When I first applied for my job at Dialogue Matters (https://dialoguematters.co.uk/), I barely knew what Stakeholder Dialogue was. At university I’d vaguely heard about ‘involving stakeholders in the environmental decision making’. But what did that really mean?
In fact, if I’d never come to work for Dialogue Matters, I doubt I would have ever fully understood what design skills and techniques are required to run best practice dialogue processes. There’s so much to learn: from understanding how our brains make decisions and how we react to power dynamics, to designing-out biases and being inclusive, to planning successful workshops and being a neutral facilitator… it requires a diverse skillset. And is a whole field of its own really!
So for anyone who is new to Stakeholder Dialogue, here are 8 Guiding Principles for great practice:
- Provide adequate timeframes and resources (staff and funds)
- Recognise that this approach means relinquishing full control and being open to and respectful of the outcome
- Ensure the whole team has a good understanding of the necessary principals and ethics (explored further, below)
- Systematic stakeholder analysis and balancing
- Stakeholders involved at an early stage
- Stakeholders are provided with clarity about what is up for negotiation and what they can influence
Give clarity to stakeholders about their level of influence
- Are you simply sharing information about a decision?
- Are you gathering information to inform a decision, but the project team will have the final say?
- Are you sharing the decision making power and stakeholders have real influence over the outcome?
Design your process
- Use a skilled and impartial process designer
- Coherent design: not ad-hoc workshops but a process with clear structure, sequence, stages, and levels of involvement
- Design using questions to facilitate principled negotiation and find genuine win-wins
Host principled negotiations
- Take the time to engage stakeholders, understand their interests and needs, and find the true win-wins within your conservation project
- Be cooperative, not adversarial
- The importance of this is demonstrated well, below…
Two people are competing in the final of a cooking competition. Both need a lemon to finish their bake, but there is only one fruit left. After an awkward stand-off, they cut it in half, and call it a compromise.
In reality, neither got the whole lemon as they wanted, so it’s a lose-lose situation. If the contestants had taken the time to ask questions and negotiate with real understanding of each other’s interests and needs, they would have realised that one person needed the peel, and the other needed the juice. So a win-win solution existed the entire time.
It's simply a case of finding it.
Encourage constructive dialogue
- Play to strengths not weaknesses: inquire into what is working, how that can be strengthened, and what more needs to be done
- Skilled and impartial workshop facilitators
- Record fairly the essence of everything said
- Manage power dynamics
Quality dialogue at engagement events
- Develop a shared vision and understanding
- Value all forms of knowledge (not just science or technical)
- Thoroughly scope the situation – identifying information needs and provision
- Creative solution finding
- Principled negotiation and consensus decisions (not weak compromise)
- Make quality decisions that are technically sound, well informed and implementable
I hope this helps some of you as you work to engage stakeholders in your conservation efforts across the globe!