Consensus Building Phase

Once the policy area has been clearly demarcated by the stakeholders, the discussions will deepen and the debate will be oriented towards finding constructive solutions through sustained dialogue. To this end, the Consensus Building Phase aims at establishing and maintaining a conducive environment for dialogue by structuring the debate around constructive choices, avoiding drawbacks and keeping the discussions oriented towards the objectives jointly agreed in the Collective Assessment Phase. Only through this sustained effort can the main output of this phase be produced: the Roadmap for Reform, a set of collectively agreed principles and guidelines for policy reform.

1. Nurturing trust through facilitation techniques

This phase is extremely sensitive, as trust among participants can be affected at any moment due to unforeseen exogenous factors or changes in attitudes of the stakeholders themselves. Hence, the Dialogue Host should be ready to apply swift and effective techniques in response, trying to mitigate any risk of gridlocks or conflict among the participants. As any experienced facilitator will know, this is of course easier to say than to do, but, in most cases, it will require a combination of soft skills and technical reliability, as policy dialogue is both about people and about facts.

To support the facilitators in this challenging task, the INSPIRED toolkit introduces a series of basic techniques to progressively forge the consensus needed to agree on a Roadmap for Reform. This is to be complemented by existing work that delves into the nitty-gritty of trust-building (see Library).

2. Priority setting and the joint appraisal of policy alternatives

Based on the evidence provided by the Participatory Policy Analysis – and any other further research that may be deemed necessary to deepen the understanding of the issues at stake – the stakeholders will engage in a debate around the priorities to be addressed by the policy or policies under discussion. The setting of priorities is crucial when resources are limited and is often informed by the values and belief systems of the decision-makers, although these seldom emerge and are very often taken for granted and hidden behind technical considerations.

For a dialogue to be truly meaningful, participants will need to delve into these issues and bring to the surface the assumptions upon which priorities are being established and decisions are being made. This is arguably the most sensitive aspect of the dialogue process and needs to be tackled with caution, once an atmosphere of mutual understanding has been established and participants feel that they can openly express their views.

To avoid confrontations, the debate around the priorities needs to be supported by actual policy alternatives in which the implications and trade-offs of each possible choice are openly considered. This is especially important when the dialogue process seeks to influence the formulation of the policy, as its main added value for policymakers will consist on providing them with viable alternatives that have already been assessed by a diversity of stakeholders, but it also remains important when the process aims at setting the agenda, at exploring multi-stakeholder mechanisms for policy implementation or at evaluating an existing policy.

3. The Roadmap for Reform

The consensus reached by the dialogue participants on the need for policy reform is conveyed into a Roadmap for Reform reflecting the stakeholders’ shared vision around the policy at stake. As such, it represents a guide to action, capturing proposals, putting forth recommendations and exploring potential lines of work for all the main stakeholders involved in a given policy area to implement their mutually agreed objectives.

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