An official website of the United States government.

This is not the current EPA website. To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2021. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work. More information »

International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: World Cafés

A World Café is a meeting process that involves a series of simultaneous conversations around a particular issue or topic. A World Café typically lasts 2-3 hours and consists of numerous table conversations involving 3-5 persons per table. Each table has a “host” who stays at the table during the entire event and keeps the table discussion on task. During the course of a World Café, participants change tables numerous times and discuss the same general topic with a variety of other participants, delving more deeply into the topic during each subsequent conversation. This enables ideas to flow around the room and participants to connect with a larger group of individuals and hear new perspectives. World Café questions are designed to begin at a general level and move toward more specific questions with each group rotation. Through this process, participants are able to identify common themes or common ground in response to each question.


  • Fosters open discussion of an important or meaningful topic
  • Allows for obtaining a high quantity of responses from a range of perspectives on specific topics in a short period of time
  • Builds community among diverse participants
  • Draws participants into information-sharing and problem-solving by virtue of its informal atmosphere and small group dynamics

Challenges to Consider

  • Although professional facilitators are not required, table hosts need to have skills to keep groups on task on manage strong emotions
  • Not appropriate for obtaining formal comment on proposed plans

Principles for Successful Planning

  • Keep in mind the seven principles of World Cafes:
    • Set the context
    • Create hospitable space
    • Explore questions that matter
    • Encourage everyone’s contribution
    • Cross-pollinate and connect diverse perspectives
    • Listen together for patterns, insights, and deeper questions
    • Harvest and share collective discoveries
  • Prepare compelling question(s) for discussion and prepare copies for each table
  • Prepare written instructions for the table hosts about what is to be accomplished at each table during each round of the discussion
  • Set up tables with tablecloths and other items to convey a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere
  • Put paper on each table to encourage doodling and provide pens, markers, and sticky notes for participants to take notes or record their thoughts
  • Situate tables around the room
  • Designate a table host for each table and make sure each understands the table host role and instructions
  • Welcome the participants and have them take a seat at any table
  • Table host welcomes the participants, provides instructions, and facilitates the table conversation
  • At designated intervals, participants move to another table
  • Instruct participants not to visit any table more than once and are encouraged to mingle with new people during each round
  • Participants return to their original tables after a series of conversations and share what they have heard and learned
  • At the conclusion, each table can share a common theme with the group at large

Resources Needed


  • Person or team to develop discussion questions
  • One person to facilitate the overall event
  • Number of staff ultimately depends on the number of participants
  • Interpreters, if necessary


  • Adequate number of small tables that can accommodate up to five persons
  • Table decorations (to set a comfortable and inviting environment)
  • Paper, pens, markers for participants to record notes, ideas
  • Refreshments
  • Materials for recording table summaries (flip charts, butcher paper)
  • Room large enough to accommodate needed number of tables for expected number of participants.

Planning Time

  • World Cafes can be planned over the course of a few weeks. The most time consuming aspect of planning involve securing meeting space, inviting participants, training table hosts, and scripting the sequence of discussion questions.

Implementation Time

  • A World Café typically lasts 2-3 hours

Group Size

  • Depends on the size of the room.
  • The most important factor is to keep each table conversation to no more than four participants plus the table host


  • Most significant costs involve facility rental (if necessary) and the cost of an overall event facilitator

Most relevant participation levels

  • Involve, Collaborate

For More Information

Explore the full Public Participation Guide.


For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:

Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460