Knowledge Cafes: What are they and how to host one

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Knowledge Cafes: What are they and how to host one

A knowledge Café is an intensive group activity that gathers interested parties together to discuss selected issues. This is a very creative process and is designed to produce new solutions and knowledge from the combination of experience and knowledge of those who attend.

Basically, the premise is to get 15 to 30 people to answer the key question of the café. This is done by getting the group members into smaller groups and discussing components of the questions then moving on to different tables for a set period of time. The Knowledge Café then moves onto a group conversation about the components and concludes with a discussion of the main topic. Below you will find an outline of how to get started.


So how do you do it? Follow these steps:

  1. Select a key issue you would like to have the café focus on. For example, let’s use the topic ‘Knowledge sharing’.
  2. Try and phrase this as a question you can ask the café. For example, knowledge sharing could be rephrased as ‘What are the barriers to knowledge sharing in an organisation and how do you overcome them?’.
  3. Invite 15-30 people to join the knowledge café
  4. Welcome and introductions
    1. Spend the first 5-10mins welcoming and explaining this process to the attendees.
  5. Split the group and start table conversations
    1. Break the group up into at least 3 even groups.
    2. Give each table a talk point or starting statement. This helps the conversation begin and gets the attendees involved. For example, if you are using the ‘knowledge sharing’ topic, a talk point would be ‘The accounting manager of BLANK thinks that the knowledge sharing only needs to happen online. Do you agree with the statement?’ Or ‘Why should I share my knowledge with others, it’s why I am valued.’ Or ‘I want to help but I don’t know how to share my knowledge’.
    3. Get the groups to select a table leader. This leader is required to read the starting statement and to write down the best ideas onto a mind map.
  6. Join the group together and start group discussion
    1. Get all of the groups to come back together
    2. Have each of the table leaders to present their mind maps
    3. Allow for a small discussion for each starting statement
    4. After the table leaders have presented, bring the conversation back to the key issue
  7. After the allotted time has ended, give final remarks and thank everyone for participating

Going the extra mile

Here are some extra tips to get the most out your cafe. Feel free to customize your cafes to fit your company culture.

  • Record the final discussion on camera or at least record the mind maps then email the attendees on what was the main points.
  • Allow anyone in the organisation to submit ideas for the next knowledge café.
  • Have anyone who submits the idea to host the next café.
  • Provide incentives for hosts (Make them realistic but don’t make them financial)
  • You could provide small required reading lists for the café. Nothing major but perhaps small articles or interesting TED talks.
  • Collect ideas from the whole company on what issues would like to be discussed and then have them vote on the most desirable. Try to avoid topics such as ‘how to fix process X’ and use more open ended topics.
  • Allow anyone from different areas of the business to participate. The only entry requirement is the desire to gain more knowledge.


A knowledge café is a creative process that allows managers to trouble shoot problems, create new knowledge areas or share experience between workers. It is one of the simplest but most effective knowledge management tools that you can use today.


The example topic is from David Gurteen, a prominent knowledge management expert.

Tim Jackson

The author Tim Jackson

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