Multi-stakeholder dialogues aim to create and support spaces, in which meaningful conversations can take place among diverse stakeholder groups. A key notion is that dialogues can inform and help shape more formal negotiation and decision-making processes by bringing in a wider range of perspectives on needs, impacts and options, and having them deliberated openly. This study shows that it is possible to draw comparative insights about the dialogues by using relatively simple questions about principle events.

The authors studied three dialogues about water resources management and development issues in three parts of the world: the Rhine, Mekong, and GangaBrahmaputhra-Meghna river basins. In each case, the primary unit of analysis was a particular dialogue or cluster of closely related dialogues, each triggered by different factors (context related) and usually part of a larger process. A set of shared questions covering initiation, format, content, and outcomes was used to guide the analysis of each case.

Effectiveness was evaluated in terms of evidence of meaningful conversations, shared understanding, and influence on negotiations or decisions. Effectiveness of dialogues clearly depends not just on the quality of participation and facilitation, as is widely recognized, but also on preparation by conveners and follow-up actions of participants around main events.