Blog Article: Capturing Interprofessional Conference Conversations Using a World Café Approach

By | 6th October 2016
Capturing Interprofessional Conference Conversations Using a World Café Approach

Anthony Breitbach PhD, ATC
Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri USA


Professional and academic conferences are great opportunities to gather with colleagues who have expertise in your field of interest. Many times these events provide opportunities for rich interaction and conversations that could benefit the body of knowledge in your field. Capturing these conversations can be a challenge but, with proper planning, is possible through a World Café. The World Café creates a consensus event that utilizes the shared expertise of stakeholders (e.g. practitioners, educators, researchers) at these conferences allowing researchers to capture conversations on complex or controversial topics.

Based on research by Juanita Brown, the World Café’ draws on seven integrated design principles, it’s methodology is a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue. The seven design principles are: “1 – Set the Context; 2 – Create Hospitable Space; 3 – Explore Questions that Matter; 4 – Encourage Everyone’s Contribution; 5 – Connect Diverse Perspectives; 6 – Listen for Patterns and Insights and 7 – Share Collective Discoveries.” (The World Cafe Community Foundation, 2016).

The authors conducted collaborative research through a World Café during a workshop entitled “Utilizing Sport to Study and Improve Global Interprofessional Collaborative Health Care” at the All Together Better Health (ATBH) 8th International Conference on Values – Based Interprofessional Practice and Education on September 8, 2016 at Oxford, United Kingdom. ATBH is the leading global interprofessional practice and education conference under the direction of the World Coordinating Committee. It brings together providers, health system executives, educators, policymakers, and healthcare industry leaders to advance interprofessionalism locally, regionally and worldwide. (All Together Better Health, 2016).

Planning the project

Conducting research in conjunction with a workshop at a large international conference requires significant prior planning. The first step is to work with colleagues to develop a proposal for the conference. The proposal must provide the foundational evidence behind the topic and should also present the methodology for the research project. This is best done by conducting a thorough scoping review of the literature on your research topic. Generally these calls for proposals are available 6-9 months before the conference. It is important to submit the proposal for a session of a minimum of 45-60 minutes to allow sufficient time for the research. The work done on this proposal can also provide the foundation for a grant application that assists with research expenses such as World Café materials, travel expenses and the cost of the transcription of the audio recordings from the workshop. This research project was successfully supported through a Beaumont Faculty Development Grant from Saint Louis University.

Once the proposal has been accepted by the conference it is important to gain the appropriate ethics approvals from the collaborating institutions and organizations. The most logical place to start is with the home institution of the Primary Investigator. This project was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Saint Louis University (SLU-IRB). The SLU-IRB also required letters of collaboration from the co-investigators’ institutions and the conference’s steering committee. Proactive planning and communication is especially important when dealing with collaborators from different countries. Special attention must be given to diverse institutional and organizational policies regarding human subject research training and ethics approvals. After gaining the appropriate approvals, the next step is to create the World Café.

Creating the conversations

Establishing the World Café requires appropriate planning with supplies and materials. There are five components comprise the basic model: (1) Setting; (2) Welcome and Introduction; (3) Small Group Rounds; (4) Questions; and (5) Harvest. (The World Cafe Community Foundation, 2016) Each of these step require special preparation to create the best possible environment for research.

1. Setting. The goal is to create a “special” environment, most often modeled after a café. If possible, request 4-6 small tables with 4-5 chairs each for the room from the conference planners. Each table should be covered with a paper “tablecloth” along with colored pens/pencils that can be used to capture graphical representations from the café. Audio conversations also need to be captured, inexpensive recorders for each table are necessary and these can each be used as a “talking stick” by participants.

2. Welcome and Introduction. This is where the investigators present the appropriate research disclosures; provide the foundational context of the workshop; introduce and share the etiquette of the World Café process; and pass out cards to the subjects that volunteered to participate in the study. These cards, distributed randomly to the participants, allow them to anonymously record demographic information on one side of the card and have their individual table assignments on the other side of the card.

3. Small Group Rounds. The process begins with the first of three 10 minute rounds of conversation for small groups seated around the table listed in “Round 1” on the back of their card. At the end of the 10 minutes, participants move to a different table listed as “Round 2” which is also repeated as “Round 3”. Tables are assigned randomly using a random number generator; however 1 of the subjects at each table should stay at the same table for all 3 rounds. This is helpful when managing the recorders and changing the table cloths between each round. Researchers/facilitators should go from table to table to make verify the participants are using the audio recorders correctly.

4. Questions. The researchers provide a guiding question in each round specially crafted for the specific context and desired purpose of the study. Each question builds upon the previous round’s question to allow for the conversations to move from the least to the most complex topics.

5. Harvest. After the small group rounds have been completed, the group reconvenes for a facilitated discussion. This provides richness to the project by combining thoughts from the small groups into a greater conversation and possibly a shared consensus. Effort should also be made to make and audio recording of this discussion.

After the conclusion of the harvest, special care must be made in handling the participant cards, audio recorders and paper tablecloth’s from the World Café. This is research data and should be treated as such with the utmost care to protect the rights of the subjects in the study.

Analyzing the data

This research project is a qualitative study and the data must be prepared appropriately for analysis. Audio recordings must be transcribed anonymously and analyzed through an appropriate coding system. The graphics depicted on the tablecloths should be captured through digital scanning and organized in a logical manner. Demographic data from the participant cards should be recorded in a database to allow the investigators to assign subject information to the appropriate tables in each round. Analysis of this accumulated data can provide an outstanding opportunity to gain greater insight into the topic by utilizing the shared expertise provided by the study participants.

Concluding comments

Conducting a World Café at a conference provides an excellent opportunity to capture the rich conversations that occur in these settings. Conducting this type of research requires prior planning with regard to the proposal submission, a grant application and getting appropriate ethical approvals. At the event, proper organization is essential to support the participants and to capture the data in the best way possible. This collaborative approach provides researchers the ability to capture, analyze and disseminate these conversations which supports clinical practice and may contribute to improved patient outcomes.


I would like to thank co-investigators Professor Scott Reeves and Dr Simon Fletcher, Kingston University & St. George’s, University of London for their participation in this project. I would like to thank the organizers of All Together Better Health VIII for their cooperation.


All Together Better Health. (2016). ATBH VIII. Retrieved from

The World Cafe Community Foundation. (2016). the World Cafe. Retrieved from

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