Conversation Cafe is an informal dialogue method which invites people to take part in discussions about topical issues in an informal setting.
'Conversation Cafe' can refer to activities that involve informal, hosted, drop-in discussions in cafes, bookshops and other public places.
The conversationcafe.org organisation in the US suggests the following process:
• Assemble up to 8 people plus host; agree on a hearty topic, find a talking object that is to be passed around, and set a time (1-2 hours). The host explains the process and agreements.
• Round 1: Pass around the talking object e.g. a cushion; each person speaks briefly to the topic, no feedback or response.
• Round 2: Again with the talking object, each person deepens their own comments or speaks to what has meaning now.
• Dialogue: Open, spirited conversation. Use the talking object if there is domination, contention, or lack of focus.
• Final Round: With the talking object, each person says briefly what was meaningful to them.
They also describe six principles for good conversation, which can be used as guidelines:
• Open-mindedness: Listen to and respect all points of view.
• Acceptance: Suspend judgment as best you can.
• Curiosity: Seek to understand rather than persuade.
• Discovery: Question assumptions, look for new insights.
• Sincerity: Speak what has personal heart and meaning.
• Brevity: Go for honesty and depth but don't go on and on.
• Anyone - the process is usually open to anybody who is interested in the topic.
• All that is needed is a space to host the conversation, usually a café or other public space, a talking object and somebody who is willing to host the discussion.
Approximate time expense
• A Conversation Cafe usually lasts between 1-2 hours.
• Encourages learning, listening and sharing views
• May inspire people to take action
• Stimulates debate
• Meet new people
• Does not lead to any particular goal
• Cannot be used to reach a decision
• Likely to only encourage certain participants
Different versions of the Conversation Cafe idea exist under different names around the world.
Image by @Doug88888.
Build skills and capacity of participants
Gather informed and considered opinions (deliberation)
Generate new ideas (innovation)
Create a shared vision amongst participants
Reach consensus and overcome conflict
Number of participants
Self selected participants attending as individuals (open access process)
Representatives of wider interest groups (stakeholders)
Level of awareness and interest
participants know about some aspects/can roughly articulate some interest
participants are well informed and can articulate their interests
Crime and justice
Culture and arts
Environment and climate change
Health and well-being
Housing and Planning
Science and technology
Limit search to...
... face to face processes
Level of involvement
Children and young people
Ethnic minority groups
Groups with low levels of literacy/confidence
People with learning difficulties