The Goldfish Bowl format works really well for facilitating a focussed discussion with a large number of people. It keeps the active voices to a manageable number, while being open for anyone to join in if they have something to add. Apart from providing a solution to my challenge – keeping a spirited debate under control – it also seemed appropriate that the limited number of chairs provided a means of limiting “Voices In Conversation”.
However, there was one thing about the Goldfish Bowl which didn’t seem appropriate. With a Goldfish Bowl, when someone wants to join the discussion, they fill an empty chair as part of the conversation, and force someone to leave to free up a seat again. That seemed to be like “pushing” in to the discussion. What it no-one wants to leave? So instead, I moved the empty chair out of the discussion, and made it a Queue. If someone had something to contribute, they could fill the “Waiting to Talk” seat, which would be a signal to the “In Conversation” people that one of them should leave when ready. I was pleased to find that this change worked really well. Rather than the discussions being interrupted when people moved around as they figured out who would leave, the conversations flowed smoothly as people moved in and out naturally. Initially the “Waiting” person had to wait some time, but once we got used to the system, this seemed to be less of a problem.
- 4 “In Conversation” seats and 1 “Waiting to Talk” seat
- Only “In Conversation” people may speak
- If you want to join the conversation, fill the “Waiting to Talk” seat (if it’s empty)
- When someone “In Conversation” leaves, that is a signal to move from “Waiting to Talk” to be “In Conversation”
I wondered whether we would evolve the system, by increasing or decreasing the number of seats in each state, but that didn’t happen. Its something I’ll look out for in the future. I’d also love to hear if anyone uses this format, or has already done something similar.