As a conversational process, Pro Action Café is an innovative yet simple methodology for hosting conversations about questions and projects that matter to the people that attend. These conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross‐pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into the questions or issues that are most important in their life, work or community.
As a process, like in a World Café, it can evoke and make visible the collective intelligence of any group, thus increasing people’s capacity for effective action in pursuit of common aims. This means that during this event we participate in different topics of conversation. As in Open Space Technology, topics are brought forward by participants themselves. There is no set agenda, only overall guiding questions, with the intention of deepening the learning process of all participants. Pro Action Café can be used with an open invitation to a broad number of people and/or as a methodology for a specific group / organization / community to engage in creative and inspirational conversation. In this way it is a good tool for convergence and getting into actions.
The original concept of Pro Action Café is a blend from World Café and Open Space Technology. It was invented by Ria Baeck and Rainer von Leoprechting to find a synergy between a peer‐to‐ peer approach and action orientation, which could scale up to many participants if needed. It is designed on a set of principles that reveal a deeper living network pattern through which we can co‐evolve our collective future.
The Pro Action Café is a methodology for creative and inspirational conversation where participants are invited to share their questions (around projects – seed ideas etc.) and get input (deeper questions ‐ knowledge – experience) from others.
- Like all good hosting, make a hospitable space and provide refreshments and name tags if needed. (see also World Café)
- Create a large circle in one part of the room and sets of tables with 4 chairs in another part (if the size of the room does not allow this, then participants will move tables and chairs themselves as soon as the agenda is created).
- Set each table with flipchart paper, markers, a talking/listening piece if appropriate.
- Getting to know each other; break the ice: with an open invitation you get a lot of participants that don’t know each other. In its original form we provided simple food for people coming straight from work. In this way conversations already started while eating. If used in a longer process with the same group this is of course not needed.
- Connecting with lingering questions – becoming present. Initially we provided some guided silence/relaxing time. At the end we asked participants if a question, project, issue, dream would come up that would benefit from input from others, here and now.
- Announcing the topics: invite people with a topic/project to share it (callers), write it on the agenda, and choose their table.
- Count the number of participants, divide by four – this gives you the amount of projects that can be worked.
- The principle is first come, first served.
- Repeat until tables are full (1 host per table + 3).
- If you have less callers, add chairs to cafe tables but no more than 5 at a table.
- Participants who do not step forward to call a project are contributors. They can support up to three different projects.
- When the agenda has been created invite callers to go to their cafe tables.
- Explaining the process: although each table deals with a different issue, there are overall questions that guide the conversations of each table. Before announcing the first one, explain the Café Etiquette (cfr. World Café):
- Invite participants to share from their own experience.
- Use a talking piece for deep listening and intentional speaking.
- Look for deeper patterns and common themes.
- Write and doodle on the tablecloths.
- Three rounds of conversation: 20 to 30 minutes each:
- Round 1: What is the quest behind the question? Try to go deeper than the story provided by the table host.
- Round 2: What is missing? Once the quest has been redefined, what makes the picture more complete? Broaden the picture. What areas haven’t been covered?
- Round 3: What next steps will I take? What help do I need? What did I learn? Depending on time available, this 3rd round can be divided into 2 steps:
- Time for the caller to reflect on these 3 questions and harvest key insights with the help of others.
- Rest of the time is reflection time for all participants on what they learned during this process. This is intended to be more a process harvest than a content harvest, but also to become conscious that you learn in conversations, even if you didn’t hold an announced topic.
Between each or some rounds create a 5 to 10 minutes break for people to have a drink and weave their conversations further.
Bring everyone back to a circle. Ask each caller to share what happened at their table. Anyone can share any additional insights.