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.
Preparing the ground
Key organisers and facilitators