Fishbowl is a simple but dynamic alternative to a podium discussion. Fishbowl makes an event more lively and spontaneous.
A circle of chairs (4-6 chairs) and one or several outer circles of chairs are set up. Only the participants in the inner circle may have a discussion, the participants in the outer circle listen. If a participant from the outer circle wishes to join the discussion, they must either sit in a free chair in the inner circle or stand behind a chair. The person on this chair may bring his/her thoughts to an end and must then leave the circle. The other person then takes this place.
Each participant in the inner circle can leave their place at any time if they wish to take a break from the discussion or have already said their points. If you leave the circle, you can of course rejoin the inner circle again afterwards. Whoever is insistent (in other words, would be dominant), is noticed immediately. In this way, the process creates transparency in the dominance behaviour.
In practice, after some initial uncertainty, a natural ‘coming and going’ feel develops, and this does not interrupt the debate. People who talk too much are quickly, and preferably, “kicked out”.
It is recommended to have a moderator when carrying out the fishbowl discussion. The moderator can remain sitting in the inner circle, as well as supporting the discussion from “outside”. This has the advantage that they can include the public more directly when this is necessary.
Ideal group size: 20-30 people
Duration of session: 1-2 hours
- Dynamic, interactive discussion group
- Manageable small discussion circle, but listeners in the outer circle can join in the discussion at any time and come into the inner circle
- Unimpeded development of discussion, new topics can arise during the discussion
The fishbowl is not suitable for purely decision-making discussions because it is not able to help determine how many people agree with which argument.
The method is described as ‘fishbowl’ “because the people in the discussion are being observed, just like fish in an aquarium”.