Interview with Huub Mudde, Project Coordinator of Maastricht Debates
March 5, 2007 2 Comments
Maastricht Debates is a new project in Maastricht aiming at organising debates once a month on issues of international cooperation and globalisation. With two events under the belt, project coordinator Huub Mudde offers insight on the progress so far.
Bringing together ideas that were already in the air…
Maastricht Debates was first conceived two years ago when Huub Mudde and the Dutch chapter of the Society for International Development (SID) started exploring the possibility to organise English debates for students in the very international city of Maastricht. But they knew they needed more to move forward on this new idea. The Maastricht-based European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) was also interested in the project but organising debates in the Netherlands isn’t really part of their mandate. Meanwhile, the Municipality of Maastricht was also looking for ways to be more hospitable to international institutes and foreign students in this ‘European city’. But the local government alone didn’t have the financial means to set something up.
For his part, Mudde already had 15 years of experience working in the field on international cooperation and globalisation. For seven of those years he was the coordinator of Euforic, a Maastricht-based European organisation which “aims to be an open and highly valued information and communication resource for people and institutions engaged in international cooperation and development”. Sounds like the perfect background for coordinating a new Maastricht project. “I wanted to bring people together. I’m a matchmaker,” explains Mudde, who subsequently reached out to his strong network to make the ball start rolling.
Is there a market for debates in Maastricht?
Mudde wanted to bring a lively participatory learning style into public events. “In Maastricht we’re missing this type of intellectual debate where people can really think through international cooperation and globalisation issues.” This style is in line with the special Problem-Based Learning (PBL) that the University of Maastricht (UM) specialises in. PBL is a unique educational system where students analyse real-life problems in small groups and come up with solutions together.
Just over a year ago Mudde and three UM academics came together to elaborate on the plan, and common ground was found for moving it forward. This group evolved into the current small organising committee. This core group liaises informally and comes to decisions through consensus.
Finally in September 2006, the various interested groups came together and signed an agreement launching the Maastricht Debates initiative. The collaboration unites the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands Chapter of SID, Europe-open and ECDPM. For the pilot phase (first three events) the initiative receives financial support from the National Committee for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development (NCDO) and collaborates with the Municipality of Maastricht and Concordantia, the European Studies student association at the UM.
Students – the target group
Since students (and then professionals) are the key target group, the organising committee felt it was necessary to include them as much as possible in the planning process. Mudde liaised with Concordantia, which has now become integral to the project. Mudde is especially happy that Concordantia decided to form its own sub-group devoted to Maastricht Debates. The student association has come up with some discussion topics and Mudde says they might go ahead with one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We’re trying to build a rhythm and we’re not fully there yet…”
The mandate of Maastricht Debates is to stimulate thinking on international cooperation and globalisation between students and professionals and to reinforce Maastricht as an international city. A secondary goal is to raise the general public’s interest in these issues, although Mudde admits this could be more difficult since the target audience is international students and professionals and all events are in English rather than Dutch.
The organising committee also intends to link-up with representatives of other Maastricht-based and regional organisations and seek broad support and commitment, for instance as advisor, co-organiser or host of one of the events. This is in line with the ambition to become an important multi-actor platform for debate.
But Mudde says there are some challenges to organising events of this scale. “It’s a very complex project. Each organisation has its own interests in the project as well as its own mandate.” Getting them together to sign an agreement wasn’t the real challenge. According to Mudde, the bigger test will be moving forward with the lofty goal of hosting monthly events in Maastricht.
Where’s the debating?
The first three Maastricht Debates are part of a pilot phase where the organisers are experimenting with style and format. For future planning, audience members are being asked to evaluate the events through online questionnaires. Choosing a format is more difficult than originally envisioned, and Maastricht Debates’ organising committee is still deciding what type of format to use.
The first event was a public lecture and discussion on governance challenges in Africa and the role of the African Union. It was held on 19 December, 2006 at the Grand-Theater Café La Bonbonnière. More than 130 people attended the first Maastricht debate.
At the second debate on 23 January 2007, there were around 60 participants, mostly students. This time, the event focused on Youth and Development. But for Mudde, it was not a low turnout of students. Since they are the target audience, he was pleased. However he does want to find a way to attract more professionals.
Overall Mudde felt “extremely positive about the [second debate’s] keynote speaker, the quality and involvement of the panel and the audience in the room.” But while the event was informative and worth attending, it was not really a debate (please see related review for more information). As Mudde puts it, there were actually three different presentation formats being used together – keynote speaker, panel discussion and then audience participation – and it’s “too much to give room to all three formats”. So the organising committee has decided to do things differently for the March debate, with two high profile speakers, and then time for discussion with the audience.
When asked why the event didn’t have a typical ‘debate’ style, Mudde admitted that growing up in the Netherlands meant that he wasn’t exposed to much debating. Debating clubs are beginning to pop up in Dutch high schools but it’s still a new phenomenon here.
Meanwhile in the US and most Commonwealth countries, public debating has been a mainstay for centuries. International students are used to debates where two teams make their case, under strict time limits, on several issues related to the debate topic. Mudde feels this is an interesting style and the organising committee will consider a more typical debate format for a future event. “For now, any public international dialogue is a good thing,” he says.
At the end of the day, these types of events are supply driven and Maastricht is still a small city, so the organising committee will need to make sure there is a market for the debates. For this reason it has asked Unipartners Consultancy in Maastricht to execute a market research for Maastricht Debates. The various partners will come together next month and decide how to proceed. The challenge will be “finding a rhythm.” The forward planning cycle is short because after the pilot phase, the funding and event formats are up in the air. They are still moulding concepts and April’s strategic meetings will give the partners a chance to come up with more concrete plans.
The third and final event of the pilot phase will be with Jan Pronk, former special UN representative for Sudan as well as Dutch politician. Mudde explains that at first he was going to contact Pronk and invite him to come to Maastricht. Then he found out that Maastricht’s Young Socialists were already planning a lecture with Pronk, so Mudde approached them and negotiated a collaboration for the event: Maastricht Debates could contribute funding, but the event would need to be in English.
Jan Pronk will be travelling from The Hague and a second speaker David Mepham, Head of International Programme at the Institute for Public Policy Research will be flying in from London. The two experts will discuss international responsibility in Africa and the role of the EU. The timing is right since Pronk has just completed his term with the UN. Hopefully this means he can be more candid with his remarks.
Maastricht Debates is sure to be successful if its organisers continue to use networks and team up with other Maastricht organisations. Concordantia students will also prepare questions for the Pronk debate, to ensure the discussion is intelligent and lively. The debate will be held 29 March from 19:00 to 21:30. See the Maastricht Debates website for more information.
By Danya Chaikel
Danya Chaikel is from Vancouver, Canada and recently graduated from law school. She has a background of working with migrants and promoting human rights. Danya recently moved to Maastricht to be with her Dutch partner.