idea that we currently have accessto unprecedented amounts of information, but that does notnecessarily equate to increasedefficiency. He added that throughoutits history, the human race hasused conversation to pass downexperience and learning throughgeneration after generation. Trueknowledge – the kind that really makes a difference in our personaland professional lives – is generatedby understanding and sense-making,not just ‘knowing more’. In-depth,unrestricted dialogue, therefore, isessential – and the knowledge cafécan become a powerful business toolby enabling and nurturing that levelof communication.
The beauty of the knowledge café,according to Gurteen, is its simplicity and flexibility. There are many different approaches that can betaken – for example, you might chooseto have certain ‘props’ on hand forparticipants, such as notepads andpens. Some people may also choose torun cafés in the evening, over a glassof wine – rather than during core working hours.Most important is that thelocation of the café creates the rightambience: one that is unthreatening and hospitable and, therefore, relaxesparticipants and encourages them toengage with one another.Gurteen advocates using adecent-sized room with groups of approximately five people sat aroundtables that are not too large, so thateveryone can be involved equally inthe conversation. In groups muchlarger than this, there is a risk thatmore dominant personalities cantake over the discussion. Similarly,if the total number of people in thecafé exceeds 40, it can be difficultto maintain the correct balance of participation without the use of microphones or a larger setting.Gurteen recommends inviting between25 to 35 attendees. The café process itself is split intoseveral stages. First, the facilitator welcomes everyone to the event andtakes a few minutes to make a shortpresentation to introduce the themeof the knowledge café – this stageshould last no more than 15 minutes.It is also vital that the facilitatordoesn’t impose their own agenda onthe proceedings. A short but effectivespeed networking session encouragesto participants to find out more abouteach other and relax a little, before thecafé itself commences. The facilitator will then pose anopen-ended question for the groups todiscuss. Any subject can be addressedas long as questions that really matterto the participants are explored. At this point, the groups break off for 30 to 60 minutes to havetheir conversations. During thistime participants have the option of moving to another table at certainpoints – the facilitator will pausediscussions periodically (two or threetimes) to enable them to do so. Thekey here, says Gurteen, is not forcing people to move if they do not wantto. For example, during the café that we took part in during the Londonmasterclass, two people in the groupthat I started in remained at the sametable for the entire discussion process. What was surprising to many delegates was the fact that conversation flowedfreely even following the groupchanges. After five minutes or so,participants were incredibly relaxed within their ‘teams’ and engaging inin-depth and involved conversations – almost to the point that when weasked to pause and move around, we all wanted to stay exactly where we were. Once groups had movedaround there was a slight lull, aspeople reacquainted themselves, butthen everyone got back into the swing of things. This was actually discussed within our group and we came tothe conclusion that the quality of thedialogue following the brief, slightly uncomfortable silence more thanmade up for it. Throughout the group discussions,the facilitator will walk around thetables and listen in. Here, his or herrole is not to lead or influence thediscussion in any way, although if they do become aware of any problems, they are encouraged to remind people of thenature of dialogue – that it is “a frank exchange of ideas or views on a specificissue in an effort to attain mutualunderstanding” (Gurteen Knowledge),rather than an unproductive, defensiveexchange of opinions.Equally, within the groups, thereshould be no leader or ‘reporter’appointed as this will only serve tostifle conversation – and everyoneshould be equal and fully engaged.Similarly, people are empowered toparticipate as little or as much asthey would like – they share theirperspectives with the group only if they wish to. The role of the individual at a caféis of huge relevance to its outcomes.Gurteen cited another TheodoreZeldin quote at the masterclass, saying that people should “… be prepared toemerge a slightly different person.” The cafés are designed toencourage participants to:See people with different views
not as adversaries, but as resourcesfrom which we can learn;Enter into open conversation;
Enter into more conversation;
Listen, more than speak;
Avoid position taking; and,
Avoid being too politically correct.