How to foster constructive dialogue? | #mediadev | DW | 24.10.2023
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Discussion paper

How to foster constructive dialogue?

A mixed-methods study conducted by DW Akademie in Niger offers actionable insights on how to improve dialogue.

A journalist interviews a woman on a market in Dosso, Niger.

A journalist interviews a woman on a market in Dosso, Niger.

Promoting constructive dialogue is an important endeavour in international media development. But in hostile environments, this goal comes with special challenges.

To identify factors that can support or inhibit constructive dialogue, DW Akademie has conducted research in Niger; a country struggling with insecurity, scarcity of resources, and instability —  illustrated by the recent military takeover.

The mixed-methods study investigates the case of an interactive community radio project in in the tri-border region between Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. The study’s key findings and takeaways are especially instructive for efforts to strengthen constructive dialogue in hostile environments and foster the voices of women and displaced people. 

  1. Bringing together different social groups and ensuring equal participation is worth every effort. It enables exchange between people who, otherwise, would likely remain wary of one another.
  2. It is crucial to ensure broad participation and to have participants agree on ground rules for their exchanges to create a productive setting for dialogue. A highly participatory and inclusive project set-up like the one in Niger (involving listeners’ clubs and dialogue committees, working with radio stations that broadcast in local languages and are embedded in the local community, holding a kick-off workshop on conflict-sensitive journalism etc.) proved conducive to fostering constructive dialogue in this specific context.
  3. As part of these interactive programs, the job of radio hosts is crucial for fostering dialogue. It is also very demanding. Radio hosts deserve special support, for example, in the form of peer-to-peer exchange within a network. 
  4. Dialogical radio projects must stay flexible with regard to format: While interactive live formats are most participatory, they also make participants more vulnerable. The safety concerns of guests participating in dialogue formats must be taken seriously, as they can have limiting — or in the worst-case scenario, harmful — effects. 
  5. In hostile environments, certain topics, despite being highly relevant,  cannot be addressed in a dialogical radio format. There will most likely be issues that are too risky for people to talk about, not because of any taboos, but due to immediate security concerns. 
  6. A highly participatory and inclusive project set-up, like the one in Niger, was valuable for giving refugees a voice and for fostering mutual understanding between the displaced and the host communities. In particular, opportunities to work on something together (like the dialogue committees) strengthen a sense of human connection and self-reliance. 
  7. Stigmatization of refugees can be a major concern. It is advisable to ensure that dialogical radio programs deal with it in a sensitive manner and do not, even if unintentionally, contribute to an aggravation. In the project under study, this was achieved through training in conflict-sensitive journalism. 
  8. Refugees have most likely experienced traumatic events. While choosing to talk about their grievances during interactive radio programs can be a salutary experience for them and sensitise others, it may also revive traumatic memories. Thus, it is advisable to offer special training to radio producers in how to handle such situations responsibly.   
  9. It seems promising to look for women’s associations and try to get them onboard. If these do not (yet) exist, women should be supported in forming or joining associations, clubs or networks that strengthen their expert status regarding issues that specifically affect them.  
  10. In addition to aiming for gender-balanced participation, it is important to pay special attention to increasing women’s speaking time in radio formats. Here, it is crucial to find out what kind of support or conditions the women in question require to engage in public dialogue safely and confidently.

If you are interested in learning more about the findings these take-aways are based on as well as the study’s methodological approach, you can download the full report below.