The Groningen Dialogue Table has achieved results that would probably not have been possible without it. That is the conclusion of University of Groningen professors Janka Stoker and Heinrich Winter in their evaluation report ‘
Dialogue Table: talk and action
’ (in Dutch). The Dialogue Table Groningen asked them to analyze its performance since its inception in March 2014. The researchers also issued advice on the future position and role of the Table.
The Dialogue Table was established to help regain trust in a region that has been plagued by earthquakes caused by gas drilling. With its 15 members and two chairpersons, the Table was implemented to give expression to a new administrative philosophy in which the authorities, the business community and the public engage in consultation with the aim of reaching consensus.
The evaluation, which consisted of document analysis and interviews with all participants and other involved parties, has shown that the Dialogue Table has achieved ‘surprising and impressive’ results. The most visible results relate to improving to the quality of life in the affected areas and increasing the value of homes there, but changes in the claims process and the arrival of the National Coordinator for Groningen, which places the effects of gas drilling under public management, are also largely the achievement of the Dialogue Table. The participants should be pleased with the results they have achieved, but a theme running through the evaluation is that it is difficult for them to see their successes and claim them as a result of the Table’s efforts. There is also – often justifiably – irritation about how tough it was to work on the Table. From the start, the different parties failed to appreciate sufficiently that this new form of horizontal consultation between the authorities and the public would demand a lot from them.
The research shows that groups formed at the Table. On one side of the Table were the authorities and NAM, who were backed by professional organizations. They found it difficult to relinquish their classic form of management and to see the Table as the public that had given them their mandate and thus to involve it in all policymaking. On the other side of the Table were the civic and social organizations, whose work for the Table was alongside their regular work. This made it difficult for them to provide a counterbalance. For the concept to work, the civic and social organizations need not only new skills and time but also to invest in relationships with the public whose interests they represent.
The researchers conclude that the Dialogue Table must continue. The playing field has drastically changed with the arrival of the National Coordinator for Groningen and his staff. ‘But this actually represents a fantastic opportunity for the Dialogue Table, because it can now secure a stronger position’, says Heinrich Winter.
With regard to the role of the table, the researchers outline two scenarios. The first is that of a ‘classic advisory body’ that does not include the authorities. This would make it easier for the Table to reach agreements and to defend its advice to the people it represents. However, it would then run the risk of being relegated to the sidelines. The second scenario is one of ‘social dialogue’. The National Coordinator for Groningen would represent the authorities at the Table and would engage in consultation with the aim of reaching consensus. The Coordinator would then be accountable to the Table afterwards.
The researchers express a preference for the second scenario. Janka Stoker says, ‘Although it requires a greater investment from the participants, it offers a unique opportunity to exert influence on decision-making processes.’ The researchers emphasize that with both scenarios there must be clear rules and sufficient support for all members of the Table.
For further information please contact one of the authors of the research report: Professor Janka Stoker (050 363 3837) or Professor Heinrich Winter (06 51510974).
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