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In times of distrust Democracy Defence Dialogues are needed

Over 500 participants in Finland and in ten other countries took part in Democracy Defence Dialogues this year. Newly published report covers experiences and themes emerging from the discussions.


Hannele Laaksolahti

Senior Lead, Sitra


Democracy Defence Dialogues were organised in response to the concerns over the state of democracy arising from Russia’s war of aggression. The ruthless attack on Ukraine made many people realise that democracy should not be taken for granted but needs everyday nurturing and continuous reform

Democracy Defence Dialogues took place in April and June 2022. 62 organizers ranging from municipalities to NGOs and from civic activists to business enterprises carried out a total of 71 discussion sessions.

– We succeeded in our goal as eight out of ten participants in the Democracy Defence Dialogues represented actors other than those usual stakeholders in the field of democracy development. More than 90% of the organizers underlined need for these kinds of citizen dialogues also in the future, says Kai Alhanen, one of the authors of the report.

Timeout model reaching new heights

The discussions were organised using Timeout model. Timeout is a social innovation developed in Finland: an open-source model, which consists of tools and guidelines for facilitating constructive dialogues.

In Finland, already 350 organisations use the Timeout model in their work and 65 000 people have participated in Timeout dialogues.

– Democracy Defence Dialogues also offered a possibility to expand the Finnish dialogue movement internationally and to test how the discussion script and operating model work in international context, says Hannele Laaksolahti, Leading Specialist at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund.

Organizers of the Democracy Defence Dialogues were provided discussion script, guidelines and introduction to Timeout model. These materials are openly available at and can be utilised by anyone willing to arrange a dialogue on democracy also in the future.

Dialogue participants’ insights on democracy

The discussions highlighted that democracy has different meanings in people’s lives and is connected to feelings of security and freedom, experiences of participation, and different ways of social influencing.

Democracy was illuminated in the dialogues from numerous different perspectives, ranging from personal experiences to the great political issues of our time. The dialogues showed that almost every individual and community can find points of reference for strengthening a democratic society in their own activities.

The discussions focused on what democracy itself means to each person, how it is realized in the everyday lives of different people, what threatens democracy and what we can do together to defend democracy locally, nationally and globally.

For those who participated in the discussions, democracy basically meant positive things: security, participation and being heard, voting and influencing, freedom and the rule of the majority. The concerns related to the state of democracy identified in the dialogues were misinformation, passivity of citizens, distance from decision-making, crisis situations, the power of money in politics and lack of trust and confrontations.

While the citizens had concerns about the state of democracy, they also found everyday ways to strengthen trust, increase inclusion and face differences. The records of the discussions show that numerous social actors and individuals embraced a new way of seeing their own role as a democratic actors.

Inviting global audience to participate

Democracy Defence Dialogues became part of national crisis resilience development in a situation where a global pandemic was followed by a large-scale security crisis.

Dialogues were held in seven languages and organised in 11 different countries including Estonia, United Kingdom, Japan, and Nepal. For many, a dialogue, or constructive discussion, is a novel, but a welcomed approach.

– You can only build trust when people truly feel that they are being heard. In Estonia, even more than in Finland, we’re likely to think that “let those speak who have always spoken”. And this is exactly the reason why this chance was important for us. After the discussion everyone felt that these kinds of dialogues are needed, explain the co-organisers from Finnish Institute of Estonia, National Library of Estonia and The Estonian Cooperation Assembly.

The dialogues offered a platform for citizens to come together to discuss their experiences and views on democracy in a constructive way. Coming together, listening to others and thinking deeply about common issues is part of democratic way of life. Above all, the dialogues produced valuable experiential information about how citizens in different parts of Finland and in other parts of the world attach themselves to democracy.

– For most Japanese, political issues are hard to discuss. They are even a taboo in our daily life. The dialogue gave us a great opportunity to think about democracy and realize it’s closely related to our daily events say organisers from Association of Learn to Support Through Dialogue in Okayama.

A democratic society moves forward and develops. The more comprehensively we can include different kinds of people and different voices in the discussion, the better means we have for defending democracy now and in the future.

Democracy Defence Dialogues is one of the applications under the recently launched National Dialogue model developed in Finland. The purpose of National Dialogues is to learn from citizens’ experiences and gain understanding and up-to-date information on societal phenomena, challenges and opportunities.

Read more: Democracy Defence Dialogues – We are all responsible for strengthening democracy

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