Partnership Forum Guidelines
Multi-stakeholder dialogues, such as the Partnership Forum, must be developed in a manner that ensures an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust for all participants. This atmosphere is critical to building the relationships among participants that will allow them to share important information as well as find ways to collaborate. While many dialogues today often rely merely on stating that a meeting is being held “under the Chatham House Rule,”* the process of creating guidelines for discussions as a group can be a vital tool for building a sustained dialogue.
The Guidelines for the Forum were developed by companies and NGOs at a meeting in January 2008 when they created the forum. The guidelines were based on those of the Human Rights and Business Roundtable, a multi-stakeholder forum initiated in 1997 in Washington DC by The Fund for Peace.**
Guidelines will differ slightly depending on the issue, the nature of the stakeholders, and the environment in which they are seeking to collaborate. They will, however, have components similar to the following:
State the goal of the dialogue shared by participants.
State the objective of the dialogue.
Highlight the importance of guidelines for ensuring that an atmosphere of sustained dialogue is created and maintained in order to better share information and build the relationships needed to meet the shared goal and objective.
Include confidentiality (not secrecy) as a key component. It is the basis for allowing individual participants the confidence they need to speak freely. This can normally be ensured merely by stating there will be no attribution to individuals or their organizations of what was said.
If meeting notes are kept, the guidelines should define their content and describe how they will be distributed. Guidelines should note how formal presentations will be handled. They will usually require permission from the presenters before being distributed.
It should be clear to participants that the dialogue is meant for sharing information to build good practices and share lessons learned. It is not meant for any of the participants to promote their own activities as a business development or public relations exercise. As such, the dialogue should typically not include representatives of the media and this should be stated as well.
As mentioned, guidelines should fit the needs of the specific dialogue and expectations of participants. For example, when the guidelines for the Partnership Forum were drafted based on input from participants at the initial planning meeting and then presented to participants for their approval, they included a line about participants expressing only their “individual views” – i.e. not representing their organization. The term “individual views” was not widely accepted among participants. Instead, the group decided that “personal opinion” was a more locally acceptable term to be used for the same purpose. This process of allowing the initial participants to craft the final guidelines is important as it ensures they are appropriate to the local culture and needs; it also creates buy-in among participants. In Indonesia, only organizations participate in the Forum. Each organization has a contact person who signs the guidelines on behalf of the organization and is responsible for maintaining contact with the Forum. This helps ensure that the procedures described in the guidelines are institutionalized over the life of the dialogue. Having a contact person also makes communication with each organization easier as turnover of individuals is common. Another critical component of the guidelines is that the facilitator be cognizant at all times that they are being upheld. Participants should be reminded of the guidelines before each meeting and if the facilitator feels that a participant may be not following them, which can often be the result of an honest mistake or misunderstanding (often occurring at the beginning or when new people join the group), the facilitator must take action quickly to ensure that everyone knows the guidelines must be upheld. If a participant refuses to follow the guidelines, or demonstrates they do not share the common objective but have joined the dialogue with their own agenda, which also endangers the atmosphere, then the facilitator must be prepared to ask the organization (or the individual in some cases) to leave the dialogue.
* The Chatham House Rule originated in June 1927 at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, which is now known as Chatham House. The aim of the rule is to guarantee anonymity to those speaking within its walls so that better international relations may be achieved. The rule is now used internationally as an aid to free discussion. The original rule was refined in October 1992 and again, in 2002. It reads, “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”
** The Human Rights and Business Roundtable of The Fund for Peace is still very active today and includes participation of representatives of multinational oil and mining companies, human rights and development NGOs, government agencies, and multilateral organizations. Participants discuss issues related to operating in conflict-sensitive environments with the mutual goal of promoting the rule of law and open societies.