Preparing the ground
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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    Outreach should be conducted by a host government and key individuals from the supporting secretariat, for example through travel diplomacy. It serves multiple purposes, including advocating for the negotiations’ purpose and building momentum, consulting with negotiating parties, encouraging them to share their views, and building relationships. 


    Outreach in the lead-up to key meetings is an important activity for the host government because it delivers many co-benefits, including:

    • Mapping the ground: By consulting with parties in advance of the summit, organisers can better understand different perceptions of the problem, what the most important issues are for each party, and the interests underlying their positions. This information, in turn, can help in identifying potential “landing zones” and in drafting an eventual compromise solution that is acceptable to all.

    • Legitimacy: It is not enough to simply collect information on different positions – parties need to feel ownership of the process and that their views have been adequately taken into account. As time is limited during the summit itself, earlier pre-summit outreach activities are key for ensuring process legitimacy.

    • Building trust and relationships: It is through face-to-face contact over a sustained period of time that trusting relationships can be formed, for example through the gesture of travelling to someone’s capital to meet them in person. This is turn facilitates a smooth process and increases the likelihood of a successful outcome. 

    • Expectation management: When stakeholders’ expectations for the summit are too high or too low, it can result in suboptimal outcomes. Consultation via outreach offers the opportunity to manage expectations in line with expected outcomes. 

    • Advocacy: Through actively promoting the purpose of the negotiations and related events via outreach, the host facilitation team and international secretariat can build momentum and engagement across a wide variety of stakeholders. 

    Insufficient outreach can pose a number of risks, including:

    • Lack of understanding: when organisers fail to sufficiently understand parties’ domestic contexts, their negotiation positions and the reasons behind them, it impedes their ability to draft an agreement that is acceptable to all.

    • Objections: parties who do not feel adequately consulted may become dissatisfied with the process and raise objections, which delay the process and undermine the host government’s credibility.

    • Loss of trust: when outreach is unbalanced, non-representative or highly secretive, there is a risk that it is perceived as favouring certain parties or groups, which can lead to accusations of bias and a loss of trust. 

    There are a number of barriers to conducting effective outreach:

    • Resources: travel diplomacy carries a considerable cost, in terms of financial, human and diplomatic resources and also time. In order to appear impartial, it is necessary to travel as widely and as representatively as possible.

    • Soft skills and communication: in order for outreach to be effective, those individuals involved need to have certain personal qualities such as active listening skills, empathy and intercultural sensitivity, as well as fitting a certain profile in terms of experience.

    • Expertise: in order to speak with authority and make best use of the information collected via outreach, it is necessary to have accumulated a certain amount of substantive expertise on the issues under negotiation 

    • Networks: effective outreach depends on having access to existing networks of contacts; they cannot be built from scratch. A large diplomatic network is a huge asset.

    • Diplomatic protocol: familiarity with the correct procedures, practices and communication channels is important to reach the right people. Similarly, diplomatic sensitivity to bilateral or regional issues can avoid potential upsets.
  • Best practices

    • Effective outreach requires the right personality and skill set. When selecting those individuals who will be involved in outreach a number of desired attributes should be considered, including active listening and communication skills, “soft skills” such as empathy and humour and an in-depth understanding of the region with which they consult, including knowledge of the domestic political contexts, local cultures and customs. Substantive knowledge of the issue under negotiation is also necessary, but can be acquired with greater ease than these other competencies.

    • The French Presidency was keenly aware of the importance of cultivating trusting relationships through their outreach. When selecting the four “roaming ambassadors” who were together responsible for the large part of extensive travel diplomacy conducted in the run-up to COP21, they made their decision not upon the individuals’ knowledge of climate change, but rather on their regional expertise, personal contacts and cultural know-how. These high-level, talented diplomats benefitted from the crucial soft skills necessary for effective outreach, and quickly developed an in-depth substantive understanding of the issues under negotiation.

    • Existing diplomatic networks should be used to their full potential in a coordinated manner. Additional support can be requested from regional diplomatic networks (such as the African Union or the European Union) of which a host government is a member. Issue démarches, talk to people on the ground, promote the issue under negotiation and gather information on local positions and priorities. Leverage embassy staff’s existing contacts to expand your network and ensure you talk to the right people.

    • The French Presidency engaged their entire diplomatic network of embassies and consulates during the year leading up to the Paris summit, for example by issuing démarches and directing their ambassadors to keep climate change high on the agenda. The efficient and coordinated French diplomatic network meant that instructions coming from the capital could immediately be carried out around the globe, facilitating the collection of information necessary for mapping positions and building momentum for the summit.

    • In addition to leveraging on-the-ground diplomatic networks, effective outreach entails sending representatives to capitals to talk with people in person. This sign of respect builds trusting relationships and allows the team to better understand the interests and underlying positions, which in turn helps to identify potential landing zones. To the greatest extent possible, send high-level individuals and do not limit your outreach to “big” countries, but also visit “smaller” countries that may have felt overlooked in the past. Try to speak with as many countries as possible, but if resources are limited, make sure to speak at a minimum with representatives of each regional (sub-)group, and all “key players” that have particular issues at stake or play a key role in the discussions. 

    • French travel diplomacy in the run-up to COP21 was unparalleled both in its scale and its level of seniority. Four high-level ambassadors, each one an expert on a particular region, were tasked with travelling the globe and collectively visited over 150 countries. Foreign minister and COP President Laurent Fabius and his lead advisor Laurence Tubiana also criss-crossed the globe, with Fabius racking up the equivalent of a round-the-world trip every month and 12 visits to China alone over the space of 18 months, and Tubiana personally clocking in at 45-50 countries including one or two trips to the US each month. Even President Francois Hollande participated in this top-level diplomatic outreach.

    • WTO Director-General Mike Moore conducted extensive travel diplomacy in the run-up to the 2001 ministerial conference in Doha, reaching out in particular to Africa. He was the first Director-General to visit the continent and did so on six separate occasions. This was a conscious strategy to rebuild the trust that was lost in Seattle. This was a reaction to the criticism that the organisers of the failed 1999 WTO ministerial conference in Seattle encountered  for overseeing a process that excluded many developing countries, in particular the African Group. Moore later reported that this outreach was the “crucial element in launching the (Doha Development Agenda)”.

    • In any context (on-the-ground diplomacy, travel diplomacy, consultations during the summit or chairing a meeting), it is important to engage in active listening and to ask open questions in order to find out not just the “what” but also the “why”. Check that your understanding of a position is correct by repeating back what you (think) you have heard. Effective communication not only ensures that the information received is accurate; it also assures countries that their concerns are being heard, thereby building trust, legitimacy and a sense of ownership.

    • Information obtained through outreach is instrumental for understanding the range of different parties’ positions and “mapping the ground” of where the zone of potential agreement could lie. By systematically managing information, for example through careful note-taking and submitting detailed reports back to the capital, organisers are in a better position to put forward realistic compromise proposals at a later stage in the negotiation process.

    • The French Presidency received vast quantities of information on parties’ positions from a number of different sources, including embassy cables and party submissions. They also assigned individuals within their team to cover specific issues and sub-issues. These individuals became experts on countries’ positions, flexibilities and red lines on specific items and fed this information into the Presidency. They used this information to ‘map the ground’ in the run-up to the summit and sketch out the possible contours of the zone of agreement. Although they never produced a “French text”, the final analyses conducted in the months and weeks prior to the COP closely resembled the final agreement.

    • Outreach, and particularly travel diplomacy, is costly and time-consuming. It should be diligently accounted for from the start of preparation in close coordination with the treasury. In cases of resource constraints, consider sharing the burden with a second country as a “co-presidency” and work closely with regional organisations to which you are a member.