7th International Mayors' Conference

Space for Encounter – Overcoming Division

We sometimes have the feeling that we live in societies where polarisation is shaping our views and where cultural, religious and ethnic diversity as well as disparity and globalisation seem to be endangering our sense of social cohesion. But studies have revealed that people’s views are more multifaceted and that polarising opinions have no majority. On the whole, individual acceptance of diversity is higher than we think and people are actively seeking a sense of togetherness despite all the tensions and aspects of diversity.

The 7th International Mayors’ Conference NOW in Vienna, Austria (17-18 February, 2020) presented several key research findings and combined these with a wide variety of best practices that showcase tangible approaches to overcoming local divisions. Furthermore, several workshops supported the conference’s aim of creating an impact by inspiring the participants to initiate local action when back home. This article outlines possible means of dealing effectively with tensions, of increasing acceptance of diversity and fostering cohesive societies at a local level.


"If you take the stories, the actions will follow”

Article | NOW Vienna 2020


“Dear ambassadors of a better world”: this was how Austria’s First Lady Doris Schmidauer welcomed the 220 participants of the 7th International Mayors’ Conference NOW, which took place in Vienna from 17 to 18 February 2020. Participants from 30 countries, from the Middle East to northern Europe, including mayors, young citizens from all walks of life, community workers, innovative NGOs, well-known researchers and practitioners, social entrepreneurs and urban planners gathered in Vienna for two days ….

Dividing society into two opposing camps? Feelings of polarisation and the reasons behind them

Polls have shown that the majority of people in European countries and in the USA believe that polarisation is decisively shaping our societies (Gentzkow, 2016; Gagné, NOW 7). This leads people to assume that there are more factors that divide than unite us. Are our achievements like peace, democracy, the minimum standards of morality, the freedom of speech and information, equality, and so on in danger …

Overcoming division: The correlation between social cohesion and the acceptance of diversity

“Phenomena such as social media filter bubbles and hate speech are causing insecurity about what we should believe and what we shouldn’t,” says Regina Arant from the Jacobs University Bremen in Germany. Furthermore, populists, disparity and globalization, as well as cultural, religious and ethnic diversity are endangering our feelings of social cohesion (Bertelsmann-Stiftung, 2017) …

Inter-group contact

Coming from the Greek part on the island of Cyprus, Andri Christofides discovered during her studies in Belgium that her research on Cypriot national identity excluded half the population, i.e. the Turkish-speaking part of Cyprus. She crossed the buffer zone for the first time at the age of 24. Meanwhile in 2009, Hayriye Rüzgar decided to study political science and international relations due to her interest in the Cyprus conflict …

Crisis. Dialogue. Future

Prejudice is “thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant”, as Allport put it. In most cases, prejudices are a mixture of a few memories associated with people from a certain group, combined with hearsay and a final over-generalisation. The facts about other groups that people pretend to know are mostly “scanty and strained” (Allport, 1954, 6). So far, we have learned that positive contact between different groups is only possible if various factors play a part in the encounter …

“It’s the neighbourhood”

The Robert Bosch Stiftung’s 2019 Diversity Barometer, which examines acceptance of diversity and its impact on the degree of social cohesion, found that people are more likely to accept diverse groups (e.g. migrants, homosexuals, or welfare recipients, etc.) in their neighbourhood than in their own family. In other words, people who generally have a rather disapproving and hostile attitude towards certain groups actually react less negatively if representatives of these groups live in their own neighbourhood (Robert Bosch Stiftung, 2019, 84–88) …

Every one of us can act: Final remarks

Prior to the conference, Act.Now facilitated a two-day workshop for all 60 young people (aged 15-24) participating in the conference. Even though they came from very different backgrounds, they shared a similar vision of what social cohesion in our communities means, showing that the idea of living together peacefully is universal. Along with politicians, regional and municipal civil servants, and an international network of experts, the Act.Now programme of The Innovation in Politics Institute is addressing the young generations with all of its activities …


  • Act.Now (2020). Promising Practices: www.now-conference.org/vienna2020/promising-practices/. Accessed: 8 April 2020.
  • Arant, R./ Dragolov, G., et al. (2019): Zusammenhalt in Vielfalt. Das Vielfaltsbarometer 2019 der Robert Bosch Stiftung. Jacobs University Bremen.
  • Bochmann, C./ Döring, H., eds. (2020). Gesellschaftlichen Zusammenhalt gestalten. Wiesbaden: Springer.