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.
The project has no regional focus per se but aims to offer cross-regional insights. Initial case study research is likely to be conducted in Libya, Sudan, Mali and Myanmar (Burma).