Fishbowl / Samoan circle
Fishbowl is a special form of dialogue. It involves a small group of people (usually 4-7) seated in circle, having a conversation in full view of a larger group of listeners, either standing or sitting behind the inner circle. Only participants in the inner circle are allowed to speak. Fishbowl discussions thus provide a creative way to include the “public” in a small group discussion. Fishbowls can be used in a wide variety of settings: workshops, conferences, organizational meetings and public assemblies. They are useful for ventilating “hot topics”, debating and arguing in a constructive way or sharing ideas or information from a variety of perspectives. The Samoan circle is a leaderless meeting intended to help negotiations in controversial issues. While there is no ‘leader’, a professional facilitator can welcome participants and explain the seating arrangements, rules, timelines and the process. As with the Fishbowl process, the Samoan circle has people seated in a circle within a circle. However, this time participants in the outer circle can decide to join the discussion by occupying a vacant seat in the inner circle or by gently tapping the shoulders of one of the inner circle participants. What distinguishes Fishbowls and Samoan circles from other types of discussion? a) they emphasize listening deeply to others; b) they encourage more to-the-point reflections (which have been maturing when listening to others); c) they bring about a rich variety of points of view and ideas in a short time and follow the energy of the group; and d) they don’t require dedicated facilitators (just someone to document the decision).