From Learning and training wiki

Jump to: navigation, search
Term2.png FISHBOWL
A training tool used to break barriers and overcome anxiety in a group. It can be really useful when a common ground on a controversal issue has to be found. It is a facilitative tool in which participants learn from each other by forming an inner circle where they discuss a topic while the remaining participants listen and observe, having the possibility to say their opinion following precise roules. The purpose is to actively listen to the experiences and perspectives of a specific group of people, giving an opportunity for dialogue in a multicultural environment. Fishbowl discussions helps to observe group process and roles. It is also designed to help people listen to each other, enhancing relationships between people, communication, reflection, community building, and interpersonal development. [1]

Toolkit.png Organizing a Fishbowl

Step by Step

Before the Meeting

  • Four to five chairs are arranged in an inner circle, and the remaining chairs are arranged in a concentric circle outside the fishbowl. A few participants are selected to fill the fishbowl, while the rest of the group sits on the chairs outside. In open fishbowls, one or more chairs are left empty; in closed ones all chairs are filled.

During the Meeting

  • The facilitator introduces the topic and the participants start discussing it. The audience outside the fishbowl attentively listens to the discussion.
    • Open fishbowl: The initial participants sit in the inner circle and participate in the discussion. Any member of the audience can, at any time, occupy the empty chair and join the fishbowl. After he/she made a comment or asked a question and received an answer, he/she should leave the chair empty so that someone else can sit. If no chair is free and someone wants to join the discussion, he can stand behind one of the participants until one of the seats gets empty.
    • Closed fishbowl: The initial participants speak for some time. When time runs out, they leave the fishbowl and a new group from the audience enters the fishbowl. This continues until many audience members have spent some time in the fishbowl. Once the final group has concluded the discussion, the facilitator closes the fishbowl.
In both cases, there is an important rule to follow, no-one from the audience can express his/her opinion. In the case of the open fishbowl they have to occupy an empty chair; in the closed ones, they have to wait for the participants to change. If someone doesn't follow the rule, the facilitator should immediately remind all the participants about it.

After the Meeting

  • The facilitator summarizes the discussion.

Facilitator's Role

The facilitator plays three main roles:

Leadership role

  • To focus on providing a direction to the group;
  • To stimulate and encourage constructive debate between group members;
  • To support members of the group, helping them to bring information, and to build new ideas;
  • To participate when the group is interacting poorly or in the wrong direction, by promoting new discussion;
  • To promote team building in a cohesive, interactive, and productive way.

Referee role

  • To regulate and maintain order of the group discussion, discouraging participants from talking at the same time;
  • To protect members, and ensure that all contributions to the discussion are treated equally;
  • To deal with problems, and to control people within the group, allowing everyone to participate freely;
  • To manage the time, and adhere to the meeting timetable ensuring completion of the agenda.

Neutral role

  • The facilitator is neutral, and pragmatic, because he takes a detached look at the discussion.
  • He encourages feedback, promoting discussion of each point of the meeting. [2]

Job Aid

Pdf.png Organizing a Fishbowl


  1. (18 August 2008), (18 August 2008), ((18 August 2008), (18 August 2008), (18 August 2008), (19 September 2008)
  2. (18 August 2008), (18 August 2008), (18 August 2008), (18 August 2008), (18 August 2008)