Community Cafe Conversations & Parent Leadership

Posted on Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The Center for the Study of Social Policy just published a helpful summary of how to use Community Cafe conversations to build protective factors and parent leadership in neighborhoods and communities. The Community Cafe Leadership Team in Olympia contributed to this report. You can download the four page report here.

For me, from a systems perspective, a key aspect of our Community Cafe work is our awareness that system structure determines behavior. We find that parent leadership blossoms and thrives in a safe environment based on Appreciative Inquiry, powerful questions, small group conversations, and practices from the Art of Hosting. These “structures” produce different outcomes than lecturing to parents or “training” them. When parents and community members walk into the room for a Community Cafe or an orientation, they see chairs in circle and small tables seating four people. They see decorations appropriate to the culture of the participants. They see food, which means parents don’t have to choose between participation in an important community activity and cooking supper for their family.

Recently I worked with a group of parents and school administrators in Orient, WA to design and host a Community Cafe. This is a very small town (two hours north of Spokane), and more than 30 people showed up for a shared meal and two hours of conversation. Here are the questions that guided our conversations that evening:

  • Connecting conversation: “Why was it important for you to be here this evening?”
  •  1st Cafe conversation: “What does it mean to belong to this community? What is the purpose of our community? How do we invite others to belong?”
  • 2nd Cafe conversation: “What gifts do I bring to my community?”
  • 3rd Cafe conversation:  “What is possible in our community? What can we accomplish working together than we cannot achieve working alone?”
  • Whole group harvest: “What insights have come up for you tonight? How has your thinking changed? What do you see differently? What possibilities exist now that were not apparent earlier? What are some possible next steps? What are some ways to connect more of this community to itself?”

What powerful questions are taking shape in your community?