Facilitating the dialogue sessions

Given the importance of trust in promoting consensus, as well as in bridging and bonding the stakeholders that are part of the policy network, the INSPIRED Dialogue Host will most likely need to make use of a wide array of facilitation techniques to oil the wheels of the dialogue process and overcome the conflicts that may arise along the way. Most of these facilitation techniques belong to the family of Participatory Action Research (see the section above on “building trust through sponsored policy dialogue”), a practical approach that recognises and values other forms of knowledge besides the official and rather a technical kind of evidence usually taken as reference by public actors. This recognition often has an empowering effect among the weakest stakeholders, and it can also broaden the perspective of public officials through the adoption of other qualitative insights that are often neglected by official data/statistics.

Almost by definition, a dialogue process pushes the participants out of their comfort zone, as it forces them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and realize the difficulties the others encounter in their own areas of work. As a result, an already human-driven process becomes, for good or evil, even more affected by human dynamics. which means that the Dialogue Host will need to handle the attitudes, prejudices and fears of the people that take part in the dialogue. Overly high expectations can result in frustration and disappointment, while the awareness of interdependence can make others pull back from the collective effort and try to regain autonomy by isolating themselves. To make things even more complicated, human attitudes are impregnated by organizational roles, and personal and institutional interests are quite difficult to tell apart.

These complexities highlight the reason why the Dialogue Host always needs to be local. To begin with, participants need to express themselves in their own language in order for the dialogue to be meaningful. Besides, foreigners can hardly grasp the many cultural nuances and social codes at play, as well as the complex web of interests and relations that any local immediately digs but that will certainly escape any newcomer. Most importantly, local actors will seldom develop true ownership over the dialogue process and its outcomes if it is being steered or facilitated by an international organisation – with an exception for those cases in which the staff is also local and the stakeholders feel that they are engaging with fellow countrymen.

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