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International Debate Education Association

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The logo of the International Debate Education Association.
The logo of the International Debate Education Association.

The International Debate Education Association (IDEA) is an association that develops, organizes and promotes debate and debate-related activities in communities throughout the world. Currently, there are 26 debate associations that are voting members in IDEA. Established in 1999 to coordinate pilot debate programs created by The Open Society Institute (OSI), IDEA acts as an independent membership organization of national debate clubs, associations, programs, and individuals who share a common purpose: to promote mutual understanding and democracy globally by supporting discussion and active citizenship locally.

The Need for Debate

Although debate was an entirely new phenomenon to these countries, it provided an invaluable means for students to express opinions, to meet and discuss important issues, and in short, to become informed citizens. On a larger scale, school debate programs offered opportunities for students to participate in an ongoing, open, and critical exchange of ideas while learning about minorities and different cultures within their own countries.

The OSI debate program was an immediate success, and its growth was rapid. At the secondary school level, debate clubs popped up all over Central and Eastern Europe. In 1997, university students were encouraged to participate in international debate tournaments; this was the first step towards a closely-knit international debate community which crossed national, political, and ethnic boundaries.

Fostering the Next Generation of Civic Leadership

Although it maintains an international presence, IDEA places particular emphasis on those societies where democracy is in its infancy and where negotiated resolution to conflicts and cross-community dialogue are little-established concepts. By offering young people the opportunity to debate the important issues facing them, IDEA strives to cultivate and nurture an engaged, democratic citizenry, underscoring the notions of tolerance, international cooperation, and freedom of expression.

A Global Reach with a Local Focus

IDEA promotes its programs and its mission via a wide range of educational and strategic initiatives, from curriculum development and grant-making to international student exchanges and an annual, much-celebrated international youth forum. IDEA is registered in the Netherlands and the United States; its debates take place in over 40 languages, in over 25 countries throughout the world.

The story of the International Debate Education Association (IDEA) begins in 1989, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of communism across Central and Eastern Europe. At that time, a new age was heralded for the region, and the world. Yet amidst celebrations and an air of enormous promise, change was not forthcoming.

Economic growth and social change - with specific regard to education - remained stagnant. Antiquated methods of teaching, rooted in the notion that only one truth existed (that of the State), and coupled with a lack of dialogue, underscored frustratingly slow progress and bred discontent among a generation of youth that had anticipated so much more.

Disenchantment among the population – especially among students - was palpable, as evidenced by a precipitous drop in the reading of newspapers, voting, running for elected office, and following politics. In 1994, in an effort to stem this tide of apathy and push for a more rapid transition to democracy, The Open Society Institute (OSI) launched its first network debate program.

IDEA's commitment to a global reach through a local focus can be seen in a variety of its pursuits, including, for instance, their website at [1]. The site lists a variety of their activities, which include events around the world. The site itself offers debaters and debate educators resources and forums for discussing debate and debate-related issues.

For instance, Debatabase is an extensive research resource, providing information on a variety of standard and timely topics: [2]. The Discussion Board is a forum open for users to ask for advice, share information, discuss topics, or engage in online debates: [3]. IDEAPortal provides access to multimedia resources: [4]. Such resources include (an often lighthearted and informal) blog ([5]), radio ([6]), video ([7]), and this very encyclomedia, IDEAWiki.

The Formation of IDEA

In 1999, as a means to coordinate its now numerous debate programs and activities, and to develop international standards regarding debate, OSI created an independent international body - The International Debate Education Association.

Since its inception, IDEA has grown from a collection of debate clubs into the pre-eminent global debate organization, touching the lives of over 70,000 secondary school students, 15,000 university students and 13,000 teachers in 27 countries. Having introduced debate throughout Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Central Asia and Haiti, IDEA continues to expand and thrive, bringing its ideals of freedom of expression, tolerance, and open society to communities across the globe.

Mission Statement

The International Debate Education Association (IDEA) believes that free and open discussion is essential to the establishment and preservation of open, democratic societies.

Through debate - a powerful means of encouraging critical thinking, personal expression and tolerance for the opinions of others, IDEA provides students and teachers the opportunity to examine issues affecting their lives and their communities. To this end, IDEA creates broad and inclusive debate clubs that encourage participation by all segments of the population, including ethnic minorities, and establishes independent, national debate associations to promote, organize, and sustain debate activities in countries throughout the world.


IDEA is registered in the Netherlands as an international, not-for-profit, public benefit organization, in accordance with the laws of the Netherlands and in the United States as a public charity recognized as a 501(c)3. The registered offices of IDEA are located in Amsterdam and New York City. Currently, IDEA also has an office in Salem, Oregon.

IDEA Netherlands (hereafter referred to as IDEA NL) and IDEA Incorporated (hereafter referred to as IDEA US) are separate organizations that operate independently yet cooperate informally with each other.


IDEA is committed to building strategic partnerships with a diverse group of global organizations. Click here for a list of some of our valued partners. Please contact us if your organization is interested in partnering with IDEA.


In order to insure the quality of debate programs and to promote debate, IDEA and its members provide extensive training for different target groups. Training modules include trainings in debate, interactive teaching methodologies, public communications, advocacy and conflict resolution.

Most trainings are designed for groups of 25 or fewer. Ideal candidates include secondary school and university teachers, students, youth workers and representatives of non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations.

IDEA believes in creating participatory learning environments where individuals feel safe to explore ideas and view topics from a variety of perspectives. Participant-centered teaching methodologies emphasizing personal investigation, role-play, and group exercises are employed in order to maximize trainees involvement in the learning process which leads to a more meaningful engagement. The participatory learning environments and techniques implemented by IDEA and its members during trainings mirror the values promoted during the trainings--encouraging creativity, collaboration, perspective sharing, active listening, and responsibility.

Training Teachers

In order to build local capacity for professional debate instruction and training, IDEA and its members have developed a model of the training of trainers and a certification process. This model is designed exclusively for those participants who possess the inclination and skills to serve as trainers in the future.

IDEA believes that Individuals identified to lead future trainings should receive additional training in facilitation and meet certain standards of professionalism. Qualified trainers who have completed the certification process go on to design and facilitate workshops (including the preparation of training materials) in different areas of debate instruction and for different audiences. This extensive training program is based upon portfolio review and one or more evaluative workshops. Following a submission of a portfolio with teaching resources, successful candidates are invited to a training of trainers workshop during which they review and discuss methods of interactive teaching, exchange practical advice and experience in training, review case studies and work in groups to develop and present single training sessions (including all associated materials). These mock sessions are observed by IDEA's most experienced trainers (so called Master Trainers) amd IDEA certification is granted only to individual who show the highest professionalism in training and it is subject to periodical reviews. To learn more about the certification process and training standards, please click here.

Training Judges

Offered to anyone interested in becoming a judge at local, national or international debate competitions. Seminars are tailored to the particular audience. All IDEA member countries employ the same standards: the international rules and regulations of judging in the Karl Popper debate format.

Vocational Training

IDEA conducts adult seminars that use debate skills to prepare people for the job market. Attendees are taught how to give presentations, present themselves during job interviews, negotiate and mediate and other skills. To accommodate trainees varying schedules, vocational seminars are structured in short sessions that take place over a series of evenings or in intensive weekends.

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