BCS SPA Software in Practice

24th – 26th June 2019

Book your place now


Could you run the perfect SPA session?

A fishbowl discussion to try and find how to run a great SPA session by looking at what people want and what people have done in the past

75 minutes


The beauty of the SPA Software in Practice conference is the mixture of brand new attendees and more seasoned SPA participants. We should leverage this opportunity to find out what people think would make a perfectly facilitated session at SPA - listening to ideas from those having a new experience, sharing ideas of those that have run sessions and hearing about the real-world benefits people have seen from running a session at the conference.

We'll start with a brief introduction about sessions at SPA and why the interactivity, community and diverse programme set them apart from all other conference sessions. We'll share some general facilitation, storytelling and preparation tips before talking about our experience of running a session in 2012. We can then explore how that session has had a larger impact in the last 5 years, hoping to discover why that is.

The majority of the time will be spent with a group discussion using the popular (and SPA favourite) "fishbowl" format. This provides a safe space for anyone in the group to contribute to the discussion while ensuring the topics are steered in a valuable direction. We hope this will attract a diverse set of opinions/ideas from the various groups in attendance (new attendees, regular attendees, potential new session presenters, seasoned session presenters).

The main topics for the structured discussion might include; aspects people have enjoyed about sessions at SPA, ideas from other conferences or communities, experiences in running a session at SPA, useful feedback from running sessions previously, how sessions have been used after the conference.

Our objectives are to create a basic knowledge base of ideas, tips and instructions on how to run a great session for SPA. This could then be used to inspire future presenters to get involved, or a way to help any presenter get the most out of their session. We're also keen on sharing our own experiences as we've had such a positive experience from running sessions at SPA and think others could benefit too.

Audience background

Any background.

Benefits of participating

Participants will learn all about great SPA sessions and how to facilitate them in the future, plus gain an understanding of what people want from a session. This will hopefully inspire some to facilitate their own session next year, and for those that had a plan to already, to help improve their session.

Participation also gives people the opportunity to share ideas and feedback, and influence the success of future conference for themselves and others.

Materials provided

Participants won't need anything, we'll take notes of the discussion on the flipcharts and provide the slides for future reference.


To start, a presentation from the two speakers plus perhaps a short experience report from a regular SPA speaker.

The main course will be the fishbowl discussion, seeded with experienced SPA speakers and the session speakers themselves. The facilitator will ensure that quiet is kept and that there is always a spare chair for people to come and join the conversation. The facilitator will have a pre-defined list of topics to ensure they can keep the discussion flowing, but the discussion should take the shape it needs to with the people present. There will be a brief summary of the discussion points at the end.

Detailed timetable

00:00 - 00:05 Introduction presentation
00:05 - 00:15 Experience report from the speakers
00:15 - 00:20 Presentation on general storytelling, facilitation and presenting techniques
00:20 - 00:30 Experience report from a guest (optional)
00:30 - 01:10 Fishbowl discussion
01:10 - 01:15 Summary and close


A web page, perhaps on the SPA Conference website now it's in GitHub, that can be contributed to in the future.

Sharing of the immediate summary on Twitter etc.


  1. Paul Shannon
    eLife Sciences Publications Ltd
  2. Hibri Marzook