5. Foster a culture of debate
In every functioning democracy, different opinions and experiences are bound to connect and conflict with one another. In both cases, it is important to foster a culture of debate in which people are invited to express their opinions and get a sense that they are being heard. As already mentioned, our goal is to reach different people in their everyday environments by means of contact to different organisations and facilities. Our ultimate goal is to be able to cover the largest breadth of opinions and backgrounds as possible.
WANTED: A diversity of opinions and experiences
In our experience, the most vibrant discussions arise when people from different social backgrounds and age groups encounter one another. Cross-generational debates between students and seniors, in particular, often had a significant learning impact on all participants. From the very beginning of each event (even during the invitation phase), we made it clear that people who have critical opinions of Europe should not feel they have to stay away from the debate – on the contrary! By emphasising this point, we increase the possibility of reaching the most diverse group of participants possible. One factor that should not be underestimated in discussions is emotionality. This element should be mentioned already during the introductions at the beginning of the debate. The idea is to move away from a purely economic approach to the EU – and bureaucratic things like the officially permitted curvature of cucumbers – towards more personal experiences and interests in Europe. The discussion should flow as freely as possible. Keywords, rounds of catchphrases and thematic blocks can provide a helpful framework. If the debate is going nowhere or heading for a dead end, our experience has shown that it is helpful to start up again and focus on a completely different thematic area.
One of the things participants always give us positive feedback on – and therefore one of our most important interim conclusions – is the idea of not appearing preachy or didactic, but instead to meet people at eye level and take seriously all opinions and contributions to the discussion. These elements are important prerequisites for a well-functioning debate and discussion culture. Participants repeatedly express a desire to continue the discussion after a certain time break, so as to be able to reflect together on current developments. This shows that people do indeed value a productive and respectful culture of debate.