How can we talk it through?

By Shae Hadden | Bio

The premise being that we CAN talk it through…

This is the question that epitomizes the possibility that the World Café represents. It is the question that informs Anne Dosher, the 80-something ‘Elder’ of the World Café and Board member of the World Café Community Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to developing and disseminating this and other innovative dialogue approaches. I recently had the privilege of interviewing this gracious, generous and engaging lady—the human embodiment of what I imagined the World Café phenomena itself to be—with a few inquiries of my own.

What do you believe is critical for the success of a World Café?
“There are four keys: the preparatory work of the host prior to the event, setting up round tables that seat four each, teaching the etiquette of the café to participants, and having a graphic recorder capture the collective intelligence patterns as they emerge from the group. When the host meets with a small group of leaders from the group beforehand, they can not only share how the café really works and what conditions lead to success, but also assist the conveners in finding the question or questions that matter to the system the participants come from. There are many trained graphic reporters around the world—you can find them either through the World Café website or through the International Forum of Visual Practitioners. David Sibbet also runs an excellent training school in San Francisco for anyone who is interested in this work.”

What wisdom would you share with a younger person starting a new change initiative?
“I can only speak from my own experience, and what my practices are. Knowing that every day the world starts anew, I begin each day at 4 a.m. with my sacred practice. I sit outside in the grass, connect to the earth and practice the medicine wheel, calling the Great Spirit to bring forth that my life that day will serve life. Then I listen to the news headlines to be knowledgeable and aware of the major events and players in the world.

I experience a profound sense of joyful responsibility knowing we co-create the world in our way of being, our conversations, our thinking and speaking. If we do these well, the Universe conspires with us.

To a younger person, I’d recommend they be knowledgeable of the world humanity co-creates, be grounded in the world of spirit, and trust that compassion abounds in the Universe. And before moving into action, ask two questions:

  • What is ours to do?
  • What is the most elegant and graceful action we can take to further this?”

Respect seems to be at the heart of the World Café. How do café hosts create that in a multigenerational event when people from diverse generations have different expectations about what respect looks like?
“Some hosts introduce respect as part of the culture of the café. When I used to facilitate events at the beginning of the movement, I’d share the traditional definition of respect as “to re-see in the moment” with participants. I’d invite them to start in silence, to take time to breathe and be ‘present’ when meeting new people—and then to ‘re-see’ themselves in these other people. This gave everyone a different context for creating a conversation that matters and that co-creates the world in a new way.

The way the café flows also creates a huge ego shift, because as people move from table to table, no one can take credit or blame for any particular idea. There’s a magic that happens in the middle of the conversational space: people often comment that they feel different at the end and have trouble expressing what has happened to them.

Respecting children and youth is important in multigenerational dialogue. When I was working with the National Network for Youth in the United States, we had an initiative underway to involve youth on the boards of 600 community-based, not-for-profit organizations. We found that we had to have a training program for the adults to change their thinking and expectations about having young people involved: they either thought they would do nothing or that they would do it all. We needed to teach them how to speak and listen to younger generations democratically.”

What outcome of the World Café movement has surprised you most?
“I was surprised to find out we only know of about 10% of what has gone on in the last 13 years. And I’m constantly astonished when people tell me how the Café has changed them. We had always expected individual change, but it’s surprising how frequently it’s referred to and how it expresses a depth of meaning in almost every case. We’d seen it as a social innovation that offered people a new way of being together, and forgotten individuals themselves could be changed.”

I’m visualizing Anne now, quietly reciting her invocation in the early dawn, and creating the world anew each day. Thank you, Anne, for inspiring me with your perspective and your way of being. I’m certain we’ll have more to share about the World Café on Serene Ambition in the future…