Fishbowl Discussion

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A Fishbowl is a discussion format/method which is especially useful for interactively debating together with (science) 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 by UNICEF below. The people in the outer circle act as observers, listeners, and may later also become participants. 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, or by asking questions or joining the discussion with the experts in the middle. Once speakers/participants have contributed their thoughts, they may 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).

Source: UNICEF


To discuss controversial or emotional science-related issues or societal aspects of research. Fishbowl also works very well for topics of local or regional relevance. Fishbowl events also encourage active participation and foster dynamic group interactions.


The aims of this event are for experts and citizens to take part in structured conversations. Circles of chairs are arranged in a large space, with the experts starting in the inner circle, and the other participants sitting on the outer circle. The exact method of how you want to run the event may vary. However, normally the conversation is initiated by the experts in the inner circle and when the introduction has been completed, the other participants in the outer circle can ask questions to the inner circle, or chairs can be moved or exchanged to allow new participants to take part in the conversation in the inner circle. The aim is to have a structured discussion where the members in the inner circle drive the conversation, with input from the moderator or participants sitting in the outer circles but the majority should be actively listening to the discussion and trying to avoid the whole room trying to talk to each other or all at once.


Main Event Duration: One day
Project Duration: Indefinitely repeated
It can be a single event, or it can be done several times a year depending on the popularity and demand for the event.

Find out more about resources, venues and staff here:

Martin, D., Ghirxi, D., & Styles, C. (2020, September 14). Fish Bowl Event.

Retrieved from


Yearly / Project Budget: 501 – 1000€

Budget Point Details Yearly Cost
Personnel Fees
  • Only the core organizing team is required.
  • Experts (voluntary).
Venue Hire
  • Ideally, the partnered institution would provide a space to hold the event.
  • If not, outdoors spaces could be used as long as they have access to electricity.
  • Other options would be to contact a local restaurant or coffee shop. They could provide this for free as long as they earn money from drinks/food purchases.
  • Design / printing of posters or buying advertising space in local papers / on social media.
  • The partner institution/venue should be able to cover any basic needs and equipment (projector, microphones, etc). If not, the following equipment needs to be purchased: a projector, wireless microphones and speakers (single expense).
0 – 500€
  • Refreshments.
Total 500- 900€

Event Logistics

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.


Aside from the basic equipment provided by the venue (projector, microphones, and chairs), there are no particular materials required.

Other Logistics

Additional needs may include refreshments for the audience.

Examples or inspirations (videos, links)