Eliciting change beyond your circles

Dialogue projects generally use four types of transfer models, differentiated by the type of participants and the direction of the transfer to other groups or institutions:

  1. Top out and down
  2. Middle out and up
  3. Middle out and down
  4. Bottom up and out

In June 2015, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) commissioned the Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT) to assess the effectives of the dialogue projects [1] funded by USIP since 1992, the results of which were recently published in June 2017 Special Report [2]. The study focused on one measure of dialogue effectiveness, specifically transfer approaches [3], that is: did the dialogue project create change beyond the participants to affect other groups, practices, or policies in soci­ety.

The study outlined a number of factors, from who to engage to the attributes of a dialogue process and the management of the project, and produced some revealing conclusions, outlined below, for eliciting change beyond your circle of participants.


Who to engage

The USIP study made clear that the outcome of a dialogue process does not de facto transfer to the broader institution or community but requires intentional planning.

When identifying stakeholders to engage, one should not limit participation only to those directly affect by the conflict but select a broad range of participants, including potential hardliners and spoilers.

For obvious reasons, the critical selection criteria identified in the study was that participants be chosen based on their credibility and influence within the realm the project is seeking to affect because those are the networks participants are able to leverage.

The participation, or lack thereof, of key decision-makers, as opposed to credible influencers, did not affect the success of a dialogue project, however their support of the project is important and losing it could lead to implementation delays and diminish the project’s impact.

Managing the expectations of participants was also noted as critical to a project’s effectiveness, particularly being clear about the length and time commitment of the project, which could lead to huge disappointments if not met.


Attributes of a dialogue project

Training to help participants facilitate their own dialogues is not enough. Those trainings that were followed by sustained support to the participants through coaching or mentoring achieved higher levels of transfer and were sustained for longer periods of time.

Integrating a dialogue project with other activities had a positive impact on the project’s success. Training coupled with dialogue and followed by action or advocacy increased changes of transferring outcomes beyond the participants. The size of the dialogue component relative to other activities nor the length of a project had any significant statistical relationship to the project’s effectiveness.


Management of a dialogue project

Typically, implementers’ strategy for improving sustainability included seeking additional funds to maintain or expand existing activities or working through existing local mechanisms and structures.

The study showed that other management factors also enhanced transfer beyond the dialogue project.

Just as for the selection of participants, the implementing organization must be seen as credible and legitimate to stakeholders.

Creating strong local connections within communities or institutions and strategic partnerships between implementing groups, international organizations or local civil society organizations as well as taking the time to build trust and relationships with participants, right from the beginning of the dialogue project, helped staff reach stakeholders more easily, attract the right participants, and secure buy-in from the authorities to hold dialogues, all of which increased the viability of a project and helped affect broader changes.

Having procedures for managing staff turnover helped maintain that social capital as these transitions occurred.

Projects that worked in partnership with dialogue participants, as opposed to using an “implementer-beneficiary” approach, giving parties leadership and decision-making roles for the project, encouraged ownership which in turn improved participant’s ability to identify and respond to local needs.

Integrating space for regular self-reflection and institutionalizing feed-back loops, improved the success of a project particularly when lessons learned were coupled with adaptive decision-making and a flexible management approach.

Contingency plans for managing risks, helped organizations effectively respond to unexpected security developments, especially since outbreaks of violence were listed as a primary factor undermining project effectiveness.


As expected, “sustainability and transfer are linked and higher sustainability scores were significantly correlated with higher levels of transfer beyond the immediate dialogue participants.” Ensuring both the sustainability of a project and maximum transfer requires intentional integration of the means and mechanisms by which this can happen. This plan should include several strategies for transferring the outcomes of the dialogues to others.




[1] USIP defines “dialogue” as a facilitated, conflict-intervention process that brings together various stakeholders in a conflict or around a problem or concern, to express, listen to, explore, and better understand diverse views in order to transform individual, relational, or structural drivers of conflict.

[2] Jack Froude and Michael Zanchelli. What works in facilitated projects?” United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 407 (June 2017).

[3] USIP defines “transfer” as describing a change in individual attitudes and behaviors, relationships and networks, and/or institutions and policy.






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