Sunday, September 11, 2016

ESA Citizen's Debate 2016

Yesterday, on Saturday, 10th September 2016, I took part in the first ever Citizen's Debate about space related stuff organized by ESA, the European Space Agency. This debate took place in all of the 22 member countries of ESA.

Each country had up to 100 people participating in the debate. Since I'm Czech and live in the Czech Republic, I was at Prague, the capital of Czech Republic. The Prague debate was organized by the Technology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences and was held at the Masaryk dormitory. In order to be able to participate in the debate, one had to apply for it through a web form where he or she stated, among other information, some demographic data - age, job, region of residence, etc. The debate organizers then selected from the pople who applied to cover the broadest part of the demographic spectrum as possible. I think this was successful as I have seen people of all genders, ages, shapes and sizes :).

The goal of the debate was for ESA to get a glimpse at what ordinary people think and feel about space in general and about ESA and what it is doing. The organisation of the debate was following. The people were divided into small groups of about 8 people (at least in Prague) who were sitting around a table and debating the topics. The debate was divided into 5 distinct parts, called sequences. Each sequence was dedicated to some topic. For each sequence, each participant received a questionaire with a bunch of questions. The people around the table then debated over the questions in the questionaires. More, there were facilitators, people who directed and constrained the small debates to keep on the topic and who also extracted and written down some interesting ideas and opinions that came up in the debates. However, the questionaires were filled individually. In addition to the 5 sequences, there were two more questionaires (at the beginning and at the very end) which were to be filled completely individually, without any discussion.

There were three big topics which were closely watched and written down (the essence of the discussion) by the facilitators. The first one was the issue of space debris and how to handle it. The second big topic was ESA financing. The last one was the future of space exploration in the form of what would we like, if we had the power.

Overall, the debate was interesting and, as Johann-Dietrich Wörner, the Director General of ESA, said, the first ever such debate in the history. ESA said that it would listen to the debate results very closely. The results of the debate (the first data are already coming int) and more info about the whole thing can be found at The materials used in the debate should be available soon for everyone in the "Replica debate" section.