I first encountered the fishbowl model in a conference at which I presented in undergrad. One of the sessions at that conference was strikingly different than most traditional conference presentations. Chairs were arranged, not in rows, but in a large circle, with a number of aisles to the center remaining open. The presenters were quite deliberately spaced out, about evenly around the 25-or-so chairs in the center ring, and they were explaining their set-up as we entered:
"Come join us! We hope to have an active discussion, and we'll be calling on those people around the center of the room to contribute. If you'd like to participate less actively, please feel free to take one of the seats outside of the center ring--but know if you sit in the 'fishbowl' here in the middle, you'll be watched by everyone outside the bowl."And it was true--the "presenters" served as facilitators, conversing with other participants in the center ring and leading the discussion by setting the tone. People in the center changed around, too--as they felt they had said their piece, some got up and moved back a few rows, freeing up seats in the center for others who wanted to come forward and speak. For the majority, who came more to listen to the presenters and the ideas than to advance a position of their own, it was information design at the very best; they could sit outside the center ring and absorb the scene in the middle, quite literally gazing into the fishbowl and watching the fish.
I've been looking forward to repeating the experience from the center of the fishbowl, and it looks like I've gotten a chance! The Hack Library School Conversation Starter at ALA annual will be fishbowl-style, so come hang out and join the conversation!