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    Renee Fazzari 9:54 pm on November 7, 2013 Permalink |  

    Hey folks – wow! There is a lot to catch up on since my last visit to the Water Cooler. I look forward to perusing a bit of this! But for now, a quick question for you all – does anyone have experience with fishbowl sessions at a conference that have worked well?

    For me, the fishbowl – where you have 3-5 presenters in a circle with empty chairs that people can filter into and ask questions – is that mythical presentation descriptor on any session planning worksheet, that begs me to pick it but I never have the guts to give it a try. I’ve heard lots of warnings against fishbowls, but they seem so great in theory! The small group conversation in the large group format. We’re considering this for a conference of about 90 people in December. Any tips or warnings greatly appreciated!

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      Renee 12:14 am on November 8, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      And to answer my own question: a post-back from my Facebook crowd-sourcing question on this same topic:

      From Stephanie Syd Yang (a Bootcamper in spirit!)… aha! i have a lot to say!! (and hiii renee!) so, i am on the side of not liking fishbowls, as they can be performative and well, annoying as an audience/observer/person on the outside. however, i also admit that i have participated in them many times over the years and am coming around to appreciating then benefit in allowing pthers to be witness to a dynamic that is difficult to “describe” or is too easy to “theorize”. that said, fishbowls i have appreciated are ones that stay on point (as much they can) and are not too lengthy time wise. personally i find the richness of fishbowls in the reflections and conversations afterwards, and the questions that are then generated

      so, where i get frustrated wth fishbowls is the following:
      1. folks in the circle take the opportunity of the fishbowl to take up A LOT of space — to air other thoughts, frustrtions, ideas etc as if there has been no other space to be heard, thus not allowing for shared space and eating up so so so much time
      2. people going way off topic
      3. those who tap in to the fishbowl having to wait a really long time to contributw because othrs on the circle are taking up a lot of space and/or moving the discussion into other or unexpected directions
      4. ways that the fishbowl can get very self-focused by those in the bowl and thua moving it away from being a tool/technique to elicit questions and deepen reflections on a certain topic and / or dynamic

      ok! i will stop now happy to share more if you’d like.

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      Eugene Eric Kim 3:15 pm on November 8, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I love fishbowls! And there’s definitely an art to doing them well.

      Once you get beyond about 20 people, the dynamic definitely shifts. 90 people is a lot. I’ve done one this size once, and it worked well, but there are definitely some additional factors . (A nerdy aside: A “fishbowl” where you essentially structure the space like a panel only with empty chairs, it’s actually a “park bench.”)

      Stephanie’s feedback is excellent. Here are some additional thoughts:

      1. Establish groundrules. One of the risks, as Stephanie points out, is that people go up and start taking up space without participating in the spirit of the discussion. Establishing appropriate groundrules empowers everybody to be a facilitator. This actually happened at a large park bench I facilitated several years ago, where one of the panelists did a beautiful job getting an audience member to get off his soapbox.
      2. Prep the initial participants. Spend some time explaining the dynamic and offering suggestions on how to engage, including permission to facilitate.
      3. You still have a facilitator if you need one! If you have a facilitator as part of the original group, then you have a built-in backup plan, because if the conversation starts to get unruly, the facilitator can always get back in the circle and take care of it. In other words, the worst case scenario of a “facilitated” fishbowl should be that it essentially becomes a panel discussion.
      4. Be intentional. As always, you should be clear about why you’re doing this and whether you’re setting yourself up for success. For example, if you were to try to plug a fishbowl into a traditional townhall meeting, where the dynamic is that it’s generally the only space for community members to air their grievances, the fishbowl will probably not succeed (or it will be just as bad as any other townhall meeting). As always, being clear about intention matters.
      5. Choose the variation that works best. You can customize fishbowls in lots of different ways. If you want to be really safe, you can have a moderator just stay up there the whole time. The number of empty chairs shifts the dynamic. I like to do the musical chair version, where if one person sits down, another person has to leave, so that you always have empty chairs, but you don’t have to do it that way. I prefer more open designs in general, but if you’re not comfortable with that, you can refine accordingly.
      6. Give it time to work. The biggest mistake that people make with more open, participatory designs — especially with lots of people — is that they bail when things get awkward. Generally, things will start off awkward, even with a skilled, acculturated group. Give it time for norms and a rhythm to develop.

      As always, let us know what you decide to do and how it goes!

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      Renee 6:20 pm on November 8, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Thanks Eugene! These are great tips. I’m a little concerned because we only have 1h15m for the whole thing, which would include setting the ground rules, introducing the conversation, and doing the fishbowl.

      But I’m still really leaning towards the format because there is a dynamic within our group that only a few select people are really “in the know” and other more ancillary people are often left out of inner circle information. It would be nice to draw some of that out – which I think happens better in a conversation than in a panel presentation. Plus we just want to experiment with something different.

      I’m also including another post from my facebook request, below. I will report back!

      Hey Renee Fazzari – I agree with Stephanie Syd Yang. I am a huge fan of fishbowls when there is a conversation in the group that needs to be had by some ppl and everyone needs to witness it. It works well when you prime the fish! The first fish should embody the perspectives of different “camps” in the group, and have an intimate dialogue with each other in front of everyone about the decision or issue at hand. Sometimes passing note cards w ?s into the center circle works. Sometimes the tapping thing that syd describes is great – as the somatics of stepping into that center circle to speak can really be powerful. It can also work in an anti oppression conversation – for example, women talk in the center circle about experiences with sexism, men listen and hold that outer circle. Where it doesn’t work is when it’s really like a panel discussion – ppl in the center each going on about their thing, whatever it is, and everyone else passively watching. Good luck with your convening!

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        Eugene Eric Kim 1:02 am on November 9, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        1h15m is more than enough time. I’d be more concerned about the size of the group.

        I like your underlying motivation, and I also like your friend’s feedback about physically modeling an inner and outer circle. I did an exercise with about 140 people where we broke out into nine fishbowls, with one leadership team member per fishbowl. The feedback we got from a few participants was that they liked the physical act of stepping into the inner circle, which felt symbolic of stepping into their own leadership.

        Regarding having multiple fishbowls: I like doing this for large groups, largely for group physics reasons, and there were some other advantages with the above meeting. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for your gathering. It’s logistically a lot more challenging, and you have to give very clear instructions, most likely multiple times. You can’t afford to be too open-ended in your instructions, because it will just confuse the heck out of people. Doing one large fishbowl / park bench seems like it will be an interesting enough experiment for you all!

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      Jessica 4:40 pm on November 18, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I like Eugene love fishbowls. I’ve seen them work really well with 25 and even 40 people.

      Things that have worked well include everything that Eugene mentioned, particularly prepping participants and having a facilitator.

      I’d make two additions:
      TIMING: I’ve found them to work really well at the END of a long day, when people are tired and may appreciate the opportunity to sit back and listen a bit.
      WILD CARD: Spicing up the inner circle with a wild card–a person who asks provocative questions–has worked wonders to get the conversation flowing in a different direction, organically.

      Hope this helps!


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      Renee 9:27 pm on November 21, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Thank you Jessica and Eugene for all of the advice. I’m sorry to say that we decided to scrap this idea, this time. We just don’t have the time before the conference to think through all the logistics. Also we don’t have enough time (or flexibilty with space) to make a fishbowl feel like a safe space for people to participate. We worry that without really setting up a different feeling space, it will feel pretty hard for people to march up on stage and join presenters, thus creating an exclusivity component that would only have very confident voices join, rather than really tapping the wisdom of the whole room.

      That said, I’m totally committed to doing a fishbowl soon and will keep all this advice in my back pocket for the next time around. Super grateful for everyone’s advice and time!

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        Eugene Eric Kim 1:07 am on November 22, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Those sound like wise reasons for not doing it. Thanks for reporting back, as always, Renee! Looking forward to hearing how it does go.

        How did your GEO presentation go? You were a tweeting machine! 🙂

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    Renee Fazzari 6:45 pm on October 14, 2013 Permalink |  

    Hi new & old bootcampers –

    Thanks to Eugene for the reminder to come back and use the water cooler. I’m doing so with an explicit thing to “get” but I hope to find time to “give” a little too!

    Recently hosted a great retreat with several of our grantees in Boulder, designed by Rebecca Petzel, Eugene’s colleague. This was the project I was focusing on in Bootcamp. We would like a way to stay in touch with each other afterwards but don’t really want to use a listserv. I guess people feel that listserv’s get abused with too frequent posts and people start ignoring them.

    One cool outcome of the retreat is that people decided to set up an “innovation team”. Their first task is to come up with a way to stay in contact and “have conversations about projects that develop post retreat”.

    Any suggestions for technologies that would be useful? I will suggest wordpress. I have enjoyed this format. But I also think if posts don’t hit your inbox, people are unlikely to follow through with requests, etc.

    Thanks all!

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      Eugene 1:27 pm on October 15, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      So great to hear from you, Renee, and glad that the retreat went well! Love that an “innovation team” emerged from the meeting.

      I’ll start with some tactical thoughts, then ask you some strategic questions. I think email as a channel for notifications is totally different than email as a channel for discussion. Clay Shirky wrote a wonderful essay years ago about why listservs are such a poor space for conversation, and how blogs and wikis structurally shift that energy:


      It’s a group physics exercise, only applied online.

      My questions:

      Regarding “conversations about projects that develop post-retreat”: Are these possible or actual projects? Are these for subgroups or for everyone?

      More importantly, why do you want people to have these conversations? Is it to make sure something concrete emerges from the gathering? Is it a way to continue having generative conversations? Is it simply a way for people to stay connected?

      Finally, where does your group hangout online right now? What tools do they use for work?

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    Renee Fazzari 10:51 pm on July 11, 2013 Permalink |  

    As some of you know, I am working with Rebecca to create a learning network experiment among civic participation funders. We had a design call today and got into a really interesting discussion that directly followed the bootcamp discussion yesterday – how do you create a virtual space that is as engaging and dynamic as an in-person space? Is this possible? What are some of the principles and technologies to support it?

    I’m intrigued about getting people’s pictures into the mix somehow after Eugene’s suggestion. We’re also going to use breakout technology to “create floor time” even within a conference call. And we all decided that it was critical that people “know who’s in the virtual room” so despite desires to be open, we are going to start with a closed, invite-only room where you know your audience. Since this is an initial experiment, this feels much safer.

    At the same time, I would like to experiment with the dynamic of “eventually, it can all be public UNLESS you ask for something to be confidential”. This is a 180 from the way we as funders usually operate. One of our design team members brought up the fact that this might help us realize, most of the things we talk about are actually ok to share and isolate when we’re really needing to be secretive, rather than defaulting to “confidential space” which is our norm. Holding an interesting tension here between needing to know who’s in the room and wanting to flip our default.

    Would love to hear if anyone has thoughts on positive virtual experiences in the past, or even qualities of great meetings that could be translated into a virtual format.

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      Eugene Eric Kim 1:07 am on July 12, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      What’s the goal of the online space? Is it informal engagement? Is it a space where work will get done?

      This relates to my previous statement about how engagement doesn’t have to be all about meetings. That holds true of online space as well. Do you need an online space that is as engaging and dynamics as an in-person space? What purpose is that online space serving?

      I’ll write a longer blog post about this and how I’ve applied these principles with groups in the past. But for now, see if this is helpful:


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    Renee Fazzari 11:20 pm on July 9, 2013 Permalink |  

    On a more Bootcamp related note, I can share with the team that Bootcamp last week was a little off for me. As I said in my check out last wednesday, I have generally found that Eugene has done a great job of letting us find our way to the wisdom and has structured exercises so that we learn some cool stuff but we don’t have to be lectured. That said, last week I felt a little like I was fishing for the lesson… I wasn’t sure how the exercise we were doing was leading us to a larger principle and I wished for a little more framework or teaching instead of such a discover-it-yourself approach.

    I’m really interested in others’ perspectives overall – are you like me in wishing for a little more “lecture” or framework from Eugene or do you love diving in and figuring out the lessons/learnings as you go? And for Eugene, what’s the theory behind figuring it out ourselves rather than providing a framework up-front (or even at the end of a session)?

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      Eugene Eric Kim 11:42 pm on July 9, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I really appreciated this feedback, Renee. I’ve definitely had to rethink last week’s workouts.

      The theory behind how I’ve been approaching this is that I can tell you all sorts of stuff, but it’s not meaningful until you experience it. In general, I’m trying to create opportunities for all of you to learn by doing. My mentor in this space taught me all sorts of things that I thought I understood at the time, but every year, I find myself in a situation where I think to myself, “Aha, that’s what he meant!”

      Furthermore, I guarantee you that my way of thinking isn’t always right. I’ve had many conversations with folks with whom I respect, where they explain some principle of theirs that I completely disagree with. I’m quite sure the reverse is true. By focusing on the experiential and letting the learning trickle up, we all (including me) have the opportunity to learn from each other, as opposed to everyone learning mainly from me. It makes for a richer experience.

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      Natalie 12:49 am on July 10, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I feel like I always do better when I have an idea of what I’m supposed to be learning or focused on before getting into the experiential aspect of it. I’m incredibly literal, and am often left scratching my head if things are too vague. Many years ago, a researcher snagged me in a mall and took me to a little room where I was asked to open several packages. When I was done, the researcher asked which package was the easiest to open. I had absolutely no idea, as I didn’t know what was being tested and had paid no attention to the ease of opening the packaging while I was engaged in it.

      This is not to criticize Eugene — I wasn’t even there last week — but just to state my learning style. I think you can still have rich experiential learning without the purpose or point being shrouded in mystery.

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    Renee Fazzari 11:13 pm on July 9, 2013 Permalink |  

    Parking Ticket Boo 

    I’m testing out the system with a note of sheepishness.  Upon leaving bootcamp last wednesday, I told Lauren not to worry about those 2-hour neighborhood tickets (her car had been parked for just over 2 hours) because I hadn’t gotten one in 10 years of living in SF.  Murphy’s law, I got to my car and had received a $74 ticket at about 2hr 10m mark. Arggh!!  Sure hope you didn’t get one Lauren!  And warning to all others parking around the Women’s Bldg!

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      rfazzari 11:14 pm on July 9, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      A friend said that Guerrero, Mission, Valencia area is watched very carefully!

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      Eugene Eric Kim 11:34 pm on July 9, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Argh! Sorry to hear that, Renee. 🙁 I parked in the garage on Hoff near 16th last week (when we had the BART strike), but otherwise try to BART over.

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