National Dialogues provide an inclusive, broad, and participatory official negotiation framework, which can resolve political crises and lead countries into political transitions. With mandates that include political reforms, constitution-making, and peacebuilding, National Dialogues are convened to address issues of national concern, typically longstanding causes of conflict that have been brought to the fore by political protest or armed insurrection. They have received great attention from international and national actors as a promising avenue for resolving political crises and leading countries into political transitions. This research project aimed to advance the debate on National Dialogues by analyzing their role in political transitions and the factors that have enabled or constrained them to reach agreements and to achieve sustainable outcomes.
From Togo (2006) to Yemen (2013–2014), National Dialogues are increasingly regarded as a promising avenue for managing political crises and transitions by organizing broad-based and inclusive negotiations on a national scale. Despite the increasing popularity of National Dialogues among international and national actors, comparative evidence regarding the factors that enable—or constrain—sustainable agreements remains scarce. Building on the “Broadening Participation” research, this project aimed to advance the emerging debate on National Dialogues by providing a comparative, mainly qualitative, analysis based on 17 processes in 12 countries in pursuit of two primary goals:
1. Expanding and substantiating existing knowledge by analyzing the role of National Dialogues in political transitions to assess their common characteristics based on one of the largest qualitative datasets on the phenomenon.
2. Analyzing the factors that have enabled or constrained National Dialogues to reach agreements and to achieve sustainable outcomes after an agreement is concluded and implemented.
Findings from the National Dialogues research project are presented in the report “What Makes or Breaks National Dialogues?” published in October 2017. This report was commissioned by the Mediation Support Unit in the Policy and Mediation Division of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA).
Ⓒ Nepalese lawmakers celebrate after the final constitution process at Constitution Assembly hall in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, 16 September 2015. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
- National Dialogues have been used as an instrument to resolve political crises and pave the way for political transitions and sustainable peace
- While most National Dialogues reached an agreement, only half of these agreements were implemented
- When National Dialogues resulted in sustainable transitions, there was generally a favorable consensus among elites
- National Dialogues have often been used by national elites as a tool to gain or reclaim political legitimacy, which has limited their potential for transformative change
- Procedures for preparing, conducting, and implementing National Dialogues, play a decisive role in whether processes are perceived as representative and legitimate
- In the short term, and most notably in cases of mass protests, National Dialogues have been able to reduce violence by transferring grievances from the streets into formalized processes
Case studies analyzed as part of the National Dialogues Research Project