Facilitated Large Group Conversations (Fishbowls)

Facilitated Large Group Conversations (Fishbowls) 2017-03-29T04:50:45+00:00

Fishbowls are a specific form and design of public conversation that creates the intimacy of a small group discussion within a much larger room of active listeners – many of whom may themselves choose to gracefully move in and out of the conversation with the support of multiple facilitators. Paul Cienfuegos has experience leading facilitation teams for such events – both large and small.

In the Spring of 1999 in Arcata, California, Paul Cienfuegos helped to organize two fishbowl conversations which each lasted for more than four hours and accommodated crowds of 350 people each. These Town Hall Meetings invited voters to dialogue about the topic, “Can we have democracy when large corporations wield so much power and wealth under law?” and were a result of the passage of ‘Measure F: The Arcata Advisory Initiative on Democracy and Corporations‘ ballot initiative, which was passed by the voters in 1998. Paul co-directed this ballot initiative campaign. The award-winning documentary, ‘The Corporation‘ includes brief excerpts from these fishbowl meetings.

In January 2004, Paul was invited to facilitate a fishbowl-style four-hour Town Hall meeting in Corvallis, Oregon, for a number of groups wanting to collaboratively discuss the growing hunger crisis in their community.

Paul offers coordination and facilitation services to any group wishing to explore the Fishbowl Conversation technique for use at major public forums and Town Hall meetings. The Fishbowl Conversation technique offers the possibility of an intimate small group dialogue in a large room of upwards of a few hundred people, with dozens of participants filtering in and out of the small group conversation taking place in the center of the room, while the entire room is actively listening. It’s a truly extraordinary process to participate in, both as a speaker and as a listener.

Fishbowl Conversations are ideally suited for any event of 40 to 400 people where the organizers want as many people as possible to participate in a more intimate dialogue that has a specific focus or topic. Most of us are used to being allowed two or three minutes to speak our peace at public meetings, and then we have to sit down and shut up. No real dialogue is possible. The Fishbowl Conversation technique was created to address this fundamentally undemocratic mode of public meetings that so many of us are tired of participating in.