The Art of Hosting

from the emaillist, May 25, 2012.

I am wondering if anybody has any creative ideas for trying to do a world cafe for a group of about 130 people in a space that has fixed seating, stadium style.  I think that is going to be a physical space challenge that I am not going to be able to change and I'm wondering if that means I need to give up on the idea of doing a cafe.  I just know I don't have to give up the cafe, but need help thinking about how to do it.  

Dear Susan,
In the European Commission we have lots of challenges like this, and I can share how we have been trying to solve this.
I do not know how dense people would be sitting in your stadium style room.
However if you can tell them, to turn around in pairs, and in that way, talk to two other people and in such a way to form a group, that is what we have been doing here. It is not ideal, but once people start to engage in Conversation, it matters little. You could give them card boards in stead of just papers, to draw, write and doodle on.
If there can be space between these groups of four or five, that would be better, otherwise the conversations might be to close one to another.
Sometimes in such spaces there are lots of corners, window sills, corridors along the walls, and spaces in the centre, that can host four to five people either in chairs or on the floor. We have experience with that too. It depends very much on the room itself, and the type of audience, if they are comfortable on the floor or used to more formal seating.
I found with people used to cafe format, such a room challenge matters little, they just hover where ever possible. A completely new group might really wonder what you are up to, and would require more firm facilitating.
In case this is really too challenging, as you have no space in between the groups, you might want to change the format into pairs, or perhaps triads, and have interviews with a structured conversation, based on Appreciative Inquiry. That is much easier, as one can say: "turn to your neighbor".  And then you give the instructions, use a harvesting sheet, and harvest from there. You might just have to weigh the options based on what the space offers to you.
Curious to hear what you come up with.
Greetings from Brussels,
Ursula Hillbrand

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If you have access to a stage or a bit of space outside you can encroach into, then you can use that space for people to meet each other and get into their groups and then let them sort themselves out within the available space.  This can work particularly well if in some way the 'movement' can metaphorically fit with the content of the Cafe.  (similar to 'milling' in Joanna Macy reconnecting work) - I think it can be really positive to bring the outside world somehow into the bubble of the Cafe.

Where there is a front row of fixed seats, it may be possible to face them with other seats.  It may also be possible to have some groups set up the own chairs on a stage.  There can be something lovely in the symbolism of the audience taking over the stage.

The more it can be like a game of life - 'how can we creatively adapt to the environment we are in in a fun way?' - rather than a struggle with fixed constraints the better in my experience.  I can remember one Cafe on a campus where the last question was something like 'What do we want to communicate to everyone else ?' and the harvest was 'go out communicate it and see what happens' and come back in 15 minutes ! 

Good luck !


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