2018 Summer Research Program Reflections – The World Café and the Human Trafficking Collaborative Network

July 25, 2018

The blog is following the student participants in this year’s Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program. Each student will be providing their own reflections from a Summer Research Program Seminar Series event. Some students will also reflect on their experience in the summer program.

By Lorcan O’Byrne, medical student, University College Dublin

The World Café is a simple yet powerful conversational process that facilitates groups of all sizes to engage in meaningful dialogue, build personal relationships, and foster collaborative learning.

The format goes as follows: a question is posed to participants and, in a method akin to speed-dating, it is discussed within several small groups. One of the cornerstones of the Café is the ‘cross-pollination’ of ideas. People note key ideas on their tablecloths or large cards and share key insights as they move between spaces in several evolving rounds of conversation. Thus, these Café dialogues enable diverse assemblies of individuals to think together creatively as part of a connected conversation.

This need to engage with stakeholders is something which has been recognized and adopted as a core principle of the Human Trafficking Collaborative Network (HTCN).

Initiated in 2015 with the support from the Institute for Public Health at Washington University, HTCN is an informal network of researchers, students and community partners. Its primary mission is to facilitate interdisciplinary research, education, dissemination and community partnerships related to human trafficking and other similarly vulnerable populations. Given the importance of community engagement for the operation of the HTCN, it is unsurprising that they have employed the Café dialogue in their efforts to gather both interest and information. A recent Café session saw the coming together of court officials, law enforcement, research enthusiasts, survivors and community members. In an incredible integration of independent interests and opinions, a collective stream of consciousness emerged in which an astonishing amount of true understanding, connection and energy were apparent. Furthermore, what began early in the session as single, fleeting ideas quickly grew into a set of comprehensive concepts through the input from all participants with their unique and valuable perspectives.

Although superficial, the obvious benefit of the World Café method is the inclusion it affords to all of the stakeholders in early decision-making processes and in the initial knowledge exchange, but what is truly apparent is that there is a thirst for such community-inclusive research approaches. The World Café process is being employed around the globe, from government and NGO initiatives to the designing of a modern neonatal intensive care unit in Australia.

Consideration of the World Café method should not be confined only to public health and community enthusiasts, rather, these novel methodologies should be questioned by all those who wish to make a significant and genuine impact through their research – those individuals who strive, in simple terms, to pop their bubble.


This post is part of the “Summer Research Program” series of the Institute for Public Health’s blog. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive notifications about our latest blog posts.

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