A fishbowl conversation is a form of dialog that can be used when discussing topics within large groups. Fishbowl conversations are usually used in participatory events like Open Space Technology and Unconferences. The advantage of Fishbowl is that it allows the entire group to participate in a conversation. Several people can join the discussion.
Four to five chairs are arranged in an inner circle. This is the fishbowl. The remaining chairs are arranged in concentric circles 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 fishbowl, 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 fishbowl must voluntarily leave the fishbowl and free a chair. The discussion continues with participants frequently entering and leaving the fishbowl. Depending on how large your audience is you can have many audience members spend some time in the fishbowl and take part in the discussion. When time runs out, the fishbowl is closed and the moderator summarizes the discussion.
An immediate variation of this is to have only two chairs in the central group. When someone in the audience wants to join the two-way conversation, they come forward and tap the shoulder of the person they want to replace, at some point when they are not talking. The tapped speaker must then return to the outer circles, being replaced by the new speaker, who carries on the conversation in their place.
In a closed fishbowl, the initial participants speak for some time. When time runs out, they leave the fishbowl and a new group from the audience enters the fishbowl. This continues until many audience members have spent some time in the fishbowl. Once the final group has concluded, the moderator closes the fishbowl and summarizes the discussion.