Fish Bowl Event

1.1   Description

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


1.2   Objective

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.


1.3   Structure

General Structure: Single Event

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.


1.4   Duration

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.

2.1    Staff & Volunteers

Volunteer Requirements: Core team to organize the event


2.2    Venue Hire

Venue: Indoors / Outdoors
Capacity: 1 – 20 people

The Fish Bowl requires a spacious location for seating. The seating setup requires space to allow for the formation of concentric circles (number of circles/chairs depends on the number of participants) with the speakers at the centre.


2.3    Partner Institutions

Partner Institutions: Not required

Although Fish Bowl can be done independently, it would be of great benefit to have the support of an institution.


2.4    Budget

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€

3.1   Target Audience

Target Audience: Younger Adults (26–45) / Older Adults (46–64)

The audience can include experts from different backgrounds, as well as citizens.


3.2   Marketing

Marketing needs to be done at least one month in advance. It would be helpful to use official social media accounts for more effective publicity. Facebook advertising can be very effective in reaching the target audience, as well as making contact with highly-influential profiles that could share the event information.
Social media posts should include information about the event, the experts, the topics, and the partner institution. It is also important to use proper hashtags to track and evaluate the strategy at the end of every Fish Bowl edition.
Additionally, it is encouraged to market the event through printed means, such as posters or flyers in public libraries, coffee shops, cinemas, parks, etc.


3.3   Dialogic Strategy

It is encouraged to keep the atmosphere informal and to be clear with the topic you are presenting to the public. Encourage attendees to participate and express concerns or ask further questions about the topic. An experienced moderator and open-minded experts are essential for successfully facilitating a fishbowl.

4.1   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
  • Purchasing of refreshments and venue set up.


4.2   Single Event Structure

Time Activity
10 mins
  • Introduction and presentations.
15 mins
  • Experts present the topic in the inner circle, while the majority in the outer circle(s) observe the discussion.
50 mins
  • 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 mins
  • Session wrap up.


4.3 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.


4.4   Materials

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


4.5   Other Logistics

Additional needs may include refreshments for the audience.

A fishbowl can offer a constructive atmosphere for discussion due to its essentials 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, dominance of single participants can be avoided and dynamic processes are facilitated.

The basic evaluation strategy is to conduct a survey at the end of the event or via email. The questions should address their perceptions of the session. Ideally, the results of a fishbowl discussion are documented in written form and video statements can also be included.
The marketing strategy needs to be evaluated as well through software analytics: how many followers do you have on social media, how many interactions, how many times did the hashtag appear, etc.

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Cite this Activity

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

First published: September 14, 2020
Last modified: September 14, 2020

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