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:
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. Comprehensive case study have been commissioned to study the processes in Lebanon, Mali, Sudan and Tunisia. 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.
The project is divided into three main streams of activities.
April 2018 Roundtable in New York >
Nov 2017 Geneva Peace Week >
The past activities of the first project phase of the National Dialogue Handbook were divided into five phases.