At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Medium
Length of process: 
Varies
Number of participants: 
Varies
Participant selection: 
Those with a stake in the outcome (public and policy makers)
Online / Offline: 
Offline

Dialogue covers a wide range of different activities, which aim to share opinions between people and build relationships. It is often used for resolving conflict.

Description

Dialogue incorporates a range of approaches designed to help participants identify common ground and mutually beneficial solutions to a problem. The process involves stakeholders in defining the problem, devising the methods and creating the solutions.

Dialogue is mainly conducted through workshops and similar meetings. The minimum aim is to find a mutually acceptable compromise, but ideally the process seeks to build on common ground and reach a proactive consensus. Every Dialogue process is tailor-made to suit the situation, the people involved and to deliver the agreed outcomes.

Participants

  • As far as is possible, Dialogue involves all stakeholders, defined as people who can influence, or be impacted by the outcome. This includes decision-makers, those directly affected by decisions, and those who could support or obstruct the implementation of decisions.
  • In practice, a Dialogue process can involve anything from a handful of people to several hundred.

Costs

Low:

  • Due to the need for independent expert facilitation, and possibly numerous meetings, the costs may be higher.

Approximate time expense

Medium–High:

  • Dialogue projects have a tendency to be most effective over a long period of time due to the slow process of building relationships and trust between groups.

Strengths

  • Deals well with conflict and can help overcome low trust.
  • Ensures a balanced approach to decision-making, allowing all voices to be heard.
  • Develops jointly-owned and implemented solutions, often. preventing the need for legal challenge or litigation at a later stage.
  • Is highly flexible and can be applied at all levels of government.
  • Good in areas likely to be regarded as controversial or where the facts are contested. Dialogue remains one of the few practicable participative options once a conflict has reached a certain point.

Weaknesses

  • Extremely reliant on the skills of a facilitator or mediator, this can make it expensive.
  • May also be time consuming.
  • The need to ensure participation by all significant stakeholders can slow progress or even render it impossible.
  • Ensuring communication between the stakeholder representatives and their constituencies is challenging.
  • In using Dialogue to achieve consensus, there is a risk that organisational and individual positions may not be explicitly acknowledged.
  • The final outputs may only highlight areas of agreement and not capture other parts of the picture. This is particularly problematic for campaigning organisations for which positions are important.

Origin

Evolved from conflict resolution and mediation approaches in the US and UK. It is commonly used in environmental decision-making, with growing use in other areas, such as science (Sciencewise).

 

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