Data

Face-to-Face, Online, or Both?
Both
General Type of Method
Deliberative and dialogic process
Typical Purpose
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Spectrum of Public Participation
Collaborate
Links
Inspired Website
Videos
EPD INSPIRED method (ENG)
Number of Participants
Small groups
Medium size groups
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Facilitation
Yes
Decision Methods
General Agreement/Consensus
Scope of Implementation
No Geographical Limits
Level of Polarization This Method Can Handle
Low polarization

METHOD

INSPIRED

August 30, 2021 leonhemkemeyer
August 17, 2021 leonhemkemeyer
August 13, 2021 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
August 12, 2021 leonhemkemeyer

Relying on evidence-based policy-making Integrated Support Programme for Inclusive Reform and Democratic Dialogue (INSPIRED) aims to promote transparency and accountability by guiding policy dialogue through three phases: collective assessment, consensus-building, and monitoring.

INTRODUCTION

The basic assumption of the INSPIRED approach is that those groups that are affected by a given policy reform should have a say in it and therefore be considered as ‘key’ stakeholders, even if they lack leverage or direct influence on actual decision-making. In other words, for policy dialogue to be meaningful, legitimate and effective, it needs to be inclusive and allow for real participation of the main parties concerned.

This in turn enhances the chances that the participating stakeholders adopt a more pluralistic outlook on their society. By working together, they are compelled to recognise the existence of a diversity of interests and beliefs regarding a given problem, which naturally leads to different positions towards political choices meant to solve this problem.

This acceptance of ‘pluralism’ by the key social and political stakeholders can in turn function as a safeguard against an excessive accumulation of power by any single actor in the political system, as well as a means to overcome the winner-takes-all attitudes that still prevail in many electoral democracies and that lie at the heart of the phenomenon known as populism.

The two core values of inclusiveness and participation are streamlined throughout the approach, which was designed to ensure that multi-stakeholder dialogue can be successful in delivering outcomes at three different levels’: policy, process and partnerships


What is INSPIRED?

Integrated Support Programme for Inclusive Reform and Democratic Dialogue (INSPIRED) aims to address the operational divide between democracy support and the array of instruments aimed at promoting good governance. In particular, it encourages international aid organisations and practitioners to make use of policy dialogue, by enhancing its inclusiveness and putting in place participatory mechanisms that make it more representative and legitimate.

The INSPIRED approach builds on the democratic principles of inclusiveness and participation, which function as its two core values; being both intrinsic and instrumental, they provide the red lines guiding multi-stakeholder dialogue processes. Thanks to its focus on evidence-based policy-making, the method also promotes the principles of transparency and accountability, which are key prerequisites for a functioning democracy. In order to be of practical use in guiding policy dialogue, the two core values of inclusiveness and participation have been streamlined throughout. Further, the method consists of three phases: Collective Assessment, Consensus Building and Monitoring and Donor Alignment. Each phase presents a series of tools and techniques that can be used to make policy debate more inclusive and participatory while keeping it oriented to concrete results.

Overall management of the dialogue is to be ensured by a “Dialogue Host” that functions as an impartial convener, facilitator, policy analyst and communicator of results. Acting on behalf of the donor while being at the service of the domestic stakeholders participating in the dialogue, the Dialogue Host embodies the idea of a true partnership; one that is based on mutual trust and accountability so as to be responsive to the challenges of consensus-building.

The INSPIRED approach is simultaneously policy-oriented, process-oriented and partnership-oriented. By focusing on the dialogue process around policy choices, it identifies different entry points into the policy cycle, implying different strategies for influencing decision-making and monitoring implementation.

Secondly, given its focus on dialogue, INSPIRED puts strong attention on the notion of process, recognising that in democracy support the means are as important as the end, but nevertheless delivering tangible results such as the Participatory Policy Assessments and Roadmaps for Reform, which are to be produced by the participating stakeholders themselves. 

And last but not least, INSPIRED brokers the kind of partnerships that are needed to successfully implement any policy reform, promoting coordination and the kind of division of labour that characterises well-articulated policy networks.    

All these aspects are reflected in the Integrated Support Framework (ISF), a reporting tool that can be used to present snapshots of the dialogue process at different moments, providing practitioners and the donors with useful insight into the points of contention, as well as the interests and incentives of the participating stakeholders. By presenting this kind of “intelligence” in a focused and structured way – identifying potential gridlocks and conflicting visions as well as real windows of opportunity – the ISF can help donors and implementing agencies design and coordinate programmes and assistance measures in a way that ensures their alignment with locally-led processes of reform.

  • Find more about what is INSPIRED here.

How does INSPIRED work in practice?

For practical purposes and in line with many other dialogue methods, the INSPIRED approach is structured around three interrelated phases. These phases provide a clear framework for cooperation for all the actors involved and give direction to the dialogue process.

Each phase – (1) Collective Assessment, (2) Consensus Building and (3) Monitoring and Alignment – is oriented towards delivering different results of the joint work of the stakeholders involved: a Participatory Policy Assessment (1), a Roadmap for Reform (2) and a Policy Network Strategy (3).

The process is facilitated by a Dialogue Host, an organisation that assembles and guides all other stakeholders throughout the process. The Dialogue Host needs to invest itself in creating the conditions for trust to arise among dialogue participants, even those that may not be on good terms with each other. 

Experience has shown that instead of representing a clear sequence, the borders between the three phases tend to be fluid, which is due in part to the iterative nature of any dialogue process. Indeed, the stakeholders can always ‘take a step backwards’ to review their initial assessment of the policy under discussion (building on new data collected at a later stage, for instance) or pause to assess new developments with a view to finding room for a consensus. Therefore, rather than as phases stricto sensu, the phases of the INSPIRED approach should be understood as a continuum punctuated by a whole series of joint events and common achievements that need to fit into the bigger political picture.

This degree of flexibility with regard to the sequencing of dialogue meetings and events poses high demands on the Dialogue Host, which must remain alert to any changes in the policy landscape and in the delicate interplay between the political actors and stakeholders, and ready to adapt the whole process to those unknown factors that will surely arise in the dialogue process.

  • Find more about how INSPIRED works here.

Why does INSPIRED make such a difference ?

The INSPIRED approach builds on the democratic principles of inclusiveness and participation, which function as its two core values; being both intrinsic and instrumental, they provide the red lines guiding multi-stakeholder dialogue processes. Thanks to its focus on evidence-based policy-making, the method also promotes the principles of transparency and accountability, which are key prerequisites for a functioning democracy. In order to be of practical use in guiding policy dialogue, the two core values of inclusiveness and participation have been streamlined throughout. Further, the method, which consists of three phases: Collective Assessment, Consensus Building and Monitoring and Donor Alignment. Each phase presents a series of tools and techniques that can be used to make policy debate more inclusive and participatory while keeping it oriented to concrete results.

Overall management of the dialogue is to be ensured by a “Dialogue Host” that functions as an impartial convener, facilitator, policy analyst and communicator of results. Acting on behalf of the donor while being at the service of the domestic stakeholders participating in the dialogue, the Dialogue Host embodies the idea of a true partnership; one that is based on mutual trust and accountability so as to be responsive to the challenges of consensus-building.

The INSPIRED approach is simultaneously policy-oriented, process-oriented and partnership-oriented. By focusing on the dialogue process around policy choices, it identifies different entry points into the policy cycle, implying different strategies for influencing decision-making and monitoring implementation. 

Secondly, given its focus on dialogue, INSPIRED puts strong attention on the notion of process, recognising that in democracy support the means are as important as the end, but nevertheless delivering tangible results such as the Participatory Policy Assessments and Roadmaps for Reform, which are to be produced by the participating stakeholders themselves. 

And last but not least, INSPIRED brokers the kind of partnerships that are needed to successfully implement any policy reform, promoting coordination and the kind of division of labour that characterises well-articulated policy networks.    

All these aspects are reflected in the Integrated Support Framework (ISF), a reporting tool that can be used to present snapshots of the dialogue process at different moments, providing practitioners and the donors with useful insight into the points of contention, as well as the interests and incentives of the participating stakeholders. By presenting this kind of “intelligence” in a focused and structured way – identifying potential gridlocks and conflicting visions as well as real windows of opportunity – the ISF can help donors and implementing agencies design and coordinate programmes and assistance measures in a way that ensures their alignment with locally-led processes of reform.

For implementing INSPIRED and delivering its key results – namely the Participatory Policy Assessment, the and the Roadmap for Reform and the Policy Network –, practitioners of policy-dialogue must first consider the interplay of the three interconnected dimensions that conform its three-tier approach: policy, process and partnership.

Policy

… i.e. linked to a concrete policy reform effort

Policy can be conceptualised as a middle ground between the political and the technical that allows stakeholders to structure their discussion along commonly shared concepts, methods and evidence. Indeed, one of the key lessons that we learned when we conducted the first INSPIRED processes was how important it is to structure dialogue around concrete policy issues, to provide otherwise confronted stakeholders with an opportunity to develop a common understanding of the challenges at stake and then propose concrete solutions to those challenges.

To this end, the promotion of a culture of evidence-based policy-making among the largest possible number of stakeholders is crucial for the success of the dialogue process, as it forces the incumbent government to increase the transparency of its inner workings, which represents a first step towards creating mechanisms of accountability. Moreover, basing discussions on knowledge and reliable data is the best way to ensure that the impact of the reform initiatives resulting from the dialogue process can be measured adequately and that any changes in the policy at stake are based on informed decisions.

All this may explain why the EU has recently adopted a ‘Policy First’ approach in the programming of its external action. Aware of the huge potential of working at the policy level, the EU’s own development policy currently calls its EU delegations across the world to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach and base the programming of EU funded support on policy dialogue.

As policy has progressively come into focus in international development circles, the notion of policy dialogue has gained traction too, including in the EU aid system. Given that the greatest chunk of aid is being mobilised through sector reform, budget support and other financial instruments such as blending, donors have been progressively realising that they need to move beyond the classical “project approach”. Instead, they are increasingly focused on influencing domestic policies and, in this framework, need to identify policy indicators that can determine if the reform processes that they are supporting stay on the right track. For the sake of objectivity and in order to promote transparency, the measurement of these policy indicators cannot be done exclusively with the government, but needs to involve other domestic stakeholders such as civil society organisations, think tanks or subnational governments so as to ensure that the datasets provided by the government are accurate and reliable instead of presenting the donor with a rosy picture ensuring the disbursement of the next financial tranche.

Process

… i.e. conceived as a dynamic and flexible process

In any dialogue, the means are as important as the end and compromises, or even consensus can only be achieved progressively, taking one step at a time and ensuring that none of the key institutions or stakeholders that are willing to participate are left behind.

Indeed, one of the main potential advantages of inclusive and participatory policy dialogue is that it paves the way for mutual recognition among otherwise confronted stakeholders. For this to happen, these actors need to feel that they are being listened to and that their insight and inputs are taken on board by the other dialogue participants and as well as the facilitators of the process. Involvement leads to engagement, which is the basis upon which real ownership over policy reform must be built in order for such reform to yield fruit in the medium to long term.

Besides, policy work is seldom static, as circumstances change and priorities are frequently redefined – mainly by the official policy-makers, which makes it even more important for policy dialogue projects to focus on the many overlapping processes that unfold simultaneously during policy formulation and implementation. Not to speak of those other processes –political, electoral, budgetary, etc. – that are shaping policy to a great extent and that are crucial for understanding the positions and interests of the different stakeholders involved in policy-making.

In such a complex system, where most elements are closely interconnected, the success of any given reform depends entirely on the capacity of dialogue facilitators to understand how and when each of the key stakeholders can influence the policy process. And this is arguably one of the main advantages of adopting a multi-stakeholder approach, as it allows the different types of actors to influence through dialogue those aspects of their respective agendas or mandates that would otherwise fall out of their reach. Moreover, the exchange of views fostered through dialogue becomes a way of improving policy coordination and promoting a division of labour where specific tasks are taken care of by those actors who are best placed to do so.

Aware of the growing importance of civil society in the policy process, some years ago – coinciding with the implementation of INSPIRED – the EU delegations have been defining their Country Roadmaps for Engagement with Civil Society, consecrating its approach towards the role of civil society organisations in development by moving its focus beyond service providers and watchdogs to full-fledged partners in policy dialogue.

Partnership

… i.e. oriented towards brokering long-standing partnerships

Putting a strong focus on both the specificities of a given policy (policy orientation) and the inner dynamics of the dialogue process (process orientation) is arguably the most effective way of building solid and long-standing partnerships. In most cases, policy decisions are the result of the interplay amongst the many different actors that conform to what is known as “policy networks”, which bring together more or less powerful players belonging to different working areas that remain, nonetheless, strongly interconnected. Government officials, policy analysts, lobbyists, activists, private companies, think-tankers, scholars, and entrepreneurs may all have different mandates and respond to different incentives, but all tend to know each other and share a common basic understanding of how that given policy works. Actually, many of them may switch positions along with their professional careers, moving from civil society to government, or from government to the private sector, sometimes abusing their position and giving way to the phenomenon known as “revolving doors”.

However outrageous this change of sides may appear to external observers, it actually showcases the many communicating vessels that underlie any given policy field and bind together the different policy actors. Managed through open dialogue, these relationships can be mobilised into a force for positive change and broadened to include usually side-lined players. When information is shared on a regular basis – which is what dialogue is about – and the resulting knowledge stems from a collective endeavour, those who partake in it are keener to identify with each other and attain a better understanding of the policy as a whole.

This shared vision is essential for the sustainability of policy reform and the creation of long-standing policy partnerships based on a rational and fair division of labour towards the achievement of a collective goal. Once aware of being in the same boat, the different stakeholders will be less inclined to grow in different directions and may proceed to a better distribution of the necessary tasks to achieve policy reform, avoiding overlaps and fostering the kind of synergies that are necessary when resources are limited. More importantly, after working together in the dialogue process and getting to know their respective strengths and constraints, the key stakeholders will have progressively developed the kind of operational partnership that is sought in most development actions but seldom sees the light for lack of mutual understanding.

  • Find more about how INSPIRED makes the difference here.


WHAT CHANGE CAN INSPIRED BRING?

Words are easily blown by the wind and many professionals in the development, human rights and democracy and peacebuilding fields are already suffering from what is known as “dialogue fatigue”, which made us realise how crucial it was to instil the INSPIRED dialogues with a strong sense of purpose. However, striving for concrete and measurable results does not necessarily mean that these results need to be predetermined in advance, especially when aiming at a moving target – which is a central feature of any effort to influence policy.

If policy dialogue is dynamic by nature and the result of multiple stakeholders interacting with each other, pretending to define its results from the outset is not only a futile effort, but one that risks undermining the local ownership that the dialogue aims to build in the first place. Instead, it should always be up to the key domestic stakeholders to determine what their common objectives are and to frame them within the opportunities and constraints presented by the policy at stake. Moreover, such objectives, once set, should not be cast in stone, as this would significantly limit the dialogue participants’ flexibility and capacity to react to changing dynamics in the policy field.

However, avoiding preordained objectives does not mean to neglect results; on the contrary, it allows the stakeholders to focus on what the dialogue process is actually achieving, while adapting to the ever-changing circumstances in the policy and political landscapes. Instead of stubbornly concentrating on the objectives and indicators of a pre-defined log frame, the stakeholders are invited to adapt their priorities and objectives to the changing context, as well as to remain open-minded and focus their attention on the most significant outcomes – planned as well as unforeseen – of their deliberations that could be turned into windows of opportunity to push for the desired reforms.

In other words, the orientation towards results is an essential characteristic of the INSPIRED approach, but it has been nuanced to prevent dialogue organisers and facilitators from losing sight of other aspects that are equally important. In a dialogue process, results need to be collectively agreed. They do not need to be established necessarily at the beginning of a project, but rather assessed in hindsight so as to showcase the impact of the dialogue participants’ joint work and to encourage them to continue their collective endeavour. This realisation is why the evaluation method Outcome Harvesting has been integrated into the approach. It allows the participants in the dialogue process to take stock of the many unforeseen outcomes resulting from their cooperation, thus strengthening their bonds through the realisation of common achievements. 

The types of change that INSPIRED processes can deliver follow the three orientations of the approach - policy, process & partnership - although many of them cross several categories and cannot be understood isolated from the other transformations that they bring about. However, for the sake of conceptual clarity, we are hereby systematising them into three main areas: pPolicy and& institutional improvements (resulting from the orientation to policy), openness to collaborationbehavioural change (resulting from the orientation to process), and joint action (resulting from the orientation to partnerships).

Policy and institutional improvements

The first type of change that a given INSPIRED process may bring about relates to the policy itself. It would be overly ambitious – and dangerously misleading – to pretend that a dialogue process can be expected to deliver results at the policy level – such as better inclusion of women in the labour market, improved opportunities for PWD workers, improved health services for people without resources, etc. – as these still remain in the responsibility of the government and depend on factors that escape the capacity of the stakeholders involved in the dialogue.

More realistically, the success or failure of the dialogue is to be assessed in terms of policy influence, i.e.: the extent to which the conclusions attained by the participants are being taken on board by the actual decision-makers. A condition of such results is the inclusiveness of the policy-making process and the opening of the institutional framework beyond state bodies and agencies. This will allow for the integration of those other actors – CSOs, think tanks, social agents, etc. – that must also have a say if they are expected to engage in policy implementation. 

Below is a list of some of the outcome areas that can be expected along these lines: 

  • Improved policy framing to include multiple and diverse views
  • Strengthened spaces for policy dialogue and evaluation
  • Strengthened policy networks between key formal and informal actors 
  • Improved policy knowledge and access to information
  • Improved enforcement and policy implementation through division of labour
  • Improved institutional processes through multi-stakeholder coordination

Openness to collaboration

For an approach that aims at promoting a culture of dialogue and mutual understanding among stakeholders, it would be rather short-sighted to focus exclusively on the so-called “tangible” outcomes, as these are very often just the manifestation of deeper and more transformative type change, that which affects the behaviour of the stakeholders themselves. Indeed, what makes the most difference in the long run is the change of attitude on the side of all those who engage in a dialogue process, as government officials and other duty-bearers accept to open their workings to other actors, while civil society organizations and other right-holders adopt a more constructive approach towards policy making, moving beyond naming, blaming and claiming to engage in proactively in policy design and implementation.

Such a change in attitude needs to translate into actual behaviours, which can be appraised because they manifest themselves in concrete actions that can be categorised as follows: 

  • Cooperation or willingness to work with others
  • Reform or willingness to improve policy/implementation
  • Transparency or willingness to produce and share information
  • Monitoring or willingness (and ability) to monitor policy implementation

 Joint action

For improvements in policy and changes in behaviour to become long-standing and sustainable, they need to be based upon actual partnerships in which the different parties involved learn to work together and rely on each other for the sake of the policy at stake. This does not mean that partners need to renounce their original mandate or engage in activities that do not fall under their usual line of work. On the contrary, they are expected to keep specialising in whatever they do best, albeit with an eye on what the other stakeholders, now partners, are also doing in their own areas of competence. 

Only through adequate coordination it will be possible to foster the kind of synergies that are needed for a given policy to thrive. Otherwise, unforeseen overlaps and increasingly divergent views will start to emerge, dispersing efforts and giving way to potential conflicts that can jeopardise all the results already achieved. To avoid this, INSPIRED processes focus on creating the conditions for brokering fruitful partnerships all along the way and include a number of tools to deliver the following type of results:

  • Policy networks identified, mapped and strengthened
  • Joint projects developed
  • Joint advocacy initiatives collectively conceived and implemented
  • Pooling of resources
  • Improved access to decision-makers by CSOs and other actors
  • CSOs securing funds due to INSPIRED support


Find more about INSPIRED on its official website here!