Łódź consultation chronicle. Who’s afraid of public consultations?

Last Saturday of September 2019. A sunny and crispy morning starts very busily for the team involved in CONCISE. Everything must be ready by 8:00 AM.

The first invited guests appear in the buildings of the Faculty of Economics and Sociology of the University of Łódź. Some are hesitantly crossing university thresholds: they have never been to this building or even to Łódź before. The younger are looking around interestingly – who knows, maybe in less than two years, they will start studying here?

So let’s take a closer look at the arriving guests.

They are already queuing for registration. They must sign the attendance list, fill out several forms (including a consent to be video filmed). The youngest is 6 years old. They will not discuss at the tables – they came because their parents decided to join the consultation and took advantage of the opportunity to bring their children with them. The Ph.D. students will look after the children, and we have planned a cinema for them as one of the attractions. Such a transformation of a lecture hall into a cinema was possible due to the equipment available, i.e. a projector, screen, blinds on the windows. Later – after lunch – they will play board games, puns, and draws. Maybe we will meet with them again during lectures when they become students of our university?

Let’s return to the actual participants of the consultation, i.e. those who sat at the tables and discussed the sources and channels of gaining scientific knowledge (using the examples of climate change, vaccines, alternative medicine, and GMO). The youngest participants recently celebrated their eighteenth birthdays, and the oldest turned 84. Some participants had basic education, others completed their Master studies, some were continuing their education even further.

Participants included residents of both: large cities (Warsaw inhabited by 1.8 million people, Kraków or Poznań) and tiny villages where everyone knows each other – for example, as small as 75 inhabitants. They came to Łódź from various regions of Poland – some of them live in such distant regions of the country that if they wanted to travel by car, the journey would take them 8 hours (they would travel nearly 700 km), 9 hours by train (provided that they would like to change trains 4 times) or 35 hours by bike. Among the participants of the consultation, one could find also those who do not speak Polish at home but use the Silesian or Kashubian languages.

Some of the participants spend a few hours a day surfing the internet on their computers, iPods or smartphones, others have never had any contact with internet content, but are happy to watch TV. Some don’t even have a TV. Not everyone reads traditional newspapers. Even eating habits differentiate them. Wheter they are meat eaters, vegetarians or vegans – they will all be served with their prefferred food for lunch.

Probably many of the participants would not have a chance to meet each other in their daily lives – not only because of geographical distance, but also because of a different lifestyle. Meanwhile, they met in Łódź and are to spend nearly 8 hours with each other. What will it be like? How will the different people talk to each other? Especially on topics that may be controversial?

A few hours later we know. Evaluation surveys show that the consultation was a positive and interesting experience for the participants – they emphasized the friendly atmosphere, the involvement of participants and moderators of the discussions at the tables and the efficient organization of the event. Facilitators confirm – participants eagerly talked to each other, shared opinions and experiences, and asked themselves questions. They were curious about each other and the project that gathered them together.

Some time has passed since this September Saturday. And we, the organizers, are still impressed by the participants’ contribution to the success of Polish consultations. Thank you to everyone for your time, openness and willingness to talk. In this way, we obtained rich research material. But we have gained also something else – a proof that we can sit at one table with people different from us and share opinions, discuss and even argue in a constructive and friendly way.

Aneta Krzewińska