Working across organizational boundaries of the administration and engaging non-governmental stakeholders do not happen because an institutional body such as a NTFB is set up. Much more work is required to create culture of cooperation and trust. Political leadership and a result-driven work program are two of the many aspects that underpin success stories of NTFB (see Pakistan and Thailand). Governments have to ensure that basic principles are respected to guarantee that the consultation is fair, transparent, accountable, participatory and effective.
The UN/CEFACT Recommendation No. 40 lists the following six principles:
- Partnership and Trust
- Managing differences of opinion and interests
- Results orientation
- Consultations as an iterative process with respect for time and timing
- Accountability and responsibility
Partnership and trust
Trust requires time to develop and is the result of positive experience of dialogue and partnership. A culture of respect of opinion, understanding of parties’ imperatives and limitations, and feedback must underpin the dialogue. Consultations are a time investment for all parties and should therefore lead to a win-win for all, but should be monopolized by individual interests, dominated by lobby positions, or enforcement directives. Trust results of a genuine dialogue encompassing design and delivery phase into which each parties can equally contribute.
Transparency requires that relevant information is shared with all parties in an open manner and is made early available to allow parties to prepare for the meetings and familiarize themselves with the issues, ideas and plans of other stakeholders. Information should be open toany party, unless there are valid and specific reasons to do so, and should be shared when there is still room for discussion and amendments. Sharing a final draft for discussion is rubberstamping decisions and will frustrate parties.
The understanding is that stakeholders have different opinions, interests and imperatives. That is the reason for consultation but that is also what makes it challenging. It is possible to limit the number of parties by working through associations that represent several members. But this should not work to the detriment of smaller parties or parties with singular or specific interests. Openness and effectiveness have to be balanced.
Consultation must be drive to focus on achievable results that meet the needs of all the parties concerned. A work program is an instrument to achieve results orientation but parties themselves have to identify key initiatives and priorities that are critical.
Respect for time and timing
Consultation may be, but do not have to be, reiterative. At one end of the spectrum are one off meetings, such as focus group meetings, and at the other are permanent bodies with continuous meetings. Parties should be given prior notice sufficient time in advance of a meeting.
Accountability and responsibility
Participation in consultation bodies or meetings comes with responsibilities for the participants; respect and neutrality is one of the responsibility; reporting and feedback to management is another. Many consultation approaches require formal reports or the publication of the proceedings to ensure accountability.
Accountability goes along with the need to evaluate consultation approaches –during and/or when terminated – to determine if the investment of time, money and energy provided value and the fundamental principles of fairness, accountability, and openness have been respected. An evaluation should be conducted to audit and manage a particular consultation process and to learn from that specific experience for improvement of future efforts.