New Frontiers
in Participatory Knowledge Development

Fielding Graduate University’s Institute for Social Innovation Announces Groundbreaking Research Partnership with the World Café

By Thomas J. Hurley for the World Café Community Foundation

An exciting new partnership brings together Fielding Graduate University’s Institute for Social Innovation and the World Café Community Foundation to develop and disseminate the World Café as a methodology for participatory research and collective knowledge evolution, and to explore applications of the World Café in key areas such as change leadership, organizational development, and societal learning.

Cooperatively discovered in 1995, the World Café is an innovative
approach to hosting and harvesting collaborative conversations about
questions that matter. The process is designed to evoke and make
visible the collective intelligence of a group, increasing
participants’ capacity to create shared meaning, discover new
knowledge, and foster innovation across organizational, social, or
cultural boundaries that ordinarily get in the way of collaboration.
Today, this research-based and field-tested approach to strategic
dialogue, multi-stakeholder engagement, intergenerational
collaboration, and cooperative action has been enthusiastically
embraced by people around the world, in virtually every field and all
sectors, who are working to catalyze positive change. Through their
efforts, innovative approaches to critical issues in socially
responsible business, health care, education, environmental protection,
social welfare, conflict resolution, sustainable development, and many
other fields are being discovered and implemented.

newly-announced partnership is especially appropriate given the
singular role that the Fielding Graduate University has played in the
development and dissemination of the World Café. Juanita Brown’s 2001
dissertation at Fielding was the basis for her award-winning book The
World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter
(Berrett-Koehler, 2005), now available in seven languages. Fielding
Trustee Bo Gyllenpalm, a member of Juanita’s doctoral committee
(chaired by Libby Douvan), has used the World Café with Fielding
students and faculty and pioneered the development of virtual dialogues
based on the World Café process and design principles in the M.A.
Program in Organization Management and Development. Current and former
faculty members Fred Steier, Don Bushnell, Will McWhinney, Sara Cobb,
and others have played key roles in the conceptual development of the
World Café and its use as a research methodology.

“I’m excited
that the work I began in my dissertation now has the opportunity to be
developed in creative ways that will support both high-quality,
grounded research and more powerful action in the service of
life-affirming futures,” said Juanita Brown. “Around the world, there’s
a growing recognition that conversation, community formation, and
innovation are the living roots of transformative change in every field
and system, and that the power to re-make our world lies in everyone’s

The partnership between the Institute for Social
Innovation and the World Café Community Foundation will strengthen the
development of the World Café as a valid methodology for co-evolving
social knowledge with a strong epistemological foundation. Faculty,
students, and leading practitioners from the global World Café network
will collaborate on a wide range of initiatives, including
dissertations that use the World Café as a primary research
methodology; monographs and peer-reviewed publications; case studies;
development of the next generation of World Café process tools;
meetings of theorists, researchers, and practitioners, and seminars for
students, faculty, and Fielding program associates. We also anticipate
exploring how the World Café can contribute to special projects
sponsored by the Institute for Social Innovation, such as the Democracy
Action Project, the Transformative Learning and Social Justice program,
and the Information Society and Knowledge Organization concentration.

action research and appreciative inquiry, the World Café is a process
with deep conceptual foundations that can support new and powerful
approaches to research on human and organization development,” said Bo
Gyllenpalm. “This partnership will strengthen both Fielding as an
institution and the World Café as a social innovation in the global
academic and social change communities.”

The partnership also
recognizes that the World Café is both a process that fosters social
innovation (catalyzing insights and generating new knowledge through
interlinking conversations about questions that matter) and a social
innovation itself, in terms of how the World Café process and
principles, based on living systems thinking, have spread throughout
the world and given rise to a rapidly growing, global community of
practice. As such, a deeper understanding of the World Café’s
organizing principles and patterns can contribute to the quests for new
forms of leadership, new tools for innovation, and creative approaches
to positive whole systems change.

For more information, please contact Bo Gyllenpalm or Samantha Tan.

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