World cafés spark conversation  

The world café Magnifying glass

The world café

Concordia tried a different form of open consultations last week, when students, staff and faculty participated in two world café’s – one held in SGW’s LB atrium, the other held in Loyola’s CJ atrium – as part of the university’s strategic planning process. The open consultations have captured the imagination and interest not only of the Concordia community, but also of the local and national press.

Approved and promoted by President Judith Woodsworth, this was the first time the world café approach has been used at the university. The world café is based on the premise that people are most creative and productive when they are in a comfortable, accepting environment such as one might find at a small café and are encouraged to discuss questions of interest in a constructive, forward-looking manner. Concordia’s world café events were proposed by Geoff Selig, Anne Waymann and David Gobby, administrative staff members and graduates of Concordia’s Applied Human Sciences Master’s program.

The innovative democratic process encouraged one invitee, Design and Computation Arts professor pk langshaw. "I was really curious," she said. "I don't know that we've done this before."

The opportunity to trade ideas was appreciated. "As a faculty member, I do not always have access to, or an understanding of the perspective of faculty, staff or students from departments outside my own," added langshaw.

Arts and Science Academic Counselor Maria Ponte was intrigued by the process because she feels she has an equal stake in the strategic planning process. "I'm a graduate twice over, and I work here," she said.

On each day, the world café discussion progressed naturally over a two-hour period. Participants were twice asked to change tables, join a new group of participants and build upon previous conversations. Participants kept track of their ideas and insights by writing, drawing and doodling on large paper tablecloths using coloured markers.

One faculty member commented: "I found it valuable to meet different members of the community and discuss different views of Concordia. We didn't always agree, but we listened and understood each other."

Langshaw agreed, saying, "The conversation moved from our individual concerns to our collective potential for success. We're all quite committed to this university."

Participants at both world café events – established and fresh faces alike – were a blending of those who had received invitations, and those who took it upon themselves to join in. Regardless of their level of experience, they freely shared their opinions as they moved from table to table, pausing only to listen to the organizers' comments.

Elizabeth Hunt, coordinator the University of the Streets Cafés, joined the discourse when she realized there were still places available to see how this unique model of conversation worked.

Hunt has a definite vision of Concordia, one that "bursts the space of the ivory tower with permeable boundaries between the university and the community. People and ideas should move back and forth."

Far from alone in her vision, another group of participants presented a very similar image of the university as a city, with each department as a neighbourhood. Within that model, "neighbourhoods are people-friendly, [a place] where you can relax and share ideas in an open, welcoming town square."
As each table summed up their discussions, the need to define Concordia as independent of traditional markers of success ("We need to redefine the term ‘excellence’ so that it includes not only research, but teaching, community service and community leadership as well") and to promote who we are and what we do best was voiced repeatedly. Another written comment: "We must define our success through comparison to others as well as with regard to what we want ourselves to be."

One participant summed up her table's discussion by quoting a student's observation: "Tell me what your values are, and I'll decide if they align with mine, and then I'll come study here."

The student, Jade Verdieu, is in her first semester, studying languages and business. "Students want practical knowledge, not theory. McGill may be successful because it is well known, but Concordia produces successful students," said Verdieu.

One faculty member summed up his world café experience as follows: "The world cafés are an incredibly efficient way to build community and a most effective and innovative method of gathering and prioritizing data with decisions in mind.”

All participants were curious about how their contributions feed into Concordia’s final strategic plan. Organizers will ensure that the colourful discussion table notes will be made available for all to see on the strategic planning website ( In addition, a report based on the discussion table notes will be prepared and presented to Woodsworth as part of the open consultation process.

Everyone connected to Concordia is encouraged to visit the strategic planning website, join the discussion and contribute his or her ideas. As well, everyone is encouraged to attend the next set of open consultations, slated for Nov. 26 [Loyola campus from 3:30 - 5 p.m. in SP-110] and 27 [SGW campus from 3:30 - 5 p.m. in H-110].

You have a chance to contribute to Concordia’s collective future. Participate in the strategic planning open consultations and make your ideas known.


Concordia University