Knowledge Café (a.k.a. Gurteen Knowledge Café) is the format for a meeting of around 32 people that enables rich and rewarding conversation on a topic of mutual interest. Knowledge Café participants immerse themselves in the topic, share knowledge, hatch ideas, gain insights, acquire new perspectives, strengthen relationships, and form new connections.
David Gurteen
The originator of the format is David Gurteen (pictured), an influential practitioner in the areas of knowledge management and conversational leadership. Over the course of 15 years, he has facilitated Knowledge Cafés in more than 30 countries.

The Knowledge Café format

Principles

1. Studies conducted by David Gurteen and others reveal that the maximum group size for a productive conversation is four, or five at a push. I call this the max 4 principle. Read more here.

2. No flipcharts. Individual note taking is OK but flipchart capture and subsequent report-outs hinder productive conversation.

3. The opening session should be no longer than 20 minutes.

4. Facilitation during the final session requires a light touch.

5. The host does not answer questions.

Room layout

Opening session: Participants are seated theatre-style. Café host speaks from front of room with visual aids if required.

Second session (formed of two or three rounds): Chairs are rearranged into groups of four. Host sits to one side and does not intervene.

Final session: Chairs are rearranged into a single circle. Host stands in the centre of the circle.

Process

Visit David Gurteen's dedicated Knowledge Café website

1. The café host welcomes participants, explains the process, introduces the topic and gives a brief talk followed by a compelling question.

2. Participants break into groups of four and have a conversation in response to the question..

3. New groups of four are formed and the conversations continue.

4. If time permits, new groups of four are formed and the conversations continue.

5. Chairs are rearranged to form a circle. Participants take their seats and conversations continue. The host ensures that all voices are heard and that no one dominates the discussion.

6. The host thanks participants for their contributions and closes the proceedings.

Watch David Gurteen host a Knowledge Café in Dubai on behalf of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority

Runtime 3:53.


Whenever you are planning to give a PowerPoint presentation followed by a Q&A session, consider hosting a Knowledge Café instead. You will need more time but participants will have a richer and more rewarding experience.

Further reading

Knowledge Café website

Knowledge Café tipsheet, by David Gurteen and Steve O’Hagan

Knowledge Café articles by David Gurteen

Knowledge Café stories collected by David Gurteen

The max4 principle: four people maximum for a productive conversation