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Citizens' space debate: the main findings and the future
by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Nov 29, 2016

The Citizens' Debate on Space for Europe was the first consultation organised in every one of the 22 ESA Member States. More than 1600 citizens, selected to reflect the socio-demographic diversity of their country, debated space issues during a day-long meeting. ESA organised this debate because it intends to involve new participants to develop its future orientation and nurture its strategy. It is crucial to the Agency to involve more actors, especially citizens, in choices that will respond to societal challenges, put space at their service and affect coming generations through space innovation, exploration and international cooperation. Image courtesy Janneke Vader.

On 10 September, about 2000 Europeans helped to shape the future of space by taking part in a world first: the Citizens' Debate on Space for Europe. ESA organised the event to gather opinions and ideas to help develop and nurture the future strategy for space in Europe.

When Jan Woerner was elected as Director General of ESA by its Member States he expressed the wish to boost dialogue with all stakeholders and to open up space to a broader public. This Citizens' Debate translated his intention into practice, by including people from all walks of life around Europe.

About 2000 people representing a broad diversity of citizens in 22 countries debated space issues during the day-long event. This consultation exercise, on an unprecedented scale, was organised in all ESA Member States simultaneously, following the same approach.

In order to consolidate the 22 national results into one report at European level, the debates followed the same pattern and addressed the same questions. Although quantitative results were available soon after the debate, it required more time to analyse the qualitative results - in particular the creative session where participants were asked to imagine a space project for 2046 and 200 scenarios were proposed.

An entire day on space issues
Five sessions on "Space and me", "Europe's role in space exploration and exploitation", "The global governance of space", "Let's go into space" and "Preparing the future of space for Europe" were each opened with a video before the debates. Participants then answered a set of standardised questions on each theme.

At the end, feedback from participants revealed a 92% rate of satisfaction with the exercise, and 95% considered that ESA should organise similar events in the future.

Notable results
+ 96% think space is a universe of possibilities and opportunities;

+ 94% have full or a high level of trust in European space agencies;

+ 84% have full or a high level of trust in space agencies in general.

Thinking outside the box
+ 84% think space should be protected from polluting and potentially harmful human activities;

+ 84% consider ESA should accelerate the opening up of space programmes and space activities to non-space traditional actors (such as non-governmental organisations, start-ups specialised in new services on mobile devices and Internet-connected objects, citizens, clubs, artists, schools and universities);

+ 89% would be in favour of giving citizens the possibility of contributing to space programmes on a voluntary basis.

Divided opinions
+ 69% consider ESA should develop specific programmes to improve security, while 16% consider it should not develop programmes in the security sector;

+ For exploiting natural resources: + 80% consider it would be acceptable for international institutions to exploit natural resources such as raw materials and energy, without claiming ownership;

+ 39% consider that governments should be able to exploit resources, while 47% think that they should not;

+ 37% say the private sector should be able to exploit resources from space, while 49% state that they should not;

+ 53% say private-public partnerships should exploit resources from space, while 32% state they should not.

According to the Space 4.0 strategy of ESA Director General Jan Woerner, it is crucial for the Agency to involve more actors, especially citizens and in particular member state taxpayers and end-users, in considering responses to societal challenges. Space is put at their service and can positively affect current and future generations through innovation, exploration and international cooperation.

The Citizens' Debate results are available online in the 17 languages of the debate at: citizensdebate.space

A summary of the main recommendations from participants:
+ Be global. Participants see themselves as citizens of the world and as humanity, believing that space should address societal challenges (including environmental issues). Space is a common good for humanity.

+ Be environmentally conscious, protect space. Space should be kept clean, space debris removed, and protected for future generations.

+ Be innovative. Space exploration benefits our daily lives and the future of humanity. A first step should be to return to the Moon, as proposed with the Moon Village concept.

+ Communicate and be interactive. ESA should continue the dialogue with citizens and all stakeholders (including other space agencies), share information (involving the ESA Digital Agenda for Space), develop communication and marketing actions, and conceive, build and implement large and inspirational missions that involve the public.

What now?

The Director General will use the strong messages of the debate participants in shaping the Agency's future space activities and also to continue the dialogue with stakeholders. He stresses that the opinions expressed by participants will be taken into account in his discussions at ESA's Ministerial Council in Lucerne, on 1-2 December.

Replica Debates
To continue the dialogue, ESA encourages its member state citizens to organise 'replica debates'. These may take place in schools, classes, clubs, associations and other similar places.

The required materials can be downloaded at citizensdebate.space. Videos, presentations and the Citizens' Debate magazine are available in 17 languages and can be used to organise citizens' own debates, or simply as information material.

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