National dialogue processes have taken place in a number of countries going through political transitions: several West African countries held national conferences in the early 1990s and so did Afghanistan following the 2003 Bonn Agreement. A National Dialogue Conference was also concluded in Yemen on 21 January 2014 as part of the country’s political transition. National dialogue processes are designed to expand participation in political transitions beyond the political and military elites. Their ambition is to move away from elite-level deal making by allowing diverse interests to influence the transitional negotiations.

This paper discusses a number of issues related to the design of national dialogue processes, namely their size and composition, their power and mandate, and their relationship to existing institutions. The paper examines how different countries have approached national dialogues, how they have prepared them, and what mandates they have given to them. It focuses on countries where national dialogues played a key role in influencing decision-making during political transitions or were mandated to play such a role even if ultimately they failed.

The paper has been produced in the framework of the Civil Society Dialogue Network, a three-year project aimed at facilitating dialogue on peacebuilding issues between civil society and EU policy-makers. It is managed by the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), in co-operation with the European Commission and the European External Action Service. The paper is also accessible through the EPLO website.