Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Using a World Café to facilitate discussion on frontline service provision

Guest post by Laura Connaughton, Assistant Librarian, Maynooth University Library

I was privileged to have the opportunity to facilitate a mini World Café at the recent Academic and Special Libraries Conference.  I'm really interested in different ways to engage people around a topic and the World Café method - with its emphasis on structured dialogue around a question that is important to all participants - works well I think.

My first experience of it was running an ANLTC World Café here at Maynooth University Library for 61 participants from across CONUL libraries.  Part of this day included some short presentations on frontline services in each of the participating libraries which set the context for the World Café questions which we asked the group.  The question was “Frontline services present challenges and opportunities.  What are they?  What do we need to do to ensure a consistently high quality customer service?”  The World Café gave all 61 participants the opportunity to speak to their peers and debate the question we put to them.  It was a rigorous discussion!  Each table had a pre-selected “Table Host” and we held three rounds of conversation.  At the end of each round a bell sounded and the participants moved to different tables.  The table hosts remained at the table when others left and welcomed people from other tables for the next round of conversation.  The table hosts briefly shared key insights from the prior conversation so others could link and build using ideas from their respective tables.

Table hosts gently encouraged people at each table to jot down key connections, ideas, discoveries, and deeper questions as they emerged.  They could write, draw etc.  They used the table cloths and post-its.   At the end of these rounds of discussions, the table host reported back to the overall group in a “Townhall Feedback” style.  After the event I collated all the responses and opinions and send this to all participants.   All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon for the participants to get together and discuss frontline services.      

An added bonus of organising the World Café was the opportunity to publish an article, Using a World Café to Explore New Spaces and New Models for Front Line Services: A Case Study from the Irish University Library Sector, with my colleague Helen Fallon, on the MU Library experience.  The article is available on open access at
I think World Café is a really useful method to facilitate discussion around issues of common concern.  Hopefully the article will give you enough information to judge whether it might be useful in your context.

Laura Connaughton

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