Incoming host governments will often meet with the outgoing host and the secretariat for hand-overs and briefings. This allows the new host government to use information, best practices and outcomes from the past to make progress in the upcoming negotiations.
Hand-over of information, practices or outcomes from past processes is particularly important for teams that are elected for a limited period of time and will need to hit the ground running. There are several benefits from learning from and building on past negotiations:
- Identification of potential landing zones: Information about party interests from past negotiation rounds can make it easier to identify zones of agreement and craft compromises. If a negotiating party has already accepted or rejected certain proposals in the past it is more likely that it will do so again in the next round.
- Leveraging previous outcomes: Past outcomes, including agreements on previously agreed text, can be used as a basis for new drafts so organizers do not have to start from scratch.
- Legitimacy and efficiency: The use of practices that have precedence and are already accepted, such as informal consultations, can enable a more streamlined and effective process without a loss of transparency. Parties will often feel more comfortable with a setup that appears familiar to them.
- Innovations: A good understanding of past negotiations and the people involved makes it easier to develop new and innovative approaches for future negotiations. Importantly, advice from past experience should not be understood as precluding any form of innovation. But even innovative approaches need to be grounded in lessons from the past.
- Identification of key individuals: Information on “who’s who”, personalities, and agendas make it easier to identify potential influencers, brokers and blockers. This can be particularly helpful when appointing individual chairs or forming informal groups. The outgoing hosts and the secretariat will usually have helpful contacts to share.
- Access to institutional memory: The secretariat represents the “memory” of the regime and negotiations and can point to practices, pitfalls and solutions from the past. Its expertise is indispensable, in particular if an incoming facilitation team does not include process veterans.
Organisers who do not seek to learn from and build on the past suffer an increased risk of failure.
- Inefficiency: Failure to use information from past negotiations increases the risk of wasting time re-tabling proposals or negotiating issues that are better left to one side. Repetitions and pitfalls can consume time and/or upset parties who have already made their opposition to certain issues and other sensitivities clear in the past.
- Failure to identify compromises: Failure to use information from the past about party interests increases the risk of overlooking potential compromises that could have benefitted both sides.
- Exposure: Host governments who have not been properly briefed will be less able to manage the complexities of the negotiation process. They may also find it more difficult to respond effectively to challenging situations and conflicts, such as attempts by obstructionist parties to delay progress.
- Failure to identify the right facilitators: Organisers that have not been informed about ‘who’s who’ run a greater risk of appointing ineffective and/or controversial people as facilitators.
- Failure to innovate at the right time and place: Without proper hand-overs and briefings host governments may not understand where innovation is needed and possible, and where it is not. Futile or poorly timed attempts to innovate, even if well-meaning, can cause inefficiencies and upsets.
Effective and complete hand-over from outgoing hosts or the secretariat may be difficult for a number of reasons:
- Lack of experience, misunderstandings and cultural differences: An incoming host government may find it difficult to ‘tune in’ to the advice, or even the lingo and expressions, used by the outgoing hosts or the secretariat. This can result from a lack of experience in recent negotiation rounds or in negotiations in general. It may also from cultural differences between the incoming host government and the secretariat or the outgoing team.
- Limited time or resources: Efficient briefings and hand-overs from the outgoing hosts or secretariat to the incoming hosts may be hampered by limited resources on both ends. In some cases, the outgoing organiser – having already spent significant resources completing its own term – may also invest less in hand-overs and briefings.
- Different motivations, interests or ambitions: Briefings and hand-overs may not be coordinated or appreciated if different individuals or institutions within the host government, or between the hosts and the secretariat, have divergent perspectives or interests.
- Failure to understand the role of the secretariat: Host governments may (intentionally or not) overlook the important role and experiences of the secretariat. Secretariats, such as those in the WTO or UNFCCC, represent long-term institutional memory and will often be able to supplement or qualify advice from the outgoing hosts.
Preparing the ground
Key organisers and facilitators