National Dialogue Handbook: A Guide for Practitioners

Over the last decade, the concept of National Dialogue has gained much popularity among conflict stakeholders, civil society and peacebuilding practitioners as an inclusive and participatory tool for conflict transformation. However, while the practice has advanced significantly over the past decade, there is barely any comparative and practice-oriented literature on this topic. The ‘National Dialogue Handbook. A Guide for Practitioners’ seeks to address this gap. The Handbook offers a unique practice-oriented resource guide for comprehensively designing and implementing National Dialogue processes. It also includes sound comparative lessons-learned, policy guidelines, graphical elements and process tools. 

Following the conclusion of the first project phase and the publication of the National Dialogue Handbook, the second project phase aims at putting the Handbook into practice.

Building on the analytical insights and expertise acquired throughout the development of the Handbook and applying it practically, the project’s aim is to contribute to an improvement of National Dialogue processes as well as to enhance the capacities and contributions of conflict stakeholders and third-parties toward their successful implementation. In this respect, the Berghof Foundation will work closely with influential political and societal local stakeholders in different National Dialogue processes as well as with representatives from international 3rd parties.


2015 – 2018

What makes National Dialogues attractive as a peacebuilding tool is their promise to bring a range of conflict stakeholders (state and non-state) together on a broad mandate to support them in resolving key conflict issues. The aim is to promote public participation, foster a political culture of dialogue and build a nationwide consensus with respect to conflict issues of national importance, meanwhile supporting the development of a new social contract.

Usually following severe national crises, National Dialogues are a move away from elite deal-making and towards gathering popular consent and support for fundamental political and constitutional reforms. While they are often specifically associated with post-conflict peacebuilding, the effective use of National Dialogues is not restricted to open conflict, but can also be used in situations where political institutions are de-legitimised or blocked. National Dialogue formats have long been used in a range of different settings. Examples include national conferences in francophone Africa in the 1990s (Benin, Congo, Togo, Mali, Niger, Zaire, Chad), multi-party negotiations in South Africa (CODESA), national roundtables (Poland, Germany’s unification process), constituent assemblies (Bolivia, Afghanistan) and current National Dialogue processes in the Arab World (Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia, Lebanon).

However, only in recent years have National Dialogues been broadly discussed within the international peacebuilding community as a useful, inclusive tool for conflict prevention and resolution. The increasing reference to and support for National Dialogues by practitioners, policy-makers and (development) donors raises the need for conceptual clarity and leads to the question of whether standardised formats could help make conflict transformation processes more effective. So far, different actors use diverging concepts, definitions and approaches. In addition, few lessons-learned or best practices have been identified to address crucial National Dialogue issues as well as process design questions. In response to the strong need for conceptual guidance, practical hands-on tools and best practice recommendations, the Berghof Foundation is currently developing the National Dialogue Handbook.


The overarching goal of the Handbook project is to offer conflict stakeholders, practitioners, policy-makers, and donors consolidated policy-relevant recommendations and a practical tool for preparing, designing, supporting and implementing National Dialogues. Key challenges associated with National Dialogues will be dealt with, such as legitimacy, ownership, and inclusivity. Methodologically, the National Dialogue Handbook will be based on selected case studies, field research, consultation workshops, and interviews with stakeholders and advisors to past, on-going, and emerging National Dialogues. These methods will be complemented by desk research.

The project entails three main components/objectives:

  • Contribute to the strategic dialogue and exchange between local conflict stakeholders and international National Dialogue planners, advisors or donors;
  • Develop standard training modules resting on a sound conceptual framework and best-practices orientation;
  • Produce a comprehensive, hands-on resource intended to help conflict stakeholders, civil society, (inter)national development donors and policy-makers.

Aims and outcomes

The National Dialogue Handbook will offer a systematic reflection on the conceptual and contextual background; highlighting the relevance of National Dialogue processes as a mechanism for conflict transformation; outlining options for process design (agenda setting, criteria for participation, etc.); discussing key elements of a National Dialogue including dilemmas and trade-offs (inclusivity, legitimacy, etc.); elaborating on options for external (international) support in the different stages of National Dialogue (before, during and after); gathering lessons-learned from cases; and providing graphical visualisation tools directed towards process development.

In addition to the Handbook, a number of complementary publications will be published (single case studies and a policy brief). Finally, a training module will be developed and tested to assist conflict stakeholders, their advisers and international (development) actors to enhance their skills in providing National Dialogue support.

Regional focus

The project has no regional focus per se but aims to offer cross-regional insights. Comprehensive case study have been commissioned to study the processes in Lebanon, Mali, Sudan and Tunisia, as well as a study on Libya is currently still ongoing. Through the cooperation with swisspeace further studies were conducted on Guatemala and Nepal.   

The project is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, in cooperation with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. It is implemented by the Berghof Foundation, in cooperation with swisspeace.  

The Berghof Foundation’s close collaboration with the German and Swiss Foreign Ministries, swisspeace and other bi- and multilateral donors (such as the EU, UN and World Bank), conflict stakeholders and experts ensures the broad dissemination and application of the Handbook. These strategic partnerships will be strengthened and complemented by collaboration with local and international partners.


Current Activities (2017-2018)

The project is divided into three main streams of activities.

  • Technical support, regional trainings and the development of training modules. This includes the translation of the National Dialogue Handbook into Arabic, Spanish and French. Additionally, it entails supporting National Dialogue processes through technical advice and trainings, including exchange between local conflict stakeholders from different context experiences in National Dialogues (Mali, Afghanistan, Libya, South Sudan). Moreover, the team will produce a synthesis report summarizing the lessons-learnt from four country case studies (Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Mali) which will feed into the ongoing development of training modules.

  •  Development of target trainings, coaching, and training modules for third-party support. The Berghof Foundation will organize and carry out trainings for third parties with particular focus on the German Federal Foreign Office.

  • Contributing to the strategic dialogue and exchange between local conflict stakeholders and international National Dialogue planners, advisors and donors. With the strong interest in, and potential for learning from the Tunisian experience, especially in the MENA region, the Tunisia case study will be translated into Arabic and widely disseminated at a regional dissemination event and beyond.

Past Activities (2015-2017)

The past activities of the first project phase of the National Dialogue Handbook were divided into five phases.

  • The first phase of the project mainly consisted of developing the conceptual framework, holding a ‘Roundtable on Emerging National Dialogues’ in Berlin and constituting an advisory group. The Roundtable Meeting involved conflict stakeholders, development actors, policymakers and technical experts from countries with emerging National Dialogue processes.
  • The second phase consisted of producing four case studies and compiling a synthesis report.
    April 2016: Focus group on Libyan National Dialogue
  • The third phase inculded writing, editing and consolidating the Handbook. Besides analysing the literature and data gathered in the field and through peer-to-peer exchanges and knowledge-sharing, the Berghof Foundation will organise a small in-house expert workshop to validate and improve the overall lessons-learned from the research.
  • Phase four of the project serves to launch and disseminate the Handbook at an International Symposium in collaboration with the German Foreign Office in Berlin. The symposium will bring together National Dialogue stakeholders from various countries (including those that participated in the research phase) as well as international third-parties and implementers.
    February 2017: Launch Event on 27 Feb 2017 in Berlin >
  • As a fifth and last component of this project, the Berghof Foundation, in cooperation with swisspeace, will develop a standard training module on National Dialogues based on the Handbook and its accompanying case studies. The training module will help conflict stakeholders, their advisers and international (development) actors providing National Dialogue support to enhance their skills.

  • National Dialogue Handbook. A Guide for Practitioners. 2017. PDF >
  • Manuel de dialogue national. Guide à l’attention des praticiens. 2017. PDF >
  • Manual de Diálogos Nacionales. Guía para practicantes. 2017. PDF >
  • National Dialogue Handbook (Arabic). 2017. PDF >
  • Rikke Hostrup Haugbølle, Amine Ghali, Hèla Yousfi, Mohamed Limam, Nina Grønlykke Mollerup: Tunisia’s 2013 National Dialogue: Political Crisis Management. 2017. National Dialogue Handbook. Case Studies. PDF >
  • Catherine Barnes: Dilemmas of ownership, inclusivity, legitimacy and power: towards transformative National Dialogue processes.. 2017. National Dialogue Handbook. Conceptual Studies. PDF >
  • Henrik Hartmann: National Dialogues and Development. 2017. National Dialogue Handbook. Conceptual Studies. PDF >
  • Christina Murray : National Dialogues and Constitution Making. 2017. National Dialogue Handbook. Conceptional Studies. PDF >
  • Ousmane Sy, Ambroise Dakouo et Kadari Traoré: Dialogue National au Mali Leçons de la Conférence Nationale de 1991 pour le processus de sortie de crise. 2016. Manuel sur le Dialogue National. Étude de Cas. PDF >
  • Ousmane Sy, Ambroise Dakouo and Kadari Traoré: National Dialogue in Mali. Lessons from the 1991 National Conference for the Nascent Conference of National Understanding. 2016. National Dialogue Handbook. Case Studies. PDF >
  • Elshafie Khidir Saeid: Sudan's National Dialogue Conference: The Permissible Questions. 2017. National Dialogue Handbook. Case Studies. PDF >
  • Martin Wählisch: The Lebanese National Dialogue: Past and present experience of consensus-building. 2017. National Dialogue Handbook. Case Studies. PDF >
  • Centro de Estudios de Guatemala (CEG) swisspeace: Observations and Reflections on the Negotiation and National Dialogue Process. Case Study on Guatemala. 2017. National Dialogue Handbook. Case Studies. PDF >
  • Bishnu Raj Upreti & Bishnu Sapkota swisspeace: Observations and Reflections on the Peace and Constitution-Making Process. Case Study on Nepal. 2017. National Dialogue Handbook. Case Studies. PDF >
  • National Dialogue Handbook. A guide for practitioners. Executive Summary. 2017. Executive Summary. PDF >
  • Manual de Diálogos Nacionales. Guía para practicantes. 2017. Resumen ejecutivo. PDF >
  • Manuel de dialogue national. Guide à l’attention des praticiens. 2017. Résumé analytique. PDF >