Over the course of two days, 10,000 people gathered in Paide for the sixth Opinion Festival, taking part in 160 discussions spread across four areas. This year, communication culture and participatory democracy were the key themes running through the whole festival. Participants found that one of the prerequisites for a meaningful discussion is listening to each other and backing up your argument. Photos from the festival are available here.
According to the head organizer of the festival, Maiu Lauring, the opinion festival format has been well-received in Estonia. “The festival welcomes people who have high hopes for the discussions and who come here to listen to specific topics. As well as inclusive discussion formats, participants rate content that is well-planned and diverse, and this means that discussion hosts, participants and moderators need to constantly up their game when preparing for the festival,” observed Lauring.
The festival covered a wide variety of topics – following a public call for ideas, the programme included topics that matter most to people living in Estonia, from human resources to fundamental values. Special attention was given to discussion culture and how best to participate in a democracy. One of the key thoughts to come out of the various conversations at the festival was that for democracy to be sustainable, laws and regulations need to be accompanied by shared values. Meanwhile, one of the building blocks of a healthy discussion culture is teaching people communication skills. Recordings of some of the discussions are available here, with more being uploaded soon.
The Respectful Discussion Convention is one of the ways in which the Opinion Festival is trying to build public understanding of what it means to hold a meaningful discussion. Participants who took part in a public poll at the festival found that a fruitful discussion has two main prerequisites: listening to each other and being able to back up your point with evidence. “We believe that something akin to the Respectful Discussion Convention should form the basis for any discussion, whether it takes place at the Opinion Festival or elsewhere,” said Maiu Lauring.
The festival is a collaboration between hundreds of volunteers and discussion organizers. The Opinion Festival is supported by Paide Town Government, Swedbank, the National Foundation of Civil Society, the Union of Järva County Municipalities, the European Commission, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, Telia, Ergo, Eesti Töötukassa (the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund) and the Cultural Endowment of Estonia.
The Opinion Festival is deeply grateful to everyone who contributed to the festival! The next festival will take place in Paide on 9 and 10 August 2019.