Our research team has defined seven categories as a way to accurately identify areas of action, risks and benefits linked to all parts of the negotiation process. Expect updates on this project as we continue to develop it further.
Well aligned communication provides the following benefits:
Clarity for participants: Communication alignment between the organisers on “How?”, “What?” and “When?” ensures that participants are correctly informed and avoids confusion. For example, communicating early when a plenary is starting behind schedule allows participants to work on other tasks instead of waiting impatiently for the session to start.
Perception of competence: If communication is well-aligned between the organisers, this creates a perception of competence, which can stretch to other areas besides communication. Thus, clear and aligned communication helps to raise the perception of a well-working, well-organised chairmanship team.
Effective teamwork: When the lines of communication are open within the chairmanship and between the secretariat and chairmanship, it makes for a better functioning team. This allows to drive ambition and progress, because the organisers are more effective.
Clarity for the public: Consistent communication coming from the organisers enhances the public’s understanding of the proceedings and avoids confusions. The public will have a better perception of what is going on and what constitutes success when such communication is clear and aligned.
If communication is not aligned, several risks may arise:
Misunderstandings arise: If communication is not aligned, the chairmanship team might send mixed messages to participants, which can then lead to misunderstandings. If different participants are informed at different moments in time and even with contradictory messages, it is likely to lead to confusion and suspicion.
Loss of authority: If the chairmanship is not communicating in a consistent manner, participants will question their competence and cohesiveness. This can have an impact on the reputation and authority of the chairmanship team.
Chairmanship becomes side-lined: If the chairmanship is perceived as chaotic due to a lack of communication alignment, it risks being side-lined (i.e. excluded from the “real” negotiations). Parties who wish to bring the negotiation process forward and have the power to do so, might get together and try to negotiate a deal aside from the formal negotiations. This makes it even more difficult for the chairmanship to ensure a successful outcome of the negotiations.
There are several barriers to ensuring well aligned communication:
High complexity: Multilateral negotiations are complex situations with many different tracks and paths leading to the ultimate conclusion. This is further reinforced when communication from the organisers is inconsistent. The high complexity of the negotiations makes it challenging for the chairmanship to keep the overview and ensure that communication is consistent and clear at all times.
Conflict and tension: Multilateral negotiations can be fraught with conflict and tension, especially if the stakes are high. It might thus sometimes be necessary to communicate differently or at different moments with different players. However, if done incorrectly, unclear messaging and lines of communication can exacerbate already existing tensions.
Conflicting communication from other channels / multiple media sources: The organisers are not the only people communicating during the conference. Other channels, including regional groups, non-governmental organisations and media are also communicating about the negotiations. It can be challenging for the organisers to ensure that their messages cut through and are not lost in the multitude of stories that can emerge from a multilateral negotiation.
Technical language: Negotiations are highly technical, and it is thus challenging to keep messages both short and clear. New delegates to the process might require more detailed messages than longstanding negotiators in order to follow the process. Using too much jargon can confuse many delegates and make them feel left out of the process.
Best practices and examples
1. Choose a Focal Point
The chairmanship should choose a focal point to speak on its behalf. The focal point can serve as a bridge between the chairmanship and the rest of the world.
2. Hold Daily Coordination Meetings
Holding daily briefings between the chairmanship and the secretariat ensures clear, coherent communication to all. These coordination meetings can be used to align messages or to coordinate who is responsible for communicating on what. In these meetings, organisers can for example discuss when to announce what and how these messages are distributed.
3. Coordinate CLosing Statements and Messaging
A clear communication of the closing statement is crucial. Closing statements will help shape the public's perception of success of the negotiations. Coordinating the messaging of the chairmanship and the packaging of results is key to this.
4. Appoint a Liaison Officer
It can be helpful to appoint a liaison officer from the chairmanship who is temporarily joining the secretariat early in the process in order to ensure that communication is well-aligned. This is particularly important as the chairmanship and secretariat are not yet at the same location, and coordination is thus more difficult. Good communication prior to the start of the conference helps to manage expectations.