My Country Talks is an international platform for political dialogue. Their matching software sets up one-on-one discussions between people with different political views. With media and NGOs from around the world, they aim to spark conversations and fight polarization.
Mission and Purpose
“My Country Talks helps societies around the world to connect over the issues that divide them. [Their] unique matching algorithm makes it easy for media, nonprofits and governments to fight polarisation, arguably one of the most important issues facing society today. [They] help break people out of their filter bubbles, build empathy, and work to define common values that strengthen democracy - all with just a conversation” .
The goal is to set up a platform where strangers with opposing political views can have one-on-one discussions on common issues . In an age of political polarization and divisiveness, My Country Talks aims to “spark conversations around the world” .
Origins and Development
Founded in 2017 by Zeit ONLINE - online edition of the weekly German paper Die Zeit - my Country Talks is a platform and project composed of various series and events.
The political climate at the time of its foundation was characterized by polarization with the election of Donald Trump as president in the USA, the state of Brexit in Britain  and the lead up to the German Federal Elections. Therefore, the newsroom proposed the following question: “In times of filter bubbles and polarized discourse, how can we restart the conversation across political divides?” 
On May 4, 2017, Zeit ONLINE published a widget on the homepage of its website asking the following question: “May we introduce you to someone?” To outline their political views, the participants answered a brief survey of the following yes-or-no questions:
- “Has Germany accepted too many refugees?
- Should Germany abandon the euro and return to the "Deutsche Mark"?
- Is the West treating Russia fairly?
- Was abandoning nuclear energy the right move?
- Should homosexual couples be allowed to marry?” 
Participants were also asked to share their postal codes.
During summer 2017, 12,000 people had registered. As a result, people were paired to meet with strangers that:
- live within 20 kms of each other
- have different political views 
On June 18, 2017, the first event took place: "Germany Talks" or Deustchland Spricht. In the first edition, 1,200 people across Germany met up in pairs for personal, face-to-face, hour-long political discussions to find common ground between seemingly opposite political views. The event was followed by “100’s of euphoric emails from participants who were thrilled by the opportunity to have an engaging political discussion” . Over three-quarters of the participants provided positive feedback for the following round of events .
After the first edition of "Germany Talks", the Zeit ONLINE newsroom received extensive national and international media attention by organizations and news outlets expressing interest in replicating the project within their countries to encourage discussion and networks that bridge political divides . As the original team of journalists organized workshops with partners from around the world, the event evolved into an international platform that would be applicable and efficient in the context of various countries . This was followed by a continuation of the Germany Talks series on a national level.
Summer 2018 marked the launch of the software and project called My Country Talks, “which today is a tool that newsrooms, governments, civil society organizations or NGOs can use to start one-on-one discussions in their countries” . As of 2020, “it has been used in more than 10 countries for national events” .
Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding
The tool is financed partly by Google  “and all partners are working on the project in [...] honorary capacity” .
The founding team is made of the editor-in-chief of ZEIT ONLINE, Jochen Wegner, along with editors:
- Maria Exner (Editor-in-Chief of ZEIT Magazin)
- Philip Faigle (Special Projects Editor of ZEIT ONLINE)
- Sebastian Horn (Deputy Editor in Chief of ZEIT ONLINE) 
The team includes:
- Hanna Israel (Project Lead)
- Sara Cooper (Technical Project Manager)
- Ulrike Zimmerman (Project Manager) 
The website has a “General Terms and Conditions” document that outlines all agreements for “the Good Conversations gGmbH and Organisations (“Partner” or “Partners”) that apply and register for an event under the “My Country Talks” platform. (“Event” or “MCT Event”)” .
Satisfying the requirements allows independent media organisations, non-profit organisations or other public interest organisations to become a Partner that can apply to organize an Event with My Country Talks .
Partners and Sponsors
My Country Talks is funded by the Federal Foreign Office (foreign ministry of Germany), European Cultural Foundation (Netherlands-based), Allianz Kulturstiftung (for Europe) and Foundation Hippocrene (for Europe) .
The program was made possible by the collaboration between Zeit ONLINE and European media organizations. As of October 2021, the following are partners of My Country Talks: Daily Mirror (Britain), Republik (Switzerland), Delfi (Estonia and Latvia), Efimerida ton Syntakton (Greece), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), Politiken (Denmark), la Repubblica (Italy), Der Standard (Austria), Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), Arte (France and Germany), HuffPost (USA) bTV Media Group (Bulgaria), LRT.lt (Lithuania), Knack (Belgium), NRK (Norway) . The City University of New York and the Robert Bosch Foundation were also involved in the project , however, their role 2019 and onward is unclear.
The first edition of Europe Talks, taking place in 2019, was supported by 17 European media organizations across Europe: bTV Media Group (Bulgaria), Calea Europeana (Romania), Delfi (Estonia and Latvia), De Volkskrant (the Netherlands), Der Standard (Austria), Efimerida Ton Syntakton (Greece), Expresso (Portugal), France24 (France), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), HotNews (Romania), Kapital (Slovakia), La Repubblica (Italy), LRT.lt (Lithuania), Mirror (Great Britain), Phoenix (Germany), Politiken (Denmark), Republik (Switzerland) .
Europe Talks 2019 was sponsored by the aforementioned sponsors of My Country Talks: Federal Foreign Office (due to the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2020 ) European Cultural Foundation and Allianz Kulturstiftung. The sponsors also include Stiftung Mercator, the Evans Foundation, Interrail and Centre for Fine Arts Brussels  as well as the partnership with the Goethe Institute .
Meanwhile, Europe Talks 2020 had 24 sponsors .
Specializations, Methods and Tools
On September 28, 2021, an online seminar by Sara Cooper, Technical Project Lead, My Country Talks, and Zeit ONLINE was presented on the International News Media Association (INMA). The webinar was titled “Driving an Innovative Culture in Media to Stay Relevant: Die Zeit's My Country Talks” and they delved into details along with technicalities of their platform . They concluded that “Die Zeit's unique matching algorithm makes it easy for media to fight polarisation, arguably one of the most important issues facing society today” .
Software and its Methods
My Country Talks’ software around strategy and design was developed by diesdas.digital - a Berlin-based agency - which describes itself as “the digital-default brand and product studio for leading brands with attitude” . They worked in collaboration with a European group of media organizations: Morgenbladet (Norway), La Repubblica (Italy) and Der Standard (Austria) .
With the platform of My Country Talks, “news organisations [are] able to set up their own projects [through] a widget with questions for them to embed, as well as take care of the algorithmic matching, communication and event organisation aspects” . This is done through the “Become a Partner” or “Host an Event” option on the website of My Country Talks .
The matching algorithm is tagged “Tinder for Politics” . Based on the participants' answers to simple yes-or-no questions on up-to-date political issues, participants are paired with a partner with whom they share vastly different opinions. In the initial stages of the platform, the partners were also chosen from those living within close proximity. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic the events are being facilitated on digital platforms and the emphasis on location of participants has changed .
Major Projects and Events
In 2018, the year after the first edition of Germany Talks, several more events were organized on the national level, with the intention of achieving visibility and awareness from the public .
For the second Germany Talks event, about 20,000 people had registered within only a month . Major developments were made after the first edition. For example, the team invited “experts on polarization to analyse the current atmosphere for political discussion in the country”  and German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier headed the conference . After 13 My Country Talks national events, the team carried the project across borders.
In May 2019, Europe Talks was created. My Country Talks evolved into a “pan-European experiment” , in which “thousands of participants from across the continent [...] meet for one-on-one conversations to discuss issues that matter to all Europeans” .
- Europe Talks 2019: The first event of the series took place on May 11 as Zeit ONLINE team partnered with 17 European media partners and involved more than 16,200 participants across 33 countries .
- Europe Talks 2020: The second event of the series was held on December 13 with 24 partners and 12,460 participants from 34 countries .
- Europe Talks 2021: The third event took place in October 2021 .
Between 2019-21, My Country Talks organized a record number of events across Europe .
Germany Talks during the Coronavirus Pandemic
On May 10, 2020, another Germany Talks event was organized. 6,500 participants met to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and measures against it - for the first time, via video call. The event was in cooperation with German news outlets: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Schwäbische Zeitung, the Rheinische Post, Chrismon and evangelisch.de .
My Country Talks “joined the #ListenFirst coalition of over 300 organizations to develop America Talks, a full-scale, nation-wide event that [took] place as part of the National Week of Conversation” . The partners were USA Today and the USA Today Network, which also promoted participation in the event to its readers across 46 states. Other partners included Yahoo News, AllSides, The Fulcrum and WITF; one of the organizers was Pearce Godwin, founder and CEO of Listen First Project .
On June 12-13, 2021, the first America Talks event was held with over 500 participants. On September 20, 2021, America Talks hosted another event to discuss the “impact of infrastructure [...] and explore what [...] representatives in government should do about it”  so that results can be shared with Congress.
My City Talks
On July 4, 2021, the first My City Talks event took place in Marburg. The “hyperlocal format was created to help people fight polarisation in their city, and bring local government and journalists into conversation with citizens about issues that affect their day-to-day lives” . It was launched on May 17 by the University of Marburg, in cooperation with the Oberhessische Press as well as nonprofit organizations and local community groups . Dr. Thomas Spies, Mayor of Marburg, initiated the event .
Individual events 
- Britain Talks
- June 23, 2019 and June 19, 2021
- Nederland in gesprek
- "The Netherlands Talks"
- November 3, 2020 and March 21, 2021
- Sverige Möts
- "Sweden Talks"
- November 23, 2019
- Uennige Sammen
- "Denmark Talks"
- June 2, 2019
- Hele Norge snakker
- "Norway Talks"
- May 25, 2019
- L'Italia si parla
- "Italy Talks"
- June 10, 2018 and May 11, 2019
- Het grote gelijk
- "Belgium Talks"
- May 4, 2019
- Suomi puhuu
- "Finland Talks"
- March 30, 2019
- Die Schweiz spricht
- "Switzerland Talks"
- October 21, 2018
- Österreich Spricht
- "Austria Talks"
- October 13, 2018 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
By the end of 2021, My Country Talks had more than 200,000 participants from over 30 countries. It has received the following awards: the Jean Monnet Prize for European Integration, the Grimme Online Award, the IPRA President's Award and the Nannen Prize .
Goals of My Country Talks
International attention: The program gained international attention and acclaim; therefore, other countries also adopted the format. In 2018-19, similar programs were held in Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, and Britain . A major example was on June 10, 2018, when La Repubblica and HuffPost Italia hosted a similar event in La Repubblica's festival located in Bologna , which was followed by further events to build up on the initial test.
Open debate: “The ultimate goal is a less polarized debate and a less polarized, more open, and plural public”  where people can engage in meaningful discussion on the same topic. Surveys conducted after discussions provide insight into participants changing some of their opinions, being convinced by their partner and answering the same questions differently due to the discussions .
Respect and safety: To enable a respectful, natural, and troll-free atmosphere, the team did advance background checks on participants .
Networking: As the team worked for the inclusion of different voices, there were many stories of networking and friendship-building between participants.
Making an impact: The goal was not to impact governmental decision making or advocate for certain stances by working directly with the government. Instead, the team of journalists found the solution in acting as the “neutral [and] polite hosts you can trust not to use your data” .
Receiving and acting on feedback: The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Based on the suggestions received, most of the events made adjustments for the rest of the series or the following events.
Positivity: The following are the results of a survey after a My Country Talks event:
- “80% of participants on average say they were happy with their conversation
- 60% of participants on average say they intend to stay in touch with their conversation partner after the event ends
- 90% of participants on average give the feedback that they look forward to participating in another MCT event” 
- "General Terms and Conditions for the Organization of a My Country Talks-Event": https://www.mycountrytalks.org/uploads/Terms-of-Service-My-Country-Talks.pdf
Social Media accounts of My Country Talks:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/mycountrytalks
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mycountrytalks/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/countrytalks
- YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCH_560Y9-hGLMW53BiDZPUw
About My Country Talks:
- Monthly newsletter: https://www.mycountrytalks.org/events/contact
- Medium Website: https://mycountrytalks.medium.com
- Ted Talks profile of John Wegner, Editor in Chief of Zeit ONLINE: https://www.ted.com/speakers/jochen_wegner
Documents by My Country Talks:
- Terms of Service and DPA (General Terms and Conditions for the Organization of an My Country Talks-Event): https://www.mycountrytalks.org/terms-of-service
- Impressum Good Conversations: https://www.mycountrytalks.org/imprint
- Updates on My Country Talks: https://linktr.ee/mycountrytalks
- Responsibilities and Experience of “Project Lead for My Country Talks”: https://zeit-verlagsgruppe.softgarden.io/job/6777281?l=de
Articles about My Country Talks:
- Financial Times article: https://ig.ft.com/europe-talks/
- Article by the website of Goethe Institute - a sponsor: https://www.goethe.de/en/kul/ges/21497299.html
- Scientific study about My Country Talks: https://www.zeit.de/wissen/2019-08/armin-falk-germany-talks-behaviour-research-english
- Interview published on My Country Talks: https://mycountrytalks.medium.com/an-interview-with-david-broockman-1283c80e65c5