Fishbowls involve a small group of people -usually 5 to 8- seated in an inner circle, having a conversation in full view of a larger group of listeners sitting in a larger circle around the discussants. Fishbowl processes provide a creative way to include the “public” in a small group discussion. Fishbowls are useful for ventilating “hot topics” or sharing ideas or information from a variety of perspectives. Although largely self-organizing once the discussion gets underway, the fishbowl process usually has a facilitator or moderator. The fishbowl is almost always part of a larger process of dialogue and deliberation.

How did we apply it? For a general discussion to tackle an issue that participants of phase 1 identified as important (What are our challenges for KS within and among our organizations). We used a variation called the Samoan Circle, that offers others a chance to speak only if they join the ‘inner circle’.

After the discussion, we did a debrief on the method. Participants highlighted that it is not easy to get started. It seemd to many as being a good dynamic for brainstorming discussions, but not really for reaching conclusion. Participants thought that it could be used as a starting point for a meeting and in combination with other dynamics. We made the point that Fishbowl is a method that opens up (divergent) and does not lead to conclusion (convergent).

During coffe break Davy Simumba from the Zambian Agricultural Research Institute mentioned how much he liked the fishbowl: “ It helps to bring out issues and everybody was trying to jump in. I have to try to bring this into my organizations, within my group.”

See the KS toolkit on Fishbowl:

Nancy explaining the Fishbowl method