Fish Bowl

Objective: "Fishbowl conversations can be used to share information and promote dialogue between participants by focusing the entire groups' attention on the discussions taking place between a small, rotating group. They are increasingly being used in conferences, workshops and town hall-type meetings as an alternative to traditional presentations by experts or Q&A sessions" (

"The fishbowl techniques is a way of enabling a large group to all contribute to a single conversation. This is done by arranging the room so that the speakers asked to start the conversation are seated in the centre of the room in the fishbowl, with other participants seated around them in a circle to listen to their conversation.

The room set up is an important feature of a Fishbowl conversation. Four to eight chairs are set up as an inner circle - this is the fishbowl. The people selected to start the conversation are seated here, along with a facilitator. Depending on how the Fishbowl is planned there may be a few chairs left empty here from the start. The remaining chairs are arranged in concentric circles. The rest of the group begin the session seated on these chairs outside the fishbowl.

Usually the facilitator will open the discussion by posing a question to the people in the fishbowl to trigger an open conversation. In some case however the participants, particularly if they have been invited as ‘experts’, might each give a short presentation on the discussion topic before moving into a more free-flowing conversation.

The idea is that, once the conversation has started, any member of the audience can come and join the fishbowl, either by taking an empty chair or replacing somebody already seated in the circle (who then finds a free chair in the audience). The discussion then continues with participants frequently entering and leaving the fishbowl. This should allow as many participants who want to to spend some time in the fishbowl and take part in the discussion. When time runs out, the fishbowl is closed and the facilitator summarizes the discussion" (

Fishbowls allow the entire group to engage in dialogues and exchange views but not for consensual decision-taking.

Participation level Target groups Number of participants Duration/Timeline Implementation Frequency Budget
Consultation Any Up to 100 1/2 day Live event One event Low
Organizational requirements:
  • Moderator/Facilitator
  • Open space or large room
  • Chairs
  • Protocol/Documentation
  • Education about the procedure of the activity before the actual activity taking place