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Public administration

For the dialogue process to yield tangible impact in terms of actual policy change, those in power have to be on board. Depending on the stage of the policy cycle and the policy issue under discussion, the list of relevant decision-makers stretches from government representatives to high-ranking officials from line ministries, officers from government agencies or heads of the public institution(s) in charge of formulating and/or adopting those laws, regulations, programs and projects that constitute policy. While it would be ideal to have high-level representatives of the relevant decision-making bodies actively involved throughout the dialogue, this will rarely be the case in practice, as ministers are unlikely to commit to such a long-term engagement. Nevertheless, experience shows that they are keen to get involved at certain key moments, once the officials from their ministries have done the groundwork and results start to materialise.
Quite naturally, such ‘power elites’ tend to have different priorities to mid-level officials in the ministries, and at the end of the day, political office often revolves much more around politics than actual policy-making, and especially so in polarised countries, where the political debate is often locked in sterile confrontation. The upside is that mid-level officials, the ones who have the technical knowledge needed to ‘talk policy’, tend to be more predisposed to actively participate in dialogue processes, as they can help them to assure the necessary buy-in for ‘their’ reforms. It is generally those mid-level officials, knowledgeable of the bureaucratic circuits, who are instrumental for the success of any policy reform, and therefore essential when it comes to anchoring the dialogue to the administrative apparatus.
One of the critical tasks of the Dialogue Host is therefore to identify the appropriate level on which to exert influence in order to engage those officials who can speak – to a lesser or higher degree – on behalf of their institutions. If well-selected, these individuals will have direct access to the higher levels of decision-making in the targeted policy field and can even help to attract representatives from other institutions that might also feel concerned by the issues addressed in the process.
Besides engaging the line ministries, the Dialogue Host should always explore ways to involve those governmental stakeholders that are determinant for the feasibility of the proposed reforms, such as the Ministry of Economy or the President’s Office or any other instance with cross-cutting or coordinating competencies. At the very least, it must keep them informed on a regular basis about the dialogue’s progress and its main outcomes. The dialogue process can succeed without their direct participation, but it is bound to fail if they actively oppose it or if other participating stakeholders think that they do.
Ideally, the Dialogue Host should try to secure not only tacit acceptance by decision-makers, but also some form of endorsement, even though they might only have a limited personal role in the process. As will be explained in the guide toolkit (see section below), one way to reach out to decision-makers is through the help of ‘peers’, i.e. individuals with a high public profile and reputation at the regional or international level. One of the lessons learnt from INSPIRED processes, in which the Club de Madrid has always acted as a strategic partner, is that high-level missions from former Heads of Government or State can indeed be useful to boost the political clout of the dialogue process, especially when the exchanges have a clear objective and are fully aligned with the dialogue process.