Time to move from Polarization to Participation

21 January 2022

It is with relief, happiness and gratitude that after having crashed we bring this site on line again. Gratitude goes to all the volunteers who have labored to restore visibility to this civil society initiative. Actually, it started just about ten years ago. With this perspective, let’s share some broader observations:

A lot of people across the world are fed up with their Leaders / Governments, or at least some parts of them. The reasons for this dissatisfaction are surely many. In some countries the leadership is exercised in a vertical manner. The top – most of the time a man – decides and the others have to fall in line, if not they are made to fall. In other situations, the elected leaders forget the people who put them there. Pleasing announcements made without being followed up by implementation is a widespread trigger of such irritation. 

Some time ago a neighbor and I stopped to chat on the pavement of our street, I was on my way home after some hours of campaigning for a public cause. When I asked him what and if he was going to vote, it poured out of him: No, he was never voting, the double standard in public life had disgusted him. He would try to be nice to people in his vicinity, not more – this poured out of him at length, with some passion. 


This episode made me think of a good friend who came to Switzerland decades ago as a political refugee. Despite of two degrees in his pocket he had to begin rebuilding his life as a night watchman and taxi driver. Later came the time when his City of residence ruled that foreign nationals were eligible for the Municipal Parliament. He got elected on the first round and he commented: “Now I belong, because I can contribute…” He eventually continued his professional life as a valued expert of the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs. 

So, the question is, what brings the shift from dissent, then disgust and fear to engagement and belonging? By the two instances mentioned above, there is an element of personal perspective and choice. How does this play out on the larger scale of society?  


At the level of organized civil society, I knew some leaders from European countries. Repeatedly we were seeing situations that were blocked. Instead of issues being addressed, these were only being used for polarizing debates. We were wondering if there was a way to address these pending issues to achieve an improved common good. This was the start of what became the INGO Dialogue methodology, which is the content of this very website. 

This process has been tested, or given for testing in places like the greater Paris region, Tunisia, The Hague and Stockholm. The field work has shown that the shift from dissent, then disgust and fear to engagement and belonging can occur not only on a person’s own journey but also in a societal setting. With this, a culture of participation can come about. 

Christoph Spreng

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