Challenge for Europe

Improving dialogue between the public and the private to improve governance

For several years, all over Europe, regional stakeholder dialogue has been multiplying. Whether this is with respect to development in rural or urban areas, environmental protection or conflicts of use, the fora for dialogue are opening, either within the framework defined by regulation, or – more frequently – at the initiative of local actors. State services, regional collectives, associations, businesses and citizens actively participate. This evolution comes in the larger context of a transformation in modes of governance, decentralization, citizen participation and coordination between the public and private sectors.

For the moment, public policies are not very visible in this domain. This is true in terms of legislation, of the creation of organisms specializing in large developments, of research programs, of recognition – in certain countries – of environmental mediation, etc. These initiatives of public actors are disparate. They only concern a minutae of the observed practices in the field in each country and are not placed in their proper context at the European level. Since the end of the 1980s, we have been in a period of abundant experimentation and research on an extremely diverse range of social practices.

Partnerships improve the quality of mediation services

This field is becoming increasingly dominated by professionals since the recent appearance of specialized consultancies (facilitators, mediators, counselors, moderators) whose training and methodology are very diverse.

As a consequence:

The quality of the consultation process is unequal from one place to another and from one domain to another. In certain instances, the attempts of participants are disappointed, creating disillusion and provoking a return to power struggles or to the juridification of procedure in the regulation of conflict.

Actors in the consultation – professional or not – are isolated; they have at their disposal only limited knowledge of the experiments taking place in other countries or other fields.

There is no common reference concerning methodology and deonotology.

In such a field, it is not a question of imposing a way of doing things or obliging local actors to take part in a consultation process. Nor is it advisable to limit innovation in methodology. A top-down policy produces nothing but deviations and resistance. On the other hand, it is advisable to instigate, to get to know the stakeholders and create partnerships.

It is not a question of either of more centralization of consultation processes, nor of limiting the initiatives taken by public authorities. We must encourage initiatives taken by the relevant actors. These practices can be situated at the local, regional, national, or trans-boundary level.

Only a European initiative is on a sufficient scale to connect networks of stakeholders and work across national boundaries.

Proposal

Create a fund designed to encourage first steps towards multi-stakeholder regional dialogue. Today, the mobilization of local funding for local or regional consultation initiatives is a difficult task. Flexible and adapted finance based on a bottom-up project-based approach could bring more methodological and democratic value-added to the process. One of the difficulties no doubt lays in the necessarily reactive nature of the field: decentralization seems indispensable at this level. The programme Leader can provide a reference in terms of method. Private (foundations) and public (regional collectivities) benefactors can serve as references with respect to funding criteria for these projects.

Networking with relevant actors at the European level. Researchers, practitioners, and public and private backers exchange very little concerning the methods and principals of consultation. And yet, their questions are similar. A major goal is to encourage networking at the national and local scale in order to exchange experiences and progressively build common frames of reference. It is not enough to pontificate norms, but to share knowledge and identify best practices. We must also share our questions concerning both methodology and ethics in order to prevent derivative effects.

Diffusion of (best) practices. Getting to know best practices, notably innovative ones, contributes to the training of local actors. Even the dissemination of information about failed efforts – from which lessons can be derived – is very useful on the pedagogical map.

Encourage training. One of the biggest issues for future professionals in the field is to improve training, currently in its infancy, by placing more value on knowledge acquired from experience and research. The implementation of training courses that lead to qualifications needs to be studied by pedagogical experts.

Demand an audit and evaluation of consultation processes. The consultation process is rarely evaluated. And yet, the evaluation of past experience is indispensable to collective learning and progress. Far from constituting an evaluation sanction, it is necessary to make self-evaluation assisted by researchers and external auditors a systematic part of the policy process, permitting hosts of projects to engage with the approach to learning. The granting of public financing could be accompanied by such requirements.

Author :
Print