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7. Workshops and focus groups
Purpose
Workshops provide time and space for the stakeholders to meet and discuss, negotiate, learn and/or analyse different aspects of the selected policy area with a view to achieving a pre-defined goal or milestone within the consensus-building process. This orientation to results is crucial for workshops to deliver concrete outcomes in order to progressively build trust and confidence among the stakeholders involved.
Rationale
Stakeholders are to gather and work together to deliver some sort of joint appraisal of a given aspect of the problem at stake, usually by jointly analysing different policy choices and assessing those alternatives that would better adapt to the political, social and economic context of their country.
Workshops should be organized on a smaller scale than public events and with a focus on deliberation, so as to give the participants a better understanding of the perspectives of the other stakeholders, while allowing those same stakeholders to challenge their own views.
Consequently, workshops are designed not so much as a tool to “negotiate” or “reach agreements” than as a means to improve the relationships among the dialogue participants through joint learning. Thanks to their deliberative nature, workshops can provide the participants with additional knowledge on the policy issues under discussion, which may in turn open new opportunities for consensus (or unearth buried conflicts, a situation for which the facilitator needs to be ready and that will require strong dialogue skills to reconduct the debate towards constructive solutions).
On an even smaller scale, focus groups feature a guided discussion among a small group of people led by a facilitator to understand their attitudes and views on some of the policy issues at stake. Focus groups can provide useful information on how stakeholders respond to particular questions. However, being short in terms of timing, the depth of discussion remains rather limited. Such dialogue events are not an end in themselves, but the means to achieve a pre-defined goal or milestone within the consensus-building process.
Outcomes
  • Ownership over the dialogue process enhanced.
  • Preconceived assumptions are either confirmed or debunked.
  • Interests of the different stakeholders are resurfaced and expressed as legitimate concerns.
  • Potential incentives for change are explored.
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