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.