Kitchen Table Conversations
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both?
- General Type of Method
- Informal conversation spaces
- Typical Purpose
- Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Limited to Only Some Groups or Individuals
- Number of Participants
- Small groups
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Informal Social Activities
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Decision Methods
- Idea Generation
- Scope of Implementation
A kitchen table discussion is a small, informal meeting that takes place in someone's home or a local cafe. Kitchen table discussion groups are often used in conjunction with other methods as part of a wider community engagement process.
Problems and Purpose
A kitchen table conversation is a small, informal meeting that takes place in someone's home or a local cafe. Kitchen table discussion groups are often used in conjunction with other methods as part of a wider community engagement process, as in Protecting the Snowies engagement in New South Wales, Australia.
During the meeting, participants discuss issues related to a broader project or topic. They may be provided with a guide or set of questions from interest groups or local governments, but there is no formal agenda for the meeting .
The aim of kitchen table conversations is to enable dialogue within the community, that is informal and relaxed. Often the discussion is part of a suite of community engagement tools, and participants can receive a guide to the issue at hand, and possible questions they might want to discuss. The conversation can be about something broad like "what is important to you?" to a specific question like "what methods could be used to control wild horse populations in Kosciuszko National Park?"
Kitchen table discussions aim to build and deepen a sense of community and explore the range of opinions on an issue. It fosters community organising and can stimulate and nurture public debate:
"A main objective is to give interested parties an opportunity to learn from and share with each other, create a sense of community, and discuss options and alternatives" 
Origins and Development
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How it Works
Kitchen table conversations are hosted by volunteers who want to take part. In general, they are part of a broader engagement process or connected to a particular organisation. Hosts can then invite who they want to join the discussion, generally around eight or nine people . It may be a group of friends, acquaintances or family.
Hosts of the conversation act as a facilitator, providing participants with any questions or information about the topic. They also lay out the ground rules, "by reminding everyone that there are no right or wrong ideas, and that everyone's contribution is valuable. The host also encourages people to listen, to ask clarifying questions, and to avoid arguing or interrupting" . One person also volunteers as a scribe.
The conversation can last up to three hours, with the general idea being that everyone has a chance to share their opinions and be heard. Most guides includes 'starters' - either questions or information to help get the conversation going.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Kitchen table conversations have been used effectively in Australia to stimulate community engagement. Voices for Indi, a community organisation in north-east Victoria has used the kitchen table model to encourage residents to discuss issues relevant to their locale. In total 53 conversations took place with 425 participants. Feedback was provided from the individual meetings and led to the production of a community report summarising the views represented from the kitchen tables on issues of politics and representation and community concerns. The conversations in Indi aimed to redirect attention and dialogue on the genuine concerns of the electorate - as opposed to the agendas promoted by partisan politicians. Following the campaign, an independent candidate won the seat in Indi. Commentators have suggested that the kitchen table campaign played a role in this [2; 4].
The kitchen table model has the potential to play a key role in a healthy public sphere, contributing to democratic debate through encouraging dialogue and engagement on important issues.
 National Estuarine Research Reserve Association [NERRA] (2016) Kitchen Table Discussion [online], available at: http://www.nerra.org/nerra-strategies/kitchen-table-discussion/ [DEAD LINK]
 Douglas, R. (2014) Reasserting the public interest from Australians' kitchen tables, The Conversation [online], available at: https://theconversation.com/reasserting-the-public-interest-from-austral...
 Department of Sustainability and Environment (2013) Kitchen table discussion [online], Victorian state government, available at: http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/effective-engagement/toolkit/tool-kitchen-tabl...[BROKEN LINK]
 Peake, R. (2014) The Political Power of Kitchen Table Conversations. The Canberra Times, 5 September, Available at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/the-political-power-of-kitchen-...
 Abram, R. (2007) Kitchen conversations: democracy in action at the lower east side tenement museum, The Public Historian, 29(1), pp. 59-76, available at: http://tph.ucpress.edu/content/29/1/59.abstract
 Norlander, L. et al (2000) The kitchen table discussion: a creative way to discuss end-of-life issues, Home Health Nurse, 18(8), pp. 532-539, available at: http://journals.lww.com/homehealthcarenurseonline/Abstract/2000/09000/Th...
 Kohl, E. & McCutcheon, P (2015) Kitchen table reflexivity: negotiating positionality through everyday talk, Gender, Place and Culture, 22(6), p747-763, available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0966369X.2014.958063