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A Fishbowl is a discussion format/method which is especially useful for facilitating debates between experts and ‘laypeople’/citizens. The circular layout of the space is specially intended to stimulate dynamic discussions. The speakers (consisting of experts on the chosen topic of discussion) would be placed at the centre of a room/space with other participants sitting around them in a circle, watching and listening to their conversation as shown in the diagram below. The people in the outer circle act as observers, listeners, and may later also become participants in the conversation.

There should also be a moderator/facilitator present to remind participants of the rules and encourage them to engage. After 10-15 minutes of the speakers’ discussion, the moderator may invite participants from the outer circle to join the Fishbowl by occupying an empty chair in the middle of the circle. Either by asking a question, or joining the discussion with the experts in the middle. Once the speakers/participant has finished contributing their thoughts, they step away from the Fishbowl. Other participants are then free to fill up the empty chairs in the inner circle and join the discussion (this is overseen by the facilitator).

This format can be adapted to fit a classroom setting, to help facilitate a classroom discussion about a topic, encourage active listening and develop communications skills.

Target Audience
  • Adult citizens
  • Policymakers
  • Stakeholders
  • Teenagers

You can do it with all those groups, but we did it with professionals from different fields like public engagement or the cultural and creative sector.



A fishbowl can offer a constructive atmosphere for discussion due to its essential features. The discussion can include different experts as well as the perspective of citizens and still remains manageable since only a small group is actively discussing at the same time; however, everyone can participate. By switching between the inner and outer circle, the dominance of single participants can be avoided and dynamic processes are facilitated.



Main Event Duration: One day

Project Timeline

Time Activity
Two months in advance
  • Deciding the specific date for the event.
  • Contacting researchers to confirm their availability.
  • Confirm the venue.
One month


in advance

  • Marketing: social media strategy.
  • Printed posters.
On the day of the event
  • Purchasing of refreshments and venue set up.

Single Event Structure

Time Activity
10 min
  • Introduction and presentations.
15 min
  • Experts present the topic in the inner circle, while the majority in the outer circles observes the discussion.
50 min
  • The discussion is open to the public. If somebody from one of the outer circles wants to take part in the discussion, then a free chair in the middle can be taken or the place can be exchanged with a participant from the inner circle.
15 min
  • Session wrap up.

Personnel roles

Person Activity
Core Team
  • Arrive at the venue an hour in advance to set up the circles and any needed equipment.
Experts and moderator
  • Should arrive 15 minutes in advance.


Other logistics

Additional needs may include refreshments for the audience.