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A technique used to increase participation and understanding of issues. The fishbowl consists of an inner group of participants in a roundtable format involved in a conversation (possibly including Decision Making).

It is 'witnessed' by a larger group who have the opportunity for input and questioning (see also Expert Panel and Samoan Circle). The fishbowl can be adapted with the use of Roleplaying techniques to highlight conflicts and alliances, the patterns that connect different points of view and the previously unrecognised linkages between different aspects of issues or problems. The fishbowl process can be modified to allow participants from the wider audience to join the roundtable (Sarkissian, W. et al, 1999; also see Wiki:ParkBenchPanel).


  • The fishbowl process aims to increase people's understanding of other people's perspectives on an issue or proposal, and to allow them to make connections and recognise links that may have been hidden.


  • Fishbowls can make a large group feel that their viewpoint has been represented in the discussion, even when they have not themselves had any input. Because they hear and see other people's contributions, they know whether the issue that are important to them have been considered. As well, participants and observers will leave the fishbowl process with a greater understanding of the range of opinions and experiences that exist within their community on a particular issue or proposal. This provides community groups with options for building on commonalities and sharing resources.


  • Highly applicable when consultation (and/or interaction) with the broader community is required.
  • Can be used to build trust with the community by creating a sense of transparency in decision making.
  • Can illuminate decisions through focused and creative dialogue. (Sarkissian, W. et al, 1999).

Special considerations/weaknesses:

  • Works best where presentations are brief.
  • Requires organisers to be committed to a creative and 'from the edge' approach to consulting.
  • People must be able to operate from beyond their comfort zones.
  • Requires intensive set-up and publicity.
  • Skilled facilitators should be hired. (Sarkissian, W. et al, 1999).

Resources required:

  • Publicity
  • Venue rental
  • Catering
  • Staffing
  • Engagement of moderator/facilitator
  • Engagement of expert
  • Recorders
  • Gophers
  • Other
  • Audio and visual recording and amplification
  • Overhead projectors
  • Printed public information materials
  • Response sheets
  • Data projectors
  • Video
  • Slide projector
  • Projection screen
  • Data projectors
  • Furniture
  • Children's requirements

Can be used for:

  • Engage community
  • Discover community issues
  • Develop community capacity
  • Communicate an issue
  • Build alliances, consensus

Number of people required to help organise:

  • Medium (2-12 people)

Audience size:

  • Large (> 30)
  • Medium (11-30)

Time required:

  • Medium (6 weeks-6 months)
  • Short (< 6 weeks)

Skill level/support required:

  • High (Specialist skills)


  • High (> AUD$10,000)
  • Medium (AUD$1,000-AUD$10,000)

Participation level:

  • High (Stakeholders participate in decision)

Innovation level:

  • High (Innovative)


  • Canvas people to be invited to the meeting in advance to determine the fishbowl team.
  • Book venue.
  • Hire a facilitator.
  • Advertise event.
  • Brief participants and the facilitator on the aims and objectives of the session.
  • Provide a technical briefing for participants if required.
  • Support participants with role descriptions.
  • Structure time for the interactions between the 'actors' and the 'audience'.
  • Can alternate between 'experts' in the fishbowl and members of the public. Each of the two groups can pick up on the issues and ideas expressed by the other.
  • Record issues raised by individuals and report back in the plenary sessions.
  • De-brief the participants and the facilitator.
  • Compile a report and distribute to participants and relevant authorities.


  • Atlee, Tom. (2002). Fishbowl technique for adversarial meetings. Adapted from an e-mail to the GlobalIdeasBank. http://www.globalideasbank.org/SD/SD-26.HTML (accessed 6/12/2002).
  • Co-Intelligence Institute. 2002. A Toolbox of processes for community work. http://www.co-intelligence.org/CIPol_CommunityProcesses.html [accessed 3 Jan 2002].
  • Sarkissian, W., Perlgut, D & Ballard, E. (eds.) (1986) Community Participation in Practice in The Community Participation Handbook: resources for public involvement in the planning process. Roseville, NSW. Impacts Press.

Many of the resources in the “Participatory Practices” category originated in Coastal CRC's Citizen Science Toolbox (www.coastal.crc.org.au/toolbox/). With permission, NCDD included the resource on our wiki so practitioners could expand upon the listing.

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