Stakeholder dialogue

A good practice approach to participation

Stakeholder dialogue, (sometimes referred to as consensus building, stakeholder participation, or conflict resolution), is an approach that brings different people and interests together to talk, share knowledge, build understanding and agree a way forward.

This approach can be used to improve communication and decision-making in many different situations.   Our own experience ranges from a one-day knowledge-sharing workshop for scientists and technical experts, to a complex process covering a wide geographic area and involving many external stakeholders in a sequence of workshops.

Stakeholder dialogue is based on the principle that people who are affected by decisions should have a real say in the decision-making.  This should be at an early stage when options are open and participants can influence the outcome.

Best practice involves a coherent, skilfully and deliberately designed, decision-making process.  The process breaks complex issues down into manageable portions and tackles them in a workable sequence.  It should be designed and managed by a trained independent third party to foster a two-way flow of information, understanding, and creative problem solving.  This enables parties with differing needs to reach agreement about the best way forward.

Stakeholders should have clarity about the process, why they are being involved, how their input will be used, the extent to which they can influence the outcome, and how their input fits into the overall decision-making process.

Stakeholder dialogue has its roots in conflict resolution processes and so is very effective at managing tensions.  It can be used to resolve conflicts or stop them erupting in the first place.

The process is inclusive and encourages stakeholders (people who have an interest in, or who are affected by, the decisions) to participate either directly or via a representative. 

The dialogue facilitator encourages people to step down from positional argument with win/lose outcomes to focus on co-operative and creative problem solving.   The aim is to work together in a consensual process, using the wealth of knowledge and ideas that each stakeholder brings.  People explore issues to find mutually acceptable ways forward.

Workshops involve times when people work in small groups or come together in one large one - both are fully facilitated.  Within larger processes workshops are interspersed with phases to allow stakeholders to check back with the interests they represent, gather information or write draft text.

All of this results in decisions that are very well informed and technically sound.  The decisions are understood and agreed to by the majority of stakeholders as the best way forward. Perhaps most importantly the process also generates more active support for delivery and leaves new and improved relationships between participants.

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