Expert Exchange: The UX Fishbowl

Complex issues require multiple perspectives: To this end, experts can be brought together to share their knowledge with each other and with the participants. But the UX Fishbowl also includes the voices of the participants and makes them active co-creators of this exchange format!

Room setup and group size

For this format, a BigBlueButton room is created in which several people can switch on their cameras as the situation requires. This format is therefore only feasible for groups of up to 40 participants - the UX fishbowl format is unsuitable for even larger groups anyway. If you want to hold an expert exchange in front of a larger audience, you can of course organise a "normal panel" in which invited experts hold a discussion which is streamed to the audience in another room. Technically, this is then implemented in the same way as the keynote, only with several "speakers" forming the panel.


The UX fishbowl – based on the analogue Liberating Structures UX fishbowl - is a special type of fishbowl: it offers the participants an interactive chance of quickly and continuously getting involved in an expert discussion. In contrast to a classic fishbowl in which a chair is often left unoccupied in the analogue room which the participants can occupy spontaneously in order to join the discussion, here there is a switch between panel discussion and participant interaction. This change should be announced by a moderator at the beginning of the format as well as the moderator's freedom to interrupt monologue contributions.

The format may seem complicated at first glance, but with proper guidance - and this is very important - the panelists should be instructed beforehand that this is not a traditional panel - the format can facilitate a lively, authentic exchange. It helps to first visualise the inner circle (panelists) and the outer circle (participants/guests) and to present it as such at the beginning. The moderator always keeps track of time. Speaking time is structured alternately for the inner circle and for the outer circle. The speaking time becomes shorter and shorter as the discussion progresses.

The moderator will raise an introductory question (ideally agreed upon with the panelists) which the panelists will answer first: each panelist will formulate a first idea - the inner circle will talk, the others will listen. It is important for the individual speaking time to not exceed 2-3 minutes - monologues are particularly exhausting in the digital world!

Tip: The moderator can announce that a mobile phone timer will ring loudly so that everyone will be aware when the time is up.

Once each panelist has formulated an opening statement, the outer circle is activated: The moderator announces that everyone will now be brought together in small groups in so-called group rooms. People can be assigned to different rooms by simply using the drag-and-drop functionality. Important note: Inform the participants that they have to follow the invitation to the group room, the main room will remain silent for the moment. Ideally, the moderator takes the panel to a separate room so that they can talk to each other there without being disturbed. For the panelists this is of particular value because they can talk to each other in a protected space and no one from the outside will be listening.

Before starting the group sessions, the moderator should clarify that approx. 4-5 people (if necessary, adjust according to the size of the group, a maximum of 8 group rooms can be created) will be gathered in one room to exchange ideas without moderation. After the small group discussion, any questions/comments that arise should be shared with the panel. It may be helpful to identify a person in the small group to take these questions/comments to the main room afterwards. Ideally, provide a few guiding questions for the group exchange, such as: "In your small group, share what was just discussed in the panel: Which aspect was particularly exciting? Was anything surprising for you? What was new? What questions do you have that you would like to ask the panel right now? The guiding questions can also be adapted to the topic of the discussion.

Tip: A decision-making tool such as "the person with the longest hair will start" can break the initial silence - once engaged in conversation, the group can organise itself.

The exchange in the small group should last at least 10, ideally 15 minutes. At the same time, the outer circle (the panel) will speak among themselves.

After these 10 or 15 minutes, all the small groups should come to an end and the plenary session begins: The moderator will ask the small groups to present questions/comments which will be followed by another inner circle discussion. The moderator will announce that the comments will first be collected and then, after a few contributions from the audience, the moderator will read them out in clusters before the inner circle starts the next round of exchange among the panelists.

Capturing the audience's views can be achieved by using the different methods of a Q&A session: Popcorn Style, Digital List of Speakers, Written Questions/Notes. To read up on these possibilities, please refer to the description of the Q&A in the keynote.

Then the moderator will summarise the questions/comments of the outer circle and will ask the inner circle to discuss the points of another discussion round among themselves. This will not be done in the classic question-and-answer style, the panelists will rather reflect aloud with each other on what has been said - again, be mindful of time (about 10 minutes is appropriate, or a little longer depending on the energy of the discussion). Subsequently, the outer circle will be activated again in group rooms.

Switching between inner and outer circle can occur as often as desired, depending on the length of the format. At the very least, the outer circle should have two opportunities for exchange among themselves and the possibility to enrich the discussion of the inner circle by means of the ideas in the capturing of voices.

An appealing way of closing the format is to have the inner circle formulate a short closing statement before the format officially ends.

Technical tips for the digital fishbowl

  • Design of the inner circle/outer circle group rooms: In order for the panelists to be able to speak among themselves in a protected space during audience activation, they should be assigned to a separate room. Use the drag & drop functionality when creating the room to assign all participants to specific rooms. We recommend having a technical moderator do this while the moderator explains the group exchange. Alternatively, you can use the randomised function to reassign the panelists to their own group room. It is not advisable to use the main room for the undisturbed panel exchange, as the panelists will not be on their own there - after all, the moderator is still present and participants who join spontaneously may also turn up.

  • Guiding questions for the activation of the outer circle: The best way is to briefly write the guiding questions in the chat of the main room into which the participants can continue to peek, even if they are in a group room.

  • Activation of the outer circle: The outer circle is activated several times in small group discussions of about 4-5 people each. It is important to note that a maximum of 8 group rooms can be created. The groups are rearranged each time so you should always plan 1-2 minutes for each group round to allow the participants to introduce themselves briefly, before they enter into the discussion on the topic.

Important: In this format the inner circle always remains by itself in its own group room during the activation of the outer circle!

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