At a glance

Zeit Online
June 2017 - ongoing

In response to increasingly polarized politics and concerns growing about people living in political echo chambers, German news site Zeit Online has been running the pilot project My Country Talks. The aim of this project is to bring together people who live near each other but have different political views to respectfully discuss them to improve the quality of public discourse.1

What was it trying to solve?

In the lead up to the German Federal Elections in September 2017, the online branch of German newspaper Die Zeit, Zeit Online, wanted to address concerns about the quality of public debate. They set up My Country Talks to bring people together who disagree on important issues and might otherwise not get to meaningfully explore where they disagree and why.

A deputy-editor-in-chief, Maria Exner said “We wanted a way to make sure we could bring together people who think differently about things that happen in politics and in society, so that they would still be able to talk to each other, and not just turn their backs on each other or scream at each other on Twitter.”2

What was the process?

Zeit Online recruited people to take part in My Country Talks through a short yes/no survey focussing on divisive issues such as relations with Russia or the number of refugees Germany takes in, which was completed by 12,000 people. From this group, 600 pairs were matched to discuss their differing views, explore and understand the reasoning behind them.3 Over three-quarters of those involved gave positive feedback and suggestions for how it could improve so the organisers ran a second round of discussions. The second time, 20,000 people registered within a month, demonstrating the popularity of the idea.

What was the impact?

The model was evaluated to have been successful based on the feedback from participants. Whilst not aiming to directly impact certain policies, it worked towards a less polarized public debate where people communicated their views in respectful and more productive ways. The process gained international attention with a similar process being run in Bologna, Italy.4 There are also similar process planned in Switzerland, Norway, Austria and Denmark.5