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What's it for?
The fishbowl exercise is a technique for discussing difficult and controversial issues between two groups of people who may be in disagreement. It overcomes barriers to communication such as pressure to conform from peers, ‘professional detachment’ and intimidation.
Who can use it?
The fishbowl can be used by staff and residents that wish to communicate in depth. No special skills are necessary, but there are some general guidelines and principles that will enhance and improve results.
How to use it
The fishbowl involves between 10 and 20 people. A circle of chairs is arranged in the centre of a room with chairs arranged around the outside. A facilitator, (someone fairly neutral if possible), splits the group into two roughly equal ‘teams’ that apparently share the same views or are recognisable as ‘peers’ (e.g. residents, staff). One ‘team’ sits in the centre (the fishbowl) and one team around the outside. The people in the fishbowl will be involved in the discussion and cannot involve anybody around the outside in the discussion (though they may, of course, refer to them). The people around the outside are ‘privileged listeners’. The people around the outside cannot speak until they are invited into the middle by the facilitator. The facilitator starts the discussion by providing a contentious statement for the ‘fishbowl’ to comment on. The statement will relate to a subject of concern for the group. e.g.
‘Why shouldn’t we have visitors after 10.00pm?’ ‘They treat us like children...’ ‘They don’t respect our space...’
As an alternative the contentious statement can be a subject of current concern for society, one which is likely to polarise the ‘fishbowl’.e.g.
in general. less intervention the better. An alternative method is to bring individuals into the ‘fishbowl’ who then sum up the discussion so far as they see it. When the fishbowl discussion is exhausted the participants then join together in a more conventional discussion having established a pattern of ‘talking’ and ‘listening’ in an equitable way. Each group writes down their thoughts and views on a piece of flip chart paper with a marker pen for about 15-20 minutes 2. Then the listeners swap places with the ‘fishbowlers’ and continue the discussion adding their views to the discussion. This is a listening exercise. ‘Smoking should be banned everywhere…’ ‘Beggars should be locked up..’ The discussion continues until it appears that nothing new is being said. moving their chairs into 2 circles: one circle is a large “fish-bowl” round the outside of the room and the other small circle is the “fish” in the middle of the room. You start off in small groups of between 4 and 6 people. The discussion then continues with the new participant.. which is useful for getting detailed views and information from a large group of people. The teams may swap half a dozen or more times until the subject is exhausted. The whole room then re-groups. . who are tasked with talking about a particular issue. The Fish Bowl Technique Summary This is a listening game. The facilitator may interject from time to time to stir up the discussion and involve everybody in the fishbowl in the discussion but. How To Do It: 1.
The large circle is the fish-bowl and these are the listeners – they must listen very carefully to what the fish are saying to check that this is an accurate description of the views put forward by their little groups . chairs. One person volunteers to write all new thoughts and ideas added to a flip chart paper in the middle. 4. Any listener who disagrees with what is being said by the “spokes-fish” of their group can go up and tap them gently on the shoulder. time of facilitator. marker pens. Not useful Small groups of people or getting specific answers to pre-determined questions. This means that they will swap places. and one person from each group should sit in this small circle and tell everyone in the room about what was discussed in their group. . Fish only speak of new ideas and thoughts that have not already been noted.5. Useful for Large group of people 40-60 people when you want to get people’s views on a subject. Resources Flip chart paper.3. . which might be sensitive for example health. The small circle are the fish. Equal Rights People with mobility difficulties may need help with re-arranging chairs in the room. * Note: Resources are collected from the internet. The small groups are useful for talking about difficult issues. tables.