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Convening the key stakeholders

First and foremost, the INSPIRED Dialogue Host needs to deploy a strong convening power to bring the key stakeholders to the dialogue. This convening power can result from their professional networks, their technical reputation, their previous track record in the policy domain and their workers’ personal ability to make every stakeholder feel that their voices will count. The importance of the human factor in a dialogue process cannot be overstated: although people are invited as representatives of their respective organisations, they are still human beings that relate to each other on a personal basis. Affinities and animosities, convictions and suspicions, certitudes and insecurities, will all play a significant role in the dialogue process and will thus need to be managed through adequate facilitation techniques. Prior to engaging at this human level, the Dialogue Host first needs to bring on board all the relevant institutions and organisations of the policy domain, who in most cases already know each other or are at least aware of their existence. And here is where the problem of preconceptions and prejudices may jeopardize one of the preconditions for dialogue, that of mutual recognition.
Much like in dinner parties, where the attendance of some guests hinges on the confirmation by others, key stakeholders may become reluctant to engage in dialogue if they find that rivals or competitors have also been invited. Similarly, the most powerful actors can refuse to participate if they consider that the political weight or technical skills of the other players is not at their same level. Moreover, the mightiest stakeholders – who are usually the State institutions – can rapidly alter the balance of power to their advantage, co-opting the dialogue and taking a dominant stance towards its outcomes.
In order to avoid these situations, the INSPIRED model advises restricting the first phase of the dialogue process – the Collective Assessment Phase – to civil society organizations, which are often the weakest actors in terms of resources. By bringing them together in the first place and putting them to work on the development of a concrete output – the Participatory Policy Assessment –, the Dialogue Host seeks not only to build bonds among them, but to promote the pooling of resources – human, knowledge, financial, etc. – so as to raise their joint profile and strengthen their position vis-à-vis the public actors.