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World Cafe as Action Research Method

Name of Project:
World Cafe as Action Research Method

Submitted by:
Niels Agger-Gupta


Short Description of Project
What issues need to be addressed when using the world cafe (TWC) as an action research method? What is different when TWC is designed and implemented in the context of an ethical review process, where “data” is recorded and analyzed, and stakeholders are engaged in a collaborative inquiry that will result in outcomes at all three levels of what Torbert (Torbert & Taylor, 2008) calls first-person, second-person, and third-person research outcomes?  This long-term project is about connecting action researchers and academics with an interest in using TWC in research contexts, as opposed to simply engaging in TWC as an organizational or community activity.

Academic Home:
Royal Roads University, Fielding Graduate University and The World Cafe Community

Where is the Project Taking Place?
This is an international project linking researchers and practitioners in Canada, the USA, Brazil, Sweden, and elsewhere in the world. We have met online, on Skype, BlueJeans, and Zoom.

Your Role:

Who Else is Involved?
Amy Lenzo, World Cafe Community Foundation & Adjunct Faculty, Fielding Graduate University;
Rosa Zubizarreta, Doctoral Student, Fielding Graduate University;
Fred Steier, faculty member, Fielding Graduate University;
Flavio Mesquita de Silva, Doctoral Student, Fielding Graduate University;
Bo Gyllenpalm, Faculty member, Fielding Graduate University;
Others as may be interested and/or have experience with TWC as research method.

Category(s) of Research:
Research about World Café, Research that uses World Café in some way


Additional Information
The hope is that we might collaboratively inquire into what researchers and academics have learned about TWC as research method, and create joint writing projects to share what we find, and suggestions we may be able to offer future researchers using TWC.

There are numerous issues in the use of TWC as research method in terms of participant selection, research ethics, cafe design, question development, overall flow and sequence of cafe rounds, data capture, data harvest and further analysis, cafe findings and action outcomes, and publication and dissemination. From the standpoint of qualitative research, even in the context of a narrative, post-modern, social constructionist epistemology, questions of validity, reliability, and authenticity, asked about any research method, are important to consider when TWC is considered a formal method. Academic social researchers have typically limited group qualitative methods to the focus group, and then only as a “group interview.” The dialogic, emergent, whole system quality that makes TWC such a success as organizational activity is viewed by researchers coming from a more positivistic epistemological paradigm, as ethically problematic and unreliable as a data source for traditional research. Yet, in the context of action research, where engagement in a  unique community or a specific workplace is all that is required, TWC may be an ideal method that can be used to gather and validate data, build relationships among stakeholders, co-create innovative and actionable responses to organizational opportunities and issues, as well as gain commitment to these actions from the very stakeholders who own the issue.
At this stage of this inquiry, we are still defining the scope and building our team of co-researchers. Eventually we would like to find out how TWC practitioners have addressed some or all of these issues in their own cafes? If you are interested in finding out more about this project or are interested in participating, please get in touch with Amy!

Niels Agger-Gupta has been a core faculty member in the School of Leadership Studies at Royal Roads University (RRU) since 2007, and was Program Head in the MA-Leadership program from 2010 through 2013. He joined RRU in 2004 as an Adjunct Faculty in the former Knowledge Management program. Niels has been a consultant and researcher specializing in organizational change, action research, appreciative inquiry, world café, adult learning, phenomenography, and cultural and linguistic competency in health care, in both California and in Canada. Recent publications include: “The long and winding road: Leadership and learning principles that transform” (with Brigitte Harris, 2015); “The paradox of transformative learning among mid-career professionals” (with Catherine Etmanski, 2014); “Action research engagement: Creating the foundations for organizational change”( Rowe, W. E. A., Graf, M., Agger-Gupta, N., Piggot-Irvine, E., & Harris, B., 2013), the RRU Learning and Teaching Model (2013), with Doug Hamilton & Pedro Marquez (see:, and conference presentations on world café as research.