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Preparation  |  Room Setup  |  Facilitation Process  |  Post-Event Mailout



No additional preparation is required to host a fishbowl.

Room Setup

Remove all tables from the room (or move to the edge). Setup a large circle of chairs, one for each attendee. In the center of this circle, setup a second circle of 6 chairs.

Make sure you have additional chairs on hand for additional guests.

Finally, setup a flip chart with two “slides”. The first being the purpose, guidelines, and rules of the fishbowl. The second outlining the roles that each person will take.

Fishbowl peer forum rolesFishbowl peer forum purpose and guidelines

Facilitation Process

Based on the theme or topic of the meetup, ask attendees to write down their ideal topic. If you have a very large group, break them into smaller groups first so the selection process doesn’t take too long. Ideally this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes in total.

Ask everyone “if you were to bring an X into the fishbowl to tap into the wisdom of the group, what would that question be?“ This could be in the form of a challenge, idea, approach, or problem. Facilitators should roam and help make their topic into a well formed problem or challenge statement.

One everyone has written up their question ask everyone to share and dot vote on the 1, 2, or 3, topic that will be discussed. Each fishbowl takes between 30-45 minutes, so choose the number of topics accordingly. Not everyone will get a fishbowl. Work with them to know which are truly important and work with them to “deconflict” if necessary.

Once a topic is selected, ask that person to sit in the center of the circle with the facilitator. This person is the “Speaker”. Invite 3 people from the audience to join the inner circle to start the conversation. They, and the rest of the audience are “Thought Partners”.

There will always be one chair vacant in the inner circle. If someone joins the circle, someone must leave. The Facilitator holds the process and assists the Speaker so they can set up the topic and conduct a constructive fishbowl. Anyone can come into the fishbowl, including participants, facilitators, experts, hosts, etc.

Start with the Facilitator asking the speaker; “What’s the question?” Spend about 2 minutes and get them to frame the problem/challenge statement for the entire audience.

Next, ask the Thought Partners; “What are you curious about?” Spend about 5 minutes getting them to talk about the person and the problem to one another. Not towards the Speaker. Talk about them as if they weren’t here. For example; “I wonder…. I’m curious about…. This made me think of…. I notice…”

Fishbowl forum in actionMindmap from fishbowl forum exercises

The Speaker then has a chance to restate & respond for about 3 minutes. Have they heard anything that they want to respond to. Has the question or challenge changed?

Open the conversation up. This is now an open and free flowing conversation. Encourage new Thought Partners to join from the audience – ensuring there is always an open chair.

The fishbowl ends when the conversation reaches a natural close.
(Optional): I encourage one of the group hosts to document the fishbowl in a mindmap. Setup a flipchart and document the conversation as it progresses.

Post-Event Mailout

Send out photos from the event and a copy of the mindmap(s). Remember to invite them to join the Business Agility Institute.