Stinky fish


Stinky Fish focuses on sharing any concerns related to the overall theme.

Also known as

The tool

Asking questions is a useful way to understand new ideas.

By developing a comprehensive list of questions, and then answering them, you can understand the issue you are investigating as fully as possible. By taking time to generate questions, you are likely to consider your issue in more systematic and comprehensive ways than otherwise.

Starbursting can be used iteratively. Once one set of questions has been answered, the answers can be used as prompts to generate a new set of questions.

Why use it

  • The purpose of the Stinky Fish exercise is to create an atmosphere of openness and to “clear the air” within a group.
  • The stinky fish is a metaphor for whatever it is you carry around but don’t like to talk about; however, the longer you hide it, the stinkier it gets.
  • By putting “stinky fish” on the table, participants get more comfortable sharing, and uncover areas for further exploration.

When to use it

  • Stinky fish can be used at any point in the service design journey (or in any other meeting where you want to park negative baggage before you get down to business).

How to use it

This tool can be facilitated for use both face-to-face and online.

  1. Introduce the exercise explaining the purpose is to explore and share individual concerns/worries about the workshop/program theme and begin to confront them.
  2. Give a stinky fish template to each participant and explain the stinky fish metaphor.
    • ‘The stinky fish is the thing that you carry around but don’t like to talk about; but the longer you hide it, the stinkier it gets’.
    • The fish is a metaphor for fear or anxiety; something that will only get worse if you don’t acknowledge and deal with it.’
  3. Give participants 5 minutes to create their personal stinky fish by writing their concerns on the template.
  4. Once all participants have created their own stinky fish, get participants to share one at a time, for 30-60 seconds each, what they have written. Continue until all participants have shared.
  5. You may wish to display all the stinky fish up on the wall. It can be useful to come back to them later to refer back to some of the fears and anxieties which were brought up previously.
  6. Conclude the exercise by thanking participants, reminding them that worrying about challenges or about the future is completely normal during times of change, and explaining that “putting fish on the table” is an important first step to confronting and dealing with concerns and worries.
  7. If the concerns raised tie in to the session’s agenda, you may wish to say elements of the workshop/program will offer the chance to further explore some of these stinky fish.



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