Conversation Cafe

Conversation Cafe

For More Information: Conversation Café,

To build social trust and cohesion through safe, open, lively conversations in public places.

Conversation Café’s impact is the culture itself—it is hard to measure its impact on social trust, greater citizen capacity for critical thinking, friendliness, and so on.

When to Use:

  • To increase social glue
  • To meet thoughtful neighbors
  • To engage in meaningful conversation
  • To shift, as we say, from small talk to BIG talk

When Not to Use:

  • Two traditions allow for the Conversation Café’s safety and openness: “No committees will be formed” and “No marketing”
  • Do not use Conversation Cafés to organize or motivate people toward a specific end, to convince others, or to form a club

Number of Participants:
3–8, plus a host per table with as many tables as the location can hold

Types of Participants:
Whoever comes; diverse members of the public

Typical Duration:

  • Preparation: None
  • Process: 60–90 minutes
  • At conferences, “lite” Conversation Cafés of 30–60 minutes can be held
  • Follow-up: None

Brief Example:
The late Larry Gaffin hosted a Conversation Café for three years in several different cafés in Seattle, Washington. Participants ranged in age from their twenties to eighties, across the political spectrum, and while mostly white, had some cultural diversity. A core of a dozen people participated regularly, with newcomers at almost every meeting. A former minister, Larry easily generated topics each week ranging from ethical to philosophical to political to common personal issues and topics—people counted on this Conversation Café to make meaning of current events and said it felt a bit like church without the preaching. Ten to 20 other Conversation Cafés also met weekly, fostering civility—and community.

Historical Context:
Created in 2001 by Vicki Robin with Susan Partnow. Roots in a communication ritual called Heart Sharing, using similar agreements to dialogue circles and indigenous talking circles.