A Tale of Two Cafés

David Gurteen has recently posted an article comparing his Knowledge Café concept and World Café, which are similar processes, but with “some subtle but significant differences”.

As I have been doing a fair bit of both work and writing on collaboration recently, I have been attempting to sharpen up my own ideas about these techniques and the differences. In practice, I tend to modify the techniques to match the context, rather than necessarily follow a strict format, but it is useful to understand the origins and strengths of the different approaches.

David has spelt out the differences quite thoroughly in his article, but I thought that it may be helpful to put together a bit of a summary here, also drawing on my own experience and observations.

 World Café Knowledge Café 
Started in 1995. Started in 2002.
Community focussed. Business focussed. 
Described in community language. Described in business language.
Used to address social issues and build community. Used to address business issues and build business communities.
Defined structure and process. Structure and process can be adapted to meet business needs.
Uses Table Hosts. Does not use Table Hosts.
The results of conversations are “harvested”. The conversations themselves are important – results are not normally harvested.


As David is at some pains to point out, he is not saying that there is anything wrong with the World Café approach – it is just different. Each approach has its place and purpose.

David makes the point that World Café tends to have a fixed structure, whereas Knowledge Café can be more varied. However, there are also a number of other techniques used by some practitioners based on the World Café approach, such as Pro-action Café, which adds some features of Open Space Technology to a more focussed World Café to explore specific issues and produce action plans.

I see either format as potentially valuable in a range of contexts, alongside many other conversational techniques. These techniques can help both community groups and business organisations to share knowledge, build rapport and develop solutions to problems. As David has listed in his article, these can include:

  • Peer Assist
  • After-action Review
  • Post-project Review
  • Knowledge Café
  • World Café
  • Open Space Technology
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Unconference
  • Barcamp

Here in Melbourne we also have our own very special format, Trampoline,  which is now being taken to the wider world.

Remember – it’s the conversation that matters!

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