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Liberating Structures' Conversation Café

Conversation cafes are hosted conversations held in public settings (like a cafe) where anyone is welcome to join. Participants sit in a circle and follow a simple set of agreements to engage in rounds of dialogue. A talking object is used equalize power and allow each participant the opportunity to speak and be heard.

far fa-dollar-sign fa-sm Budget (e.g. personnel, space, equipment) Low Medium High far fa-user-clock Time per interaction I expect to engage stakeholders for... An hour or less Half a day A full day far fa-calendar-check Number of interactions I expect to interact with stakeholders... 1-2 times Appx. 5 times 10+ times Engagement Purposes far fa-scrubber Identify and explore new perspectives or understanding far fa-scrubber Identify which topics are most important to stakeholders far fa-scrubber Develop research questions relevant to stakeholders far fa-scrubber Select outcomes and measures that matter to stakeholders far fa-scrubber Refine and help implement effective recruitment strategies far fa-scrubber Expand and diversify stakeholder outreach far fa-scrubber Investigate best ways to successfully implement a study, based on stakeholder insights far fa-scrubber Design strategies for translating research into practice far fa-clock Time Frame

60-90 minutes

fal fa-tasks-alt Workload LIGHT MEDIUM HEAVY
Appropriate Applications More useful for: far fa-scrubber Generating new ideas/Innovating far fa-scrubber Sharing differing perspectives and ideas far fa-scrubber Building trust far fa-scrubber Allowing all participants an equal opportunity to contribute far fa-scrubber Quick engagement far fa-scrubber Building a shared understanding Less useful for: far fa-scrubber Developing action plans far fa-scrubber Asking for sensitive information far fa-scrubber Collecting generalizable information far fa-scrubber Producing quantifiable measures of extent of engagement Key Characteristics Resources Needed fas fa-money-bill-waveMoney far fa-scrubber Food/refreshments for participants fas fa-paperclipMaterials and Resources far fa-scrubber Talking object far fa-scrubber Flip charts and markers (optional) far fa-scrubber Venue with small tables and chairs fas fa-usersPersonnel far fa-scrubber Host/facilitator far fa-scrubber 5-8 participants How To Choose a topic or issue to be discussed Assemble up to 8 people plus a host. Make sure to bring a talking object. Order the concepts with the most general concepts first and the more specific concepts last. This list is referred to as the parking lot. The host explains the process and agreements (what all participants agree to):
  1. Process: The process will involve two rounds with a Talking Object, followed upon by open conversation, and end with a final round where each will reflect on their experience
  2. The Agreements:
    1. Open‐mindedness: listen to and respect all points of view. Conversation is about both talking and listening. By focusing on listening, you may also benefit from the variety of ideas around the table.
    2. Acceptance: suspend judgment as best you can. Doing so will enable you to hear new things from others. It also helps everyone feel safe.
    3. Curiosity: seek to understand rather than persuade. We’re not here to convince others that we are right and they are wrong. If someone expresses a point of view that seems different from yours, see if you can ask some questions to gain clarity or understanding.
    4. Discovery: question assumptions and look for new insights. Conversation Cafe dialogues are designed to expose us to new ideas or possibly even see old ideas in a new way.
    5. Insight—seeing more deeply into a topic—can come if we watch for it.
    6. Sincerity: speak from your heart and personal experience. We want to hear what’s important to you, not just your opinions or data you’ve collected. Relate your ideas or reports to your personal experience.
    7. Brevity: go for honesty and depth but don’t go on and on. Honesty and depth are important to a good conversation, but so is giving everyone a chance to speak. Try to stay under a couple of minutes.
Round 1: Pass around the talking object; each person speaks briefly on the topic without feedback or responses from other participants. (1-2 minutes/person) Round 2: Still using the talking object, each person expands on their own comments or shares their thoughts and feelings now that they have heard others in the group talk. (~2 minutes/person) Round 3 - Dialogue: This round is for open conversation. The talking object can continue to be used if there is domination, contention, or lack of focus. (20-40 minutes) Final Round: With talking object, each person shares brief takeaways about what challenged, touched or inspired them. (1-2 minutes/person) Adapted from
Tips Questions to help facilitate conversation:
  • What happened that led you to this point of view?
  • How does this affect you personally?
  • Can you say more about...?
Variations Multiple Conversation Cafes can be hosted together in this same space. Examples References / Other Resources

The Stakeholder Engagement Navigator is a service of the Data Science to Patient Value Initiative at the
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

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