Start conversations with a Fish Bowl
July 21, 2011
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Here’s a creative technique for idea exchange that works well in large groups of 30 people or less – the Fish Bowl. If you are faced with a diverse group of people who need to work on solutions to a particular issue, the Fish Bowl functions well to get a dialogue going, and also helps break the ice.
The process in a nutshell:
- Divide your large group into two equal-size groups and form two circles (an inner and outer rim).
- Get the two circles to move in opposite directions, using music or counting to 10 to keep time.
- When the music or counting stops, the circles stop moving, and people from the inner circle turn to face the the outer circle.
- Brief people on the the topic in question, giving them a few minutes to share their thoughts with the person in front of them, and vice versa.
- Resume the music or counting, signalling the circles to start moving again.
- This activity can be repeated several times (3 -5 repetitions) to ensure a reasonable level of appreciation towards the topic under discussion.
Why use the Fish Bowl
This is a simple method that quickly organizes a large group of people into an active unit.
- The Fish Bowl gives people a chance to observe the various nuances of a topic, and lets one have a ‘feel’ for the energy in the room. People hear not one person, but anywhere from 3 -5 of their peers and they also get to share their opinions.
- It is an easy technique to facilitate because it involves more involvement from people in the group. The facilitator however needs to give clear instructions and ensure people understand the purpose of the session.
- It is an excellent ice- breaker, and is perfect for those slow afternoons, when attention is hard to maintain. The Fish Bowl technique gets people on the move, breaking monotony.
What I like about the Fish Bowl is the way it sets the tone for process. Use it as an introduction to further discussions on a specific topic. When used at the start of a workshop, it gets people talking and encourages the sharing of ideas, experiences. This can then be followed up with methods like Card Collection (a method to generate ideas from a group using 3 x 5 inch cards, more later). Simple yet creative, it takes navel-gazing to a more meaningful level.