The Fish Bowl is a way to support dialogue in a community about critical issues. It is called a fish bowl because a center circle of people have a conversation and those sitting around them watch.
The form looks like this. you have a circle of 5-8 chairs in the center. Radiating out from that you have more rows of chairs (with four isles). you could have a few more rows 2-3 or 6-8 if you have a large group.
Those in the center can either be selected or volunteer from the group. This is really a choice you need to make based on your goals…if you know there are several people with different opinions you can make sure those vocal people are in there at the beginning. Letting those who have passion about a topic or issue step forward is also a good way too.
There is always one chair left empty in the center circle. This chair is open for someone else to step into. When someone steps into the empty chair one of the existing center circle people should self select and step out.
As the leader you can frame the opening of the conversation and then let go. Moderating should be kept at a minimum – except for keeping the conversation wandering to far off track.
You can expect to dialogue for about 30 min with a good rotation of people through the center. I have never tried this with and IRC going for the audience but that might be something to try. It might also be good to have everyone put there computers down and really listen.
One option you have is to break the conversation that the center is having and go around the audience (the outer circles) and see what folks are thinking about the center conversation. This creates a feedback loop and gives voice to the rest of the room. You can have a break and continue the dialogue using the fish bowl method.
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