New project aims to get Czechs with differing views talking – offline

“The Czech Republic Talks” is the name of a new project seeking to match up people with very different political views – and get them to speak face to face. But how successful has the project, run by the government’s Hate Free Culture agency, been so far? I asked organiser Bohdana Rambousková.

Bohdana Rambousková | Photo: ČT24

“The idea behind The Czech Republic Talks is to bring together people with opposing opinions and world views and make them talk and, what’s even more important, make them listen to each other.

“We feel that due to the severe polarisation of Czech society and due to social networks, whose algorithms lock us into echo chambers, we have lost opportunities to discuss things with people who have different views, who have different opinions.

“And therefore we wanted to initiate face to face talks.”

How do you select people to take part in these face to face talks?

Project “The Czech Republic Talks” | Source: HateFree Culture

“We had seven media partners, and on their websites we displayed a set of nine questions.

“We selected questions on topics which polarise Czech society. Readers of these websites simply answered the questions.

“And based on their answers we used a special algorithm to put together couples with very different opinions – and living within 30 kilometres of each other.”

So far how has it gone? How have the meetings actually been in reality?

“We had an absolutely wonderful response regarding the questions: we got answers from 6,000 people.

“Then more than 3,000 people went through all the registration process and proceeded to the matching phase – and we managed to create 1,470 couples.

Project “The Czech Republic Talks” | Source: HateFree Culture

“Then unfortunately problems started, because many people were apparently not very happy with the discussion partner that we chose for them.

“So only 210 couples were created where both partners agreed on meeting each other.”

I hate to say this, but doesn’t the fact that the number who actually met was so small show that it isn’t working, that people don’t want to really have dialogue?

“I think we cannot say that so strictly, because it’s the first year of this experiment in the Czech Republic.

“So we feel that many people who were answering the questions didn’t really know what they were registering for.

Project “The Czech Republic Talks” | Source: HateFree Culture

“But of course there were several struggles.

“I think that one of the most surprising outcomes for us is that many people didn’t want to meet a person from a different generation, who is for example from the generation of my kids – and I don’t want to meet someone who is so young; there is nothing to discuss with such young people.”

And what kind of feedback did the hundreds of people who actually did meet people with differing opinions give you?

“There are not many people who actually meet and we know about them.

Project “The Czech Republic Talks” | Source:  HateFree Culture

“But the feedback from them is very nice.

“Average duration of conversations is 119 minutes. That’s absolutely wonderful.

“The longest meeting took four and a half hours, and no-one spent less than one hour together.

“So we were quite successful in terms of the number of people who actually met – but hugely successful in the time they spent together and in the number of issues they managed to discuss.”