The name ‘Fish Bowl’ comes from the concentric way in which the chairs are arranged for the session, especially those of the speakers. This technique encourages a dialogue rather than monologue. It lessens the distinction between speakers and participants. The ‘Fish Bowl’ is a model that encourages critical thinking.
We piloted this format at GHF2012 to great success. At GHF2014 once again, space is dedicated and marked as the ‘Fish Bowl’. All Fish Bowl sessions will be held in this space throughout the three days conference.
Four to five chairs are arranged in an inner circle. This is the fishbowl. The remaining chairs are arranged in concentric circles (semi circles or crescent in our case due to venue restrictions) outside the fishbowl. A few participants are selected to fill the fishbowl, while the rest of the group sit on the chairs outside the fishbowl. In an open fishbowl, one chair is left empty. In a closed fishbowl, all chairs are filled. The moderator introduces the topic and the participants start discussing the topic. The audience outside the fishbowl listen in on the discussion.
In an open fish bowl, any member of the audience can, at any time, occupy the empty chair and join the fishbowl. When this happens, an existing member of the fish bowl must voluntarily leave the fish bowl and free a chair. The discussion continues with participants frequently entering and leaving the fishbowl. Depending on how large the audience is you can have many audience members spend some time in the fish bowl and take part in the discussion.
When time runs out, the fish bowl is closed and the moderator summarizes the discussion. Videos on how the fish bowl technique is being used to encourage critical thinking are available on YouTube.