posted 30 Nov 2009 in Volume 13 Issue 3
The Gurteen Perspective: To clarify matters...
So, just what is a knowledge cafe? David Gurteen explains all.
I am often asked ‘What is a knowledge café?’, or ‘What is a Gurteen knowledge café?’, and ‘How does a knowledge café differ from a world café?’. Let me explain.
The term knowledge café is generic and can be applied to many different processes and applications. Some people call their blogs or websites ‘knowledge cafés’. Others hold online or virtual versions and many workshops are dubbed with the same title. The term has no standard meaning.
But predominantly, most people understand a knowledge café to be about bringing people together face-to-face to have a group conversation of some description. It is a ‘conversational process’, which focuses on dialogue and ‘conversational café’ or ‘café’ are often used as generic terms to refer to any format of café.
Many workshops, although they involve a great deal of conversation by the participants, are to my mind wrongly dubbed knowledge cafés. Apart from the focus on open conversation, I think there is one other key factor that distinguishes a knowledge café from some form of workshop and that is that the major outcome of a true knowledge café is the information that individuals take away in their heads.
A true knowledge cafe is not about group decision making, or reaching a consensus, or a documented proposal. It is about individual learning and insights; the surfacing of assumptions, issues, problems and opportunities; and, seeing things that have not been seen before (or seen only dimly). The value of a knowledge café is what the participants take away in their heads.
I should add that is not that things are not captured in knowledge cafés or that there are no other forms of output, but this is not the prime objective.
There are various forms of café. The World Café is a conversational process that originated with Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in 1995, and was subsequently developed by the global World Café Community. It is a similar but more elaborate process than the Gurteen knowledge café and some of the core principles are different.
The Gurteen knowledge café is a conversational process that I developed in 2002, quite independently from the World Café process. The process was greatly influenced by my own experience of ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ presentations and small group work. I deliberately dubbed it with the Gurteen label to distinguish it from other knowledge café formats that I felt were fundamentally different to mine.
The term knowledge café tends to be used as a general term for many conversational processes. Often the format is based on the World Café or Gurteen knowledge café process, or an adaptation of one of them. And, often, the term is used loosely to describe a workshop of some description.
Café communities: cafés can be both conversational tools and communities. The World Café is both a process and a community. The same is true of the Gurteen knowledge café. I have held regular knowledge cafés in
Conference cafés: the café process can be used within a business context as a conversational tool for a specific business purpose but it is also often used more generally as part of conference or a workshop open to the public.
Open Gurteen knowledge cafés: regularly, when I visit a city, I will run an open Gurteen knowledge café. This is a one-off event. I find a host, I invite my local community, the host invites theirs, and others are welcome to attend too. In the past few years, I have run open cafés in
There are other styles of café too. Google search ‘Stars knowledge café’, ‘Socrates Café’, or ‘Cafe Scientifique’ to learn more.
I hope this explains what the knowledge café is all about. One final comment: I am often asked how to run a virtual knowledge café. I am sorry but you can’t. Knowledge cafés take place face-to-face and that interaction cannot be duplicated online.
David Gurteen is founder of Gurteen Knowledge. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org