameworks
Some people seem to identify themselves strongly with the theoretical concepts and tools of catharsis when discussing working with feelings and emotions.
The Harvesting challenge
CCI is a worldwide network. How can we feed back the conversations held locally in Scotland? Or even better, how can we feed this back so that the next CoCo Cafés can built on the outcome of this one? In a way here turns one of the great advantages of the World Café concept into a disadvantage: World Café provides a big cooking pot for ideas and insights that keep boiling after the world café furnace has been switched off. So, how can we harvest the results of this specific CoCo Café?
In short, the challenge is…
In our small coco café preparation all the above boiled down to the following questions:
- How to create a common frame of reference that could contain the various points of views for the exploration at the tables to benefit from our diversity.
- How to create a harvesting process that might provide a good information base for a next CoCo Café in a different place with likely different participants?
The CoCo Café Kick Off
Creating a common frame of reference for the dialogues at the tables was what we called afterwards the 'kick-off'. In the run-up to CoCo Café we invited three people to prepare and give a 10 minutes intro into the issue 'The evidence behind the Science of Emotions' at the start of the CoCo Café. We've chosen persons with special interests in philosophy, in research-evidence based therapy and in research-methodology.
After each intro there was a 5 minutes space for the audience to ask questions for clarification only.
A fourth person was asked to introduce and moderate this Kick-Off in terms of time-keeping, guarding the balance between the intros and the audience, and filtering the questions for clarification.
After this Kick-Off we had a kind of three lighthouses we could refer to with our ships riding the waves during the dialogues between the people at the tables. At the Co-Co Café tables the four starting persons became equal among equals.
The CoCo Café setup
Tables are equipped with table cloths, flipchart paper on top with crayons and felt tips. The hospitality was emphasized with sparkling grape juice (a leftover from an opening from a photography exhibition two days before) and a drinking glass with fresh Scottish spring flowers and herbs from the meadows around the house.
We added a short version of the table etiquette on top of a little twig. We thought about that it might be useful to put a note that it is 'allowed' to interrupt each other or that it is not necessary to listen properly all the time. Nearly all participants are so well trained in supportive listening and we notices that this might sometimes stop 'darting flames' in dialogues to happen. We put it in an implicit intervention afterwards in the way we explained the setting a bit fresh and cheeky.
Rounds after Kick-off.
The basics of the CoCo Cafe setting: 15 participants, 3 tables and 4 rounds, each taking about 20 minutes. The aim was that everybody would talk to everybody on an equal footing. In the first round the 3 forum speakers sat at different tables so they could shake off their exponent roles. In the third round we emphasized tables of people who haven't met each other. This implied that the table hosts were changing, so that everyone could have been together with everyone else. The fourth round was for preparing the harvesting afterwards.
Harvesting the discussion
After the last round we did a harvesting to the question: 'What idea was energizing the process at the tables?' From every table some of those ideas went on the central flipchart paper. They will be communicated to the Co-Counselling network. These ideas seem to accept 'it is a real issue now' and they look more thoughtful and 'peaceful' now than they have looked before the café. So we as the organizers were satisfied having developed the discourse around one important issue in our network.
Referring to Open Source we as the organisers of this CoCo-Café think of 'kick-off' as an 'Add-on'. A module that fits to the core process of World Café accepting its requirement as a kind of interface. We love to share the idea of an 'kick-off' 'Add-on' as well as our idea to think World Café in the field of Open Source. We are pretty sure that we of course are not the only ones. So please let us know about other Add-ons.
In particular a Kick-off Add-on can perhaps open a new field for World Café appliance. Changing panel discussion with following domesticated dialogues called 'questions' there might be panel kick-offs with digestion cafés afterwards. Hope someone will try also and share experiences. We will do so.
to Dymphna H. from Dublin, JanPieter H. from Edinburgh and Marjan T. from Rotterdam for the inspiring and practical cooperation.
Rudolf G. from Hamburg.
First published on World Café Community.