Preparing the ground
Teamwork
Communication
Key organisers and facilitators
Informal dialogues
Non-party stakeholders
Convergence strategies
Building trust and relationshipsHand-overs and briefingsOutreach by organisers

  • General outline

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    Definition:

    Facilitators of multilateral negotiations – including chairs, presidents and key figures in the secretariat – can increase their trustworthiness in the eyes of the negotiating parties by undertaking certain activities and behaviours. They are also encouraged to build positive working relationships with individual negotiators, ministers and leaders. Trust from the parties is essential for facilitators to be able to perform their role effectively.

     
    Benefits: 

    When facilitators of multilateral negotiations enjoy parties’ trust and maintain good working relationships, they can more effectively expedite the negotiation process and move the negotiations closer to a successful outcome. Specifically, trust and good working relationships can lead to the following benefits:

    • Information sharing: Trust produces a greater willingness to reveal information, and this in turn helps facilitators to identify potential landing zones. 

    • A smooth process: When parties trust the facilitators, they are less likely to raise objections or slow down the process on procedural grounds because of fears that they will be taken advantage of. They are more willing to permit work behind closed doors in limited settings, which speeds up the process.

    • Acceptance of proposals: Parties are more likely to welcome proposals coming from a trusted facilitator.

    • High costs of blocking: When a facilitator enjoys the trust and goodwill of a majority of parties, it raises the costs for those parties that might wish to block the final compromise and, in certain circumstances, can provide an opportunity to overrule isolated parties and declare consensus in spite of limited objections.

     

    Risks: 

    It is critical that facilitators retain the parties’ trust in order to maintain control over the process. It is almost impossible to perform the role effectively once trust has been lost. A breakdown in trust can result in the following consequences: 

    • Resistance to procedural proposals: Parties will be suspicious of attempts to move the process forward and are more likely to delay or block on procedural grounds. Parties may insist on full transparency and participation, at the expense of efficiency, to ensure that they are comfortable with the process.

    • Withdrawal of responsibility: mistrusted facilitators may be stripped of all substantial responsibilities and limited to a purely ceremonial role of opening and closing sessions and giving the floor. In extreme cases, parties may publicly declare their loss of confidence in a facilitator and even call for their replacement. 

    • Lowers blocking costs: it becomes easier for parties to object to a facilitator’s compromise proposal when he/she does not enjoy the trust of the majority of parties.

     

    Barriers: 

    Trust-building is a delicate process. Trust is much easier to lose than to gain. Barriers include:

    • Time and resources: building trust and relationships takes time and frequent interaction. In the context of multilateral negotiations, this means a great deal of travelling around the globe. Many host governments may face capacity constraints when it comes to the necessary outreach.

    • High stakes: the risk of misplaced trust becomes even greater when matters of major national significance are at stake.

    • Historical distrust: colonialism, international disputes or conflicts, culture clashes and the North-South divide are just some of the historical factors that stand in the way of building trust. Facilitators from the global North face particular challenges in this respect. 

    • Previous experience: the past conduct of a particular facilitator, or the past conduct of another facilitator from the same country or region, may influence negotiators’ perceptions of the current situation.

     

  • Best practices

    • Delegates are more likely to trust a facilitator that they perceive as being capable in the role. Since the role is primarily procedural, a mastery of the rules of procedure and a good understanding of the multilateral process are key. Individuals with chairing experience and skills should be appointed to positions that involve chairing meetings.

      In addition to procedural competence, it is beneficial to have a thorough understanding of the substantive issues under negotiation. Those who are new to the subject area should do their homework well in advance.

    • The President of the unsuccessful 2009 climate negotiations – Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen – had only held office for six months before assuming the role, and had no experience of UN negotiations or other multilateral processes. Poor preparation, including a lack of understanding of the rules of procedure – at one stage calling for a vote despite consensus-making decision rules – meant that delegates did not trust him to manage the process and frequently brought his procedural decisions into question.

    • The Presidents of the successful 2010 and 2015 climate negotiations – Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius – were both experienced diplomats with a thorough understanding of multilateral processes and chairing requirements. Although both new to the issue of climate change, they immersed themselves in the subject matter and soon became masters of content too. Their expertise on the podium both build trust in their abilities and allowed them to outmanoeuvre delegates trying to play procedural tricks.

    • The incoming chair of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) Annual Assembly 2018, Ambassador Janis Zlamets (Permanent Representative of Latvia to the UN in Vienna) is an example of how inexperienced chairs can build up their competence through diligent preparation and consultation with sources of expertise. Both Ambassador Zmlamets  and the Latvian delegation in general had limited experience of chairing high-level international meetings. The initial lack of experience was counteracted by intensive preparations including bilateral meetings with the outgoing chairmanship, informal liaison with more experienced chairs as well as regular and close cooperation with the NSG Secretariat. 

    • Impartiality is a fundamental principle of the role, and it is essential that facilitators are not perceived to be favouring one country or group of countries over another. Chairs and other facilitators can avoid perceptions of bias by distancing themselves from their national position, and by ensuring that all parties have the chance to have their views heard. 

      Multilateral processes are party-driven processes and facilitators should not be seen to be taking the lead or pushing for certain outcomes. When managing draft text, ensure that it is clear to the parties where the proposals have come from and how the text has evolved. Although some host governments have successfully used their platform to promote national initiatives or priorities, these should be clearly distinct “side events” and not part of the formal intergovernmental negotiations.

      Trust is built when the negotiation process is seen to be transparent and inclusive. Take care when managing small-group negotiations to ensure a fair representation of all groups and interests, and afterwards report back to those who were not present. Be clear in communicating the next steps to all, and verbally reassure parties that you are being transparent and inclusive.

    • Research indicates that the Danish Presidency of the 2009 climate negotiations lost the trust of the parties early in the summit when a British newspaper published a leaked version of a compromise text that the Presidency had been working on during secretive consultations with a small number of mostly-developed countries (dubbed the ‘Danish Text’ by parties). This move was seen as lacking in integrity by many parties for three reasons. 

      First, the process excluded the majority of countries, and was lacking in transparency as most parties did not even know that it was taking place.

      Second, the version of the text that was leaked gave preference to US interests. Alongside the composition of the group of countries who were consulted, this gave rise to perceptions of Danish bias.

      Third, the fact that the Presidency had prepared a compromise text before the negotiations had even begun did not respect the party-driven nature of the process and made it seem as if the Danes were trying to impose their own pre-cooked solution.

      The result was that the parties insisted on full transparency and inclusion, which made it very difficult for the negotiations to progress, and refused to allow the Presidency to table a compromise proposal when progress stalled, or to form a “Friends of the Chair” group to overcome the impasse. 

    • Host countries can still leverage their central position in negotiations to foster inclusive agendas aligned with their foreign policy objectives. The Moroccan government, host of United Nations COP22 launched the initiative for the Adaptation of African Agriculture to climate change (aka AAA) on the side of climate negotiations in Marrakech on November 2016. Concurrent with a shift in Moroccan diplomacy towards Africa, the AAA initiative gathered together 33 African countries, main multilateral development funds (eg. the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the French Development Agency, etc.), the international scientific community, the private sector and prominent agricultural development NGOs. The success attributed to the AAA initiative (including increased visibility of agriculture in climate negotiations from COP22 onwards) is largely due to appropriate management of the process by the Moroccan government.

      From the start, the AAA initiative was positioned as an independent organisation in order to gather a wide range of supporters and avoid parasitizing the Moroccan presidency.  Whilst having one of the largest real estate footprint at the COP itself, the AAA initiative stayed cleared of the Blue Zone reserved for climate negotiations, focusing its interventions on the showcase of agricultural projects and scientific evidence regarding the contribution of good agricultural management practices to climate change adaptation.

      Finally, one might argue that the initiative was also well received because it increased the access to climate negotiations to African countries, sometimes challenged by the lack of means and institutional memory. On agriculture alone, the AAA initiative provided them with a window on climate negotiations that was perceived as inclusive and constructive.

    • Relationships take months or even years to establish. There is no quick fix; rather, they are built through frequent interaction between individual organisers and facilitators and individuals in the national delegations. 

      Relationships should be built ahead of the decisive meetings through as many different fora and as many different people as possible. It is important to conduct extensive outreach during the run-up to key meetings in order to listen to parties’ views and concerns. Facilitation teams should consult with as many parties as resources allow for, and take particular care to listen to those parties who have felt excluded in the past. 

      Individual characteristics and skills including empathy, active listening and inter-cultural sensitivity and communication are important for building relationships. Certain individuals may also have accumulated large networks of personal contacts over time. It is therefore important to assign the right individuals to the right roles.  

      Trust is lost when people feel excluded from the process. Trust can be restored by assigning meaningful responsibilities to those previously affected. This can help to ease tense relationships and bring people “into the fold”.

    • Both the President of the successful 2010 climate negotiations and her lead advisor (Patricia Espinosa and Luis Alfonso de Alba) had the individual characteristics necessary for building personal relationships, including empathy, modesty, a sense of humour and active listening skills.

    • The French Presidency of the 2015 climate negotiations that culminated in the Paris Agreement invested considerable time and resources in building up trusting relationships between individuals. They appointed four “roaming ambassadors” based on their knowledge of different regions and cultures, and their individual networks of contacts. In addition, they organised dinners and events with the specific purpose of getting to know negotiators and ministers. Trusting relationships were built at every level of the Presidency, from COP President Fabius to issue-specific experts at lower levels of the negotiations. Extensive travel diplomacy in the lead-up to the summit and a system of 24hr “confessionals”, whereby any delegate could consult with a representative of the Presidency, ensured that all delegations felt that their concerns had been listened to and taken into account, further solidifying trust.

      French diplomats, like those who oversaw the negotiations leading to the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change, are renowned for their “soft skills” and cultural sensitivity. In addition, the lead advisor to the French Presidency – Laurence Tubiana – was a modest, sincere and well-liked individual with a large network of personal contacts from her many years spent working in climate negotiations. 

    • After the failed WTO summit in Seattle in 1999, Mike Moore (the Director-General of the WTO) engaged in extensive travel diplomacy to reach out to those countries that had felt marginalised. In Seattle, the African Group complained about their exclusion from the small-group “Green Room” consultations at the end of the summit and refused to join any consensus on process grounds. In the lead-up to the 2001 Doha summit, Moore travelled to Africa on six separate occasions. It was the first time that a WTO leader had demonstrated such respect by visiting the continent. In Moore’s own words, his African outreach was the “crucial element” (2003: 113) in launching the Doha trade round.