Nonformal dialogues offer complementary approaches to formal dialogues in national peacemaking efforts in contexts of conflict. As exemplified by the nonformal dialogues in Myanmar, Lebanon, and Nepal examined in this report, nonformal dialogues are able to engage a broader range of stakeholders, including those marginalized or excluded from formal processes, and to extend their work over time, evolving to reflect changing societal concerns. They can provide valuable information and policy recommendations to governmental bodies and international organizations and are useful to sustain engagement when more formal processes have stalled.

Summary

  • Nonformal national dialogues are a type of national architecture for peacemaking and peacebuilding. This report examines several nonformal dialogues initiated in Nepal, Lebanon, and Burma since 2003.
  • Both nonformal and formal national dialogues have arisen in part as a response to the growing emphasis on indigenous national responses to the challenge of conflict transformation and the ongoing effort to ensure that peacemaking processes are more inclusive.
  • Nonformal dialogues are distinguished from their formal counterparts (which they often complement) in the type and origin of their mandates, their less public character, types of participants (which may include those sidelined from, or who refuse to participate in, formal dialogues), their extended duration, and a generally smaller size.
  • In peace and political change processes, nonformal national dialogues can help stabilize a peace process, particularly when formal processes have broken down.
  • Nonformal national dialogue processes and their stakeholders need significant support from local, national, and international sources but, as multistakeholder entities, must be independent of, and perceived to be independent of, the influence of any one constituency or donor.
  • As seen in Nepal, Lebanon, and Burma, nonformal dialogues can provide valuable input into official negotiations and policy recommendations for governments and other entities over many years. During their lifetime, nonformal dialogues may well need to evolve to reflect and address changing circumstances in the wider society.
  • Though not without risks, nonformal dialogues offer a flexible mechanism for engaging national stakeholders in structured and sequenced peacemaking efforts even when political and security conditions may not favor a formal, public national dialogue.

About the Report

Nonformal, inquiry-based dialogues have played an important role in advancing peacemaking and other political change processes in countries such as Nepal, Lebanon, and Myanmar. This report draws extensively on the experiences of national stakeholders in both nonformal and formal national dialogue processes who participated in the two international conferences on national dialogues in April 2014 and November 2015 hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. Through subsequent research supported by the United States Institute of Peace under the Jennings Randolph Fellowship program, the report involved extensive consultations, meetings, and interviews with national stakeholders, including participants, staff, advisers, donors, and observers of both formal and nonformal dialogue processes in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

About the Author

Derek Brown serves as codirector of the Peace Appeal Foundation, where his work focuses on supporting multistakeholder institutions and dialogue processes in the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia. In 2015–16, he was a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, where his research concerned the institutional structures that support national dialogue processes. Previously he was vice president and associate chair of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public.

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