There is no blueprint for national dialogues. Based on lessons learned, third parties can, however, identify factors contributing to their success and failure, as well as recurrent challenges for such processes.
National dialogues are designed to conduct inclusive consultations to forge consensus, negotiate reforms or determine the process through which reforms will take place, and/or start a reconciliation process.
Factors for success include the quality of a national dialogue’s mandate, the political will of parties for change, and the inclusiveness of the process.
National dialogues should avoid being perceived as ivory towers by constituencies and gain from being linked to parallel dialogue tracks and existing political processes and institutions.
To preserve the legitimacy of the process, third parties’ support to national dialogues should not replace or overshadow national ownership.
National dialogues do not guarantee that reforms or transitions will be successful, and they alone cannot resolve all the challenges a country and society face. In addition, third parties should remember that the participants’ willingness and the technical quality of a national dialogue do not guarantee a positive outcome.
Third-party support is rarely disinterested and different parties might sometimes have opposing objectives in supporting a national dialogue.
Clarity should be an essential principle for the mandate of a national dialogue. A mandate which is too broad risks triggering intractable debates during the process to redefine the exact terms of the mandate. A narrow mandate on the other hand might greatly limit the room for change and generate frustration among participants and constituencies.
The selection of delegates is a highly political step in the organisation of a national dialogue and will influence the legitimacy and inclusivity of the process. Consultations are an appropriate tool to prevent tensions during the selection process.
Decision-making rules are important and, if carelessly drafted, might result in locking a dialogue in lengthy debates, or in vetoes or boycotts due to the frustration of some participants.
The convening of a national dialogue is a major undertaking in terms of organisation. The venue, costs, security and administrative support play a key role in the smooth development of the process.
Outputs of national dialogues are not always tangible. Such processes are also socialising mechanisms for parties whose interactions have otherwise been characterised by mutual animosity.
For implementation, it is very important that follow-up mechanisms are designed and agreed upon by consensus.