The Dialogue Process in a Large Group: A variant of World Cafe.

After describing my proposal for using the Dialogue Process in a large group, someone reminded me of World Cafe.   World Cafe involves facilitated discussion at many tables, followed by a go-around in which key issues from each table are heard by everyone else.  This suggests a variant of my proposal, namely, decentralized dialogue process at many tables, followed by a single dialogue process (as in my proposal) for everyone all together.  In this case, the initial circle of dialoguers when everyone comes together would consist of one person from each table.

The difference between this process and the go-around of World Cafe is that there’s no expectation that the single dialogue would cover all the points from the earlier dialogue processes at various tables.  I don’t see this as a problem because I see the dialogue process as a primarily way for each person to listen well to themselves given what they hear themselves and others say.  From that listening well to oneself follows well-informed commitment to act and action.  In other worlds, we learn from others, but we don’t expect that action that follows is because we have found a single synthetic voice.  (Secondarily, when extended over a period of time, dialogue process groups developed a shared meaning and direction, but that requires more than the single session addressed in this post.)

One disadvantage of having World Cafe or dialogue process discussions at many tables is a logistical one–finding a flat ballroom type space where everyone can sit around tables.  My original proposal for using the Dialogue Process in a large group requires only that a circle of chairs can be pulled together somewhere in the lecture hall (e.g., on a stage), or even in a row facing the rest of the audience.

All this said, these are only proposals and I will have to follow up if and when I have a chance to put them into practice.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

One Response to The Dialogue Process in a Large Group: A variant of World Cafe.

  1. Lee Worden says:

    Great, Peter! Somewhat related to World Cafe is the Open Space Technology process – my friend Rafter suggested it in relation to the coming Open Spaces workshop, maybe because of the name, but I think the connection goes deeper than the name. It would actually be a great way to explore in the workshop because of the way it facilitates participants to create the structure and subject matter together. for instance.
    Looking forward to the workshop!

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