Choosing a Format - Knowledge Cafe

A while ago I facilitated a Knowledge Cafe on project management at CQUniversity.  It was a big event for me, as I had never facilitated a session quite like this one.

The usual aspects of this approach include:
  • Inviting people to come and participate in a workshop on a session of interest to them.
  • Telling people what is expected of them during the workshop.
  • Asking people to join small groups (in this case 4's).
  • Asking people to answer questions in their groups.
  • Asking people to report back points of interest that came up in their groups.
The unusual aspects of this approach include:
  • Asking half of the people to rotate to another table after some time, and answer the same questions at the new table.
  • The facilitator does not take down everyone's input and commit to taking action.
  • Expecting people to take their own notes, and take action as they see fit.
I did quite a bit of research for this session.  The main place I went was David Gurteen's knowledge website (click here).  I loved his story about travelling to London for public lectures, ending up in the pub, and finding that the most valuable information sharing happened in the pub rather than at the lecture.  You could also try Wikipedia (here).

The Knowledge Cafe is a subversive process.  It is not about generating a list of strategies and actions for implementation in a centralised manner.  It is about helping the people with influence and capacity to see a way forward for their piece of the puzzle.  It is about embracing the complexity of the system we work within.  It is about energising people with influence and about giving voice to those without influence.  It is about exposing people with influence to a range of knowledge, opinion, fact and emotion around their area of influence.
Knowledge Cafe Layout

I enjoyed introducing this session.  I told the participants that Knowledge Cafe is subversive. I don't know whether they believed me. I also stated that it is 'more art than science; more conversation than action plan'.

One of my slides included: NOT Listing strategies & actions or Feeding into operational plans.  But it IS Gaining insight, Developing professional network, Embracing system complexity and Taking your own notes.

The participants were asked to answer:

1. What’s the Uni up to in terms of project management?
2. Where to from here with project management?

In the introduction I explained that if the people participating hear anything that needs action, it is up to them to do something about it.  Even after this, at the end some people expressed disappointment that no-one was taking away the findings to take action.

Apart from this criticism, the feedback was generally positive.  People went away with extended networks; a greater appreciation of the range of project management roles being undertaken at the University; and a range of things to do to pursue project management excellence.