Deliberative multi‐actor dialogues as opportunities for transformative social learning and conflict resolution in international environmental negotiations


This article was published in the scientific journal "International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics" and analyses experiences and potential for multi-actor dialogues to drive transformational change. It presents two cases from the international multi-actor dialogues organised by the authors on biodiversity financing that are held in Quito 2012 and 2014, and also draws on prior WhatNext? experiences.


  • Dialogues can bring more nuances to understanding the landscape of ideas, values, assump- tions, interests and power relationships and contribute to national and international envi- ronmental governance.
  • The Quito Dialogues were characterized by an inclusive planning process, fostering a listening mode, putting ideologically contested issues on the table and handling power asymmetries to facilitate that the experiences and perspectives of diverse actors, including marginalized groups, are acknowledged.
  • Results suggest that the Quito Dialogues contributed to transformative social learning, constructive conflict resolution and improved international negotiations in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • In international conflict resolution, there is a need to include understanding of the negotiators’ culture, their religion, their native language and the epistemologies (way of knowing) and cognitive heuristics (cognitive rules) they use.
  • To help build a shared vision for how to achieve decision-making and implement international commit- ments, such as related to CBD, and likewise in the broader context the Sustainable Devel- opment Goals, we need better dialogue and learning across cultures, interests and various actor groups.
  • Real dialogues require time and resources.
  • Improved dialogue cultures may be one of the biggest opportunities we have to reach genuine solutions in the quest for a sustainable future.


The format for formal international negotiations on environment and development some- times prevents negotiators from truly listening to each other and adapt pre-existing posi- tions to realize constructive conflict resolution. In this paper we present and analyse “Multi- Actor Dialogue Seminars” (MADS) as an approach to contribute to transformative social learning and conflict resolution, and the contribution to tangible and intangible outcomes in formal negotiations. Unlike negotiations, the objective of MADS is not to agree on a text, but to identify areas of agreement and disagreement, build trust and understanding and identify policy options that are tailored to different cultural-political and value systems. As a case study we use the breakdown of the negotiations at the formal Convention on Bio- logical Diversity (CBD) Conference in 2010 regarding “innovative financial mechanisms,” and subsequent two international Quito Dialogues using the MADS approach. Through a composite of methods this article reveals the effects of the Quito Dialogues on formal CBD negotiations. The Quito Dialogues contributed to bringing actors out of their deadlock and thereby paving the way for constructive results in the formal CBD negotiations, evident by references in CBD Decisions adopted by 196 CBD Parties. We discuss key design and implementation factors which were decisive for these effects including the importance of a bridging organization, trust building, exploration of both convergences and divergences, involvement of participants with diverse and conflicting views early in the planning, promo- tion of active listening and addressing diverse knowledge systems and power asymmetries.

Springer publications website:

Authors: Maria Schults, Thomas Hahn, Claudia Ituarte-Lima, Niclas Hällström
Year of publishing: 2018
Number of pages: 18
Download: English